Whitecaps settle for tie in scuffle in Salt Lake

July 21, 2014 at 10:03 pm | Posted in Whitecaps season 2014 | Leave a comment

I have always admired Real Salt Lake. For many seasons they have put out an attractive, attacking brand of football that succeeded. They have a loyal following that pack their beautiful Rio Tinto Stadium, which has a lush grass pitch. In many ways I have felt that RSL is the organization the Whitecaps should emulate in order to find success.

I have always liked RSL players, too. I especially admired Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman. I admired the skill of Javier Morales. Now I can hardly wait to boo them in September when they show up at BC Place.

Thought the Whitecaps played a defensive match and barely exceeded one-third of the possession in the match, they very nearly came a way with a win on RSL’s home pitch.

Carl Robinson demonstrated his bench strength, resting Morales, Hurtado and Laba for most of the match. I thought this would be a disaster, but Mehdi Ballouchy, Omar Salgado and Nico Mezquida did a fine job, thanks very much. Robinson seems to have coached his squad in such a manner that everyone knows how to play the Whitecaps game. Salgado in particular showed some terrific play down the left side, getting some dangerous balls into the box. Though Morales, Hurtado and Laba did their bit later on in the match, they brought nothing really new to the Whitecaps game.

Darren Mattocks played one of his best games ever in a Whitecaps jersey. As the sole striker he played his roll perfectly, using his speed to get open, and holding up the ball so his teammates could catch up to him.

Mattocks drew a penalty mid-way throughout the second half from a hillbilly called Nat Borchers, whose wild beard probably made his tackle look worse than it was. Borchers actually got to the ball before he clattered Mattocks, but his reckless lunge in the box was always going to be a risky play. From one angle it looked like a clear penalty and from behind the goal it looked like a perfect tackle. RSL went ape when the referee called it, but Borchers only had himself to blame for diving in where he didn’t have to.

Mattocks claimed the ball and dispatched the penalty with a kind of supreme confidence. Mattocks richly deserved a goal; he did all the club could ever ask of him in this match.

After the goal and before the restart there was a scuffle, which is no surprise given the physical nature of the match which saw Beckerman and Morales committing dirty fouls and generally trying to intimidate the smaller Whitecaps. To their credit, the Whitecaps held their ground like a bunch of little terriers. Hopefully this incident will become a bonding moment for the Whitecaps as a team.

RSL finally found a bit of the play we have come to expect from them when some very neat passing eventually had Beckerman slotting the ball perfectly to little Plata whose speed caught an out of position Beitashour by surprise to David Ousted’s right. Plata blasted the ball past a collapsing Ousted into the net. It was 1-1 with ten minutes of regular time left.

Plata ran back to the centre line and it looked like RSL were going to throw everything at the Whitecaps to win the match. It never happened however, as the Whitecaps withstood the late pressure to escape Rio Tinto with a draw. Gershon Koffie in particular fought like a lion, and I think that many of the boys the Whitecaps have acquired over the years are turning into men.

The tie gave the Whitecaps a road point, which is always a good result in the MLS, in which road teams rarely get anything out of a game. It also meant, however, that the Whitecaps have won only one of their last seven games.

The match left the Whitecaps out of the playoff spots on goal difference behind fifth place Colorado. The next match is against Dallas FC at BC Place. Dallas sit in second in the Western Conference but only two points ahead of the Whitecaps. Game on!

Whitecaps tie TFC

July 16, 2014 at 10:09 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Whitecaps season 2014 | Leave a comment
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The MLS fixture list called for the Vancouver Whitecaps to play three games in eight days, so Coach Carl Robinson was going to need to call on his squad in the Wednesday night road match against Toronto Football Club. The recent lack of success also called for Robinson to tinker with the line up.

The World Cup break has not been kind to the Whitecaps at all. Only one win in the five matches since the World Cup break meant the LA Galaxy, which is, as of tonight, undefeated in eight games, threatened to swallow the Whitecaps up in the standings.

