My visit with Wee Willie Johnston

September 14, 2014 at 8:54 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Whitecaps season 2014 | Leave a comment
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Is there any player who has left more indelible memories in the minds of Vancouver Whitecaps fans than Scotland and Rangers FC legend Willie Johnston? Johnston, our beloved #20, only played in Vancouver for a few seasons, but the mooning of Bruce Rioch in Seattle, the beer swig corner kick in San Jose and a brawl with a New York Cosmos player back in 1979 have left a rich legacy of great memories. This is not to mention his excellent wing play on the left, which delighted and thrilled Whitecaps fans. Only Eric Hassli has rivalled Johnston in terms of crazy Whitecaps memories.

I had always dreamed that Willie Johnston would return to Vancouver and last week he did, at the invitation of the Whitecaps, taking in both the 0-0 draw with DC United and the 2-0 win over San Jose at BC Place.

The great Willie Johnston

The great Willie Johnston

Whitecaps staffer Darren Mackay invited me to meet the great man himself prior to the San Jose match. I was told to be at gate H at 5:20, and showed up early. Willie showed up early too, looking a bit nervous and puffing away on a cigarette. He chatted away with a host and waited while others showed up for the meeting. A fellow showed up in a West Brom shirt, (Willie’s other main club besides Glasgow Rangers FC in Scotland), and other people had brought some amazing old NASL memorabilia for him to sign.

We made our way in to a lounge in the depths of BC Place where Willie was set up with a can of beer and some pens to sign memorabilia at a table. I got some autographs and my picture taken with him. He is only about 5’6″ if that, and he stood on his tippy toes to take photos with the taller folks.

Willie is a man of few words, a typical working class Scotsman. Willie played in that era when football players were true characters, not like the squeaky clean monks of today’s game. Willie fits into that category of Stan Bowles, Rodney Marsh and George Best, players whose characters were large and wonderfully wild. These are the kinds of players we remember, because they created great memories. They are true football legends.

I chatted with him a bit later after he had a few tins of beer about the time Glasgow Rangers won the European Cup Winner’s Cup. I had recently seen a highlight of Rangers playing Bayern Munich, when Willie dribbled the ball down the left side of the pitch and then sat on the ball to take a rest!

Willie and I!

Willie and I!

I asked him if that was the final and he said “no that was the semi-final. The final was against Dynamo Moscow in Barcelona”. I said I thought that he had scored a goal in the final and he was quick to correct me: “I scored two!” he said, wide eyed and as proud as a peacock. Rangers won the game 3-2 after going ahead 3-0.

After the signing was over, we went out to watch the Whitecaps warm up with Willie, who happily chugged away his beer and chatted modestly with the people in the group.

Willie Johnston was a key player for the Whitecaps team that beat the New York Cosmos and the Tampa Bay Rowdies to take the 1979 Soccerbowl trophy back to our city.

I never thought I would ever get the chance to shake the hand of the man who enchanted me with his antics and his play for the Whitecaps back when I was a teenager. I am very glad I got to do it.

Thanks to Darren Mackay and the Vancouver Whitecaps for making it happen.

Waston wins it: Whitecaps 2 Earthquakes 0

September 11, 2014 at 10:00 pm | Posted in Whitecaps season 2014 | Leave a comment
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Two great things happened in this match: Kendall Waston fulfilled his scoring potential and Pedro Morales got his mojo back. The 2-0 win also put the Whitecaps 2 points ahead of Portland in the battle for the fifth and last Western Conference playoff spot.

The thrill of victory, Waston style

The thrill of victory, Waston style

The win provided us fans with some much needed relief after four games of no goals for the Whitecaps, which included a dreadful 0-3 home loss against the Portland Timbers.

Coach Carl Robinson started with a 4-4-2 formation with Hurtado and Fernandez up front, Teibert, Morales, Laba and Rosales in midfield, Harvey, Waston, O’Brien and Beitashour at the back, and David Ousted in goal.

It just seemed as though the Whitecaps decided they were fed up of losing as they came out bright and full of energy against a rather sluggish and blunt looking San Jose team. Striker Chris Wandolowski was the Earthquakes biggest threat, but due to tight defending he had only marginal chances on this night.

The one-on-one battle which decided this match was between big Kendall Waston and San Jose’s Honduran defender Victor Bernardez. Waston won the battle, and the Whitecaps consequently won the match. Robinson has ordered Waston to go forward for every free kick and corner to head in goals. Early on we got a taste of what was to come when Morales swung an early corner right on to the sweet spot of Waston’s head. Unfortunately the big Costa Rican headed a sitter over the bar.