Robinson’s Line up included Ousted; Adekugbe (who replaced the suspended Harvey); Mitchell; Leveron; Beitashour; Laba; Reo Coker; Morales; Teibert; Mattocks and Hurtado. ┬áRobinson started two strikers, and played a four man diamond midfield with Morales up top Teibert and Reo-Coker on the flanks and Laba at the bottom. Gershon Koffie was relegated to the substitute’s bench. It is not clear if Koffie a had been benched for poor play or whether Robbo was resting him for Saturday’s RSL match.

After watching the World Cup for a month, watching MLS is, shall we say, sobering. The players seem to be engaged in more of a physical strength contest than a soccer match. There was precious little fluidity in the first half as neither team had the skill to break down the other. The teams went to the dressing room with a 0-0 draw on the board.

I have never really been a big Russell Teibert fan and I cursed him in the first half wondering why the Whitecaps had signed him to a long term contract recently. As is usual with my critical views of the wee fellow, he then goes and does something quite brilliant in response. I must say the build up to the Whitecaps opening goal five minutes into the second half looked like something that would not be out of place in the World Cup.

Leveron stole the ball from a TFC player and flicked a perfect pass under pressure with his left foot to Morales. Morales spotted Teibert charging down the left flank with a perfectly timed run which went undetected by TFC’s defenders. Morales passed the ball to Teibert who took the ball close to TFC’s end line. TFC’s defenders expected a high ball, but Teibert hit a hard low cross which managed to thread its way through four TFC defenders to Darren Mattocks who side footed the ball with apparent ease into the net from eight yards.

But could the Whitecaps see the game out?

In the 62nd minute TFC’s Jermain Defoe latched on to a deep pass and passed the ball back to Jackson. Jackson dribbled the ball into the box on the left flank. Mitchell failed to challenge Jackson outside of the box and let the player stroll unopposed into the box. Jackson got by Mitchell who knocked him as he went by into the path of the lunging Reo-Coker. Reo-Coker missed the ball entirely and brought down the striker.

The blame was to be shared: Mitchell should not have let the striker get into the box unopposed, and, as happened against Colorado a few matches back, Reo-Coker was too slow in the tackle and missed the ball, taking down the man instead. Reo-Coker’s lack of fitness has been a theme this season, and giving away similar penalties in recent matches demonstrates his body is not keeping up to where his mind wants to be. He still struggles to find fitness and the excellent form he had last season.

Jermain Defoe dispatched the penalty with ease, sending Ousted the wrong way. It was 1-1.

Reo-Coker was subbed off for Koffie in the 70th minute. Ten minutes later Kekuta Manneh came on for Teibert, but he disappointed again, making little impact at all on the match. Hurtado came off in a time-killing substitution for Fernadez.

TFC threw men forward late in the match and narrowly missed scoring on two headers from Gilberto and Hagglund. The referee blew for time soon after.

Usually a point on the road is a good thing, but the news came later that the LA Galaxy had beaten New England 5-1. This meant the Galaxy went rocketing past the Whitecaps in the standings, meaning we are currently out of the playoff spots. It is going to be a real dogfight down the stretch, and, like the past two years, it will probably go down to the last match of the season before we know whether the Whitecaps will make to the playoffs.

Whitecaps lose to Chivas; drop more home points

July 14, 2014 at 10:11 pm | Posted in Whitecaps season 2014 | Leave a comment

The Vancouver Whitecaps were their own worst enemy at BC place on Saturday night. Having gone up 1-0 through Carlyle Mitchell’s header in the first half, the Whitecaps did almost everything you can do wrong on a football pitch in the second half, and lost the match 3-1. It was a bad loss. The Whitecaps missed an opportunity to leap up in the Western Conference standings. It meant they dropped points at home, which are crucial to making the MLS playoffs, as road points are hard to come by.

Coach Robinson started with the same team that brought him success in last week’s 1-0 triumph over the Seattle Sounders: Ousted in Goal, Beitashour, Mitchell, Leveron and Harvey at the back, Koffie and Laba in defensive midfield, Fernandez, Morales and Manneh in attacking midfield, and Hurtado the lone striker up front.

First MLS goal: Carlyle Mitchell

First MLS goal: Carlyle Mitchell

Although Chivas USA has been one of the poorest teams in MLS in recent years, they now pack a considerable punch with Erik Torres, Mauro Rosales and Carlos Bocanegra in the squad, among others.