In the 38th minute the crafty Mauro Rosales won a free kick 30 yards out to the left of San Jose’s goal. Morales curled the free kick into the box trying to hit Waston’s head again. Waston muscled past Bernardez and was primed to head the ball into the goal when Bernardez shoved him in the back, causing him to miss the ball altogether. It was a somewhat marginal penalty, but it was certainly arguable that Bernardez had taken a direct scoring chance away from Waston.

Morales back in the mood

Morales back in the mood

Russell Teibert retrieved the ball and handed it to Morales, who dispatched the penalty kick into the corner to Jon Busch’s right. Busch guessed right but could not get to the ball. It was the Whitecaps first goal in over 400 minutes of football, and what a relief it was when it came. After the Whitecaps got that monkey off their back they were liberated and the feeling was there were more goals coming.

The Whitecaps earned eight corner kicks in this match, which was a measure of their attacking play, and the Morales-Waston connection worked again in the 56th minute. Morales curled the ball to the near post and again Waston out-muscled Bernardez to get to the ball first. It was a diving header which went right through the legs of Cato, San Jose’s man on the near post.

Waston your mind? Goals!

Waston your mind? Goals!

For the first time in four matches we saw Morales enjoying his football again. Only a fantastic save from Busch prevented a third Whitecap goal off of a Morales shot. Late in the match Morales broke through the middle of the San Jose defence to score, but the goal was called back because the ref thought he had handled the ball. Though he had his hand up, it was by no means clear that he had controlled the ball with his arm. For us fans, the important thing was that Morales had a good match and appears to be enjoying his football again.

The fact we won the game could not hide the fact that our strikers were woefully bad in front of goal again. Both Hurtado and Fernandez missed five clear chances between them. Three of them should have been goals. We got away with relying on Waston for both goals, but our strikers will still need to wake up if our playoff dreams are to come true.

DC bore draw disappoints on Wee Willie Johnston’s return

September 8, 2014 at 9:38 pm | Posted in Uncategorized, Whitecaps season 2014 | Leave a comment
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Poor Wee Willie Johnston came all the way from Scotland to watch a dreadful 0-0 draw with the “beasts of the East”, DC United. It turned out, sadly, that Willie’s hilarious re-enactment of his famous beer swig corner kick was the highlight of the night at BC Place.

"Foken awful match"

“Foken awful match”

The Whitecaps ground out yet another dull 0-0 match, having failed to score yet again. The chorus of boos which droned out at the final whistle from the fans made the disappointment clear. It was the second Saturday night in a row in which the promised party fizzled out into something resembling a funeral.

Coach Carl Robinson, who maintains his sunny demeanour in spite of the drudgery of it all, started an “attacking” side with two strikers instead of one. Darren Mattocks and Seba Fernandez started up front with Morales, Teibert, Rosales and Teibert making up a diamond midfield. Our back line featured Ethan Sampson in his first MLS start for the club at right back, Jordan Harvey patrolled the left side and Kendall Waston and Andy O’Brien played in the centre back positions.

DC United came without two starters: striker Eddie Johnston and midfielder Chris Rolfe. DC United are a very well coached and disciplined squad, and they seemed to be playing the match at half speed, using their resources economically. But for some good positional goalkeeping by Cap’s Keeper David Ousted in the first half when DC striker Espindola latched on to a cross in the clear, the match would have been lost 1-0.

Oustie saves the match

Oustie saves the match

The fact is there were actual positives which came out in the match for the Whitecaps. In the first place our defence was solid, and Waston and O’Brien won virtually every high ball that came their way with fantastic headers. The poor form up front should not detract from the fact we kept a clean sheet. Ousted handled some difficult shooting efforts by DC United which forced around four or so difficult good saves from the big Dane.

The Whitecaps created three good scoring chances which, had there been some luck on their side, would have found the back of the net.

The first chance fell to the hapless Mattocks, who missed a cross from Fernandez, but got a second chance off of a lucky bounce from of a DC defender for a close range volley. He promptly skied it over the crossbar. He ended up on his knees with his hands clasped behind his head, a pose with which we have become all too familiar. Sometimes I wonder if Mattocks’s spectacular misses should be his highlight reel rather than his goals, which are far more pedestrian.

Mattocks misses... again

Mattocks misses… again

Perdro Morales later put a lovely cross into the box for the giant Waston to head in but the big man just barely missed the ball, which went just by the post. Mattocks had another chance on the left side at the end of the first half but shot his effort straight at Hamid, DC’s goalkeeper. A low shot would have made the keeper work harder for his money.

Why not shoot low?

Why not shoot low?

Jordan Harvey got too much of a near post header from a gorgeous Teibert cross in the second half and put it past the near post.

Kekuta Manneh and Mehdi Ballouchy were brought on for Sebastian Fernandez and Mauro Rosales, who seemed to pick up an ankle injury after throwing himself into a tackle. Manneh added some spark and energy, but it soon fizzled as well, as he and the rest of the Whitecaps failed to unbalance DC United’s well organized defence.

Poor Ethan Sampson played his heart out only to go to ground with a bad cramp in the second half. The injury served to prove the Whitecaps need that USL Pro team in New West to keep their bench players fit. Sam Adekugbe came on for him.

Again, it was Rosales who played with the most character, never giving up and always giving his all. If there is one player in the squad who can bring the Whitecaps out of their doldrums, it is him.

Rosales: honest effort

Rosales: honest effort

The sense of disappointment was awful at the final whistle, as one got the sense that not only the fans were fed up, but so were the players. How long can it be before the players begin to resent one another for the poor play of the team? Pedro Morales sulked his way through this game again, and we have seen five matches in a row of uninspired performances from him. Not surprisingly our goals have dried up completely as a result. How do we get the real Pedro Morales back?

While it felt like it was all over, the fact is we are still only one point behind Portland with one game in hand. This Wednesday night’s clash with San Jose will be crucial to staying apace with Portland and keeping San Jose out of the race for the last playoff spot in MLS’s Western Conference.

Lets hope Wee Wille Johnston, who will be in attendance again on Wednesday, will be able to return to Scotland with some happy memories of goals scored by his old club, the Vancouver Whitecaps.

I would love to see Whitecaps games in New Westminster

September 2, 2014 at 10:09 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Whitecaps season 2014 | Leave a comment
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The Vancouver Whitecaps and New Westminster City Council are trying to come to terms on a refurbished Queen’s Park Stadium which would host a United Soccer Leagues pro team. The team would function as a farm team for the Vancouver Whitecaps MLS team. This would allow New Westminster to have a new professional sports team in their city. It would allow the Whitecaps to play their younger players and players returning from injury in competitive matches in a competitive professional league in a stadium with a capacity of 3500.

While I am not a resident of New Westminster, I hope New West city council approves the partnership with the Whitecaps.

A well organized baseball lobby is attempting to pull the heartstrings by suggesting the kids who play baseball will have nowhere to play. Others complain there will be noise, traffic and parking problems. Still others say the proposal is being done in a rush with limited consultation.

There is no doubt that the city and the Whitecaps should ensure that if the soccer proposal is a success that baseball kids won’t suffer and will have a place to play ball. I have every confidence they will do so.

The question is: how should Queen’s Park Stadium best be used? While it may be a stadium that is fun to play baseball in, how often is the seating capacity actually used? The further question is: does New West want an aging liability on its hands or a vital and refurbished Queen’s Park stadium that will get much greater use?

It is rather like the city of New Westminster itself: you can see the potential, but the potential is not being realized. It is time New Westminster started realizing the great potential that is there by making bold and progressive decisions.

Noise and traffic issue is a non-issue. The Whitecaps played for years at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby with crowds of 4500, (larger by 1000 than the proposed capacity of Queen’s Park Stadium), give or take. Local businesses got trade from soccer fans, and soccer fans were orderly and quiet. My in-laws live two blocks from Swangard stadium and had no complaints about Whitecaps matches. They only knew a match was on because he could see the floodlights from their house. The City of New West and the Whitecaps can educate fans about the best way to get to the stadium by Transit.

As far as consultation is concerned, there is no doubt that consultation is important, but the fact is that politicians are elected to lead and show vision as well as listen. The opportunity to revitalize Queen’s Park Stadium and make it into a more vital community asset is something politicians should not pass up in favour of the sleepy status quo. People who don’t like a proposals always complain vociferously that consultation has been incomplete or insufficient.

I am hoping that next year I will be able to travel by transit to New West, get something to eat, and watch my Whitecaps play a game. I might even ride my bike there like I do to BC Place on occasion (recently the Whitecaps had a record number of people ride their bike to BC Place for a match). There is no doubt I will spend a lot more time in New Westminster than I do now if the proposal is realized. When the MLS Whitecaps are on a road trip, I will still be able to watch my favourite soccer team play live in New Westminster in a beautifully refurbished Queen’s Park Stadium. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Lets hope the City of New Westminster is able to see the clear value of the Whitecaps proposal and decide to make it work.

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