In the first half the Whitecaps were well in control of matters, keeping Chivas pinned in their own end for almost the entire time. Kekuta Manneh in particular was tearing Chivas’ left side apart, beating his man many times. Unfortunately he was not able to connect with his teammates by giving a good cross or pass, however. He had a terrific half-volley shot early on which Kennedy batted back to Hurtado who put the ball in the net. Unfortunately he was offside and the goal was called back.

Erik Hurtado found himself in alone later on but missed the net by a long way. I think we can now say with regret that Hurtado’s purple patch is over and he seems to have gone back to his old self. Both Manneh and Hurtado still have much to learn in order to become consistently good professional footballers.

The Whitecaps scored first in the 27th minute, and it was Carlyle Mitchell who headed in from a Morales corner kick. Mitchell got fee of his marker and headed the ball down after making good contact. The ball bounced between Chivas keeper Kennedy’s legs. It was Mitchell’s first MLS goal, but sadly it would be a goal scored in vain on this night.

Carlyle heads one home

Carlyle heads one home

If the Whitecaps did virtually everything right in the first half, they conspired to do everything wrong in the second half. Only three minutes in to the second half they conceded a goal off of a corner kick. Rosales knocked in a curler right into the center of the pitch into a big gang of players. In the chaos in front of goal the Whitecaps simply did not get organized as to who was marking who, and Pelletieri took advantage with a headed goal.

The Whitecaps began to falter and get frustrated up front. Coach Robinson decided to take off Manneh, who had another frustrating performance, and Gershon Koffie for Nigel Reo-Coker and Darren Mattocks in the 68th minute. Robinson’s plan was ruined by Jordan Harvey, who got himself sent off when he lost the ball to Rosales, got mad, and then recklessly threw himself into a two footed lunging tackle. He sent Minda flying through the air like a rag doll and was given a straight red. We have seen this movie before at BC Place and it does not end well. Robinson then took Fernandez off and brought in the wobbly Christian Dean, who played like a nervous rookie.

Whitecaps concede: 1-1

Whitecaps concede: 1-1

In spite of being a man down the Whitecaps could have won the match had they taken chances given to them. Both Reo-Coker and Mattocks squandered chances that professional footballers should finish.

The Whitecaps kept pressing forward to try and get the win, but were hit in the 80th minute by a neat passing play between Rosales and Delgado. Delgago crossed a beautiful curling ball to Torres who nodded in an easy finish at the far post on 80 minutes. If I am not mistaken I believe Torres has now scored four goals agains the Whitecaps in two years of playing against us.

Early in injury time the Whitecaps crossed a dangerous ball into the box; the ball bounced off of a defender and Kennedy caught the ball with two hands but had only one hand on the ball when he landed. Morales kicked it onto the net from under his hand. It was a mystery what the ref called, but it was goal disallowed. I have never heard the crowd at BC Place so unhappy as when they showed the replay on the big screen.

Reo-Coker shoots a sitter; and misses...

Reo-Coker shoots a sitter; and misses…

The Whitecaps earned a late corner kick in injury time, and even Ousted ran into Chivas’ 18 yard box. The ball did not bounce the Whitecaps way and a quick counter-attack led to Chivas 3rd goal, an empty netter with Ousted well out of the play. It was a humiliating end to a poorly played second half by the Whitecaps.

The loss left the Whitecaps perilously close to the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA in the Western standings. This year’s team seems to want to do things the hard way. The inconsistency of the team, and of its strikers in particular, is starting to bring the team down. Two more bad matches and we will be looking up at most of the Western conference teams from somewhere out of the playoff spots.

With the transfer window opening up the Whitecaps must surely be looking to make some improvements.

Brazilian football apocalypse stuns the World

July 8, 2014 at 10:53 pm | Posted in Whitecaps season 2014, World Cup Memories | 5 Comments
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I have been watching World Cups since 1982 and, because it is my nature, I have always supported the underdogs. That meant I typically cheered against Brazil. I watched them beat Scotland, the USSR, New Zealand and Argentina convincingly in Spain 1982; Brazil were so good the matches seemed almost unfair. In Mexico 1986 they were astonishingly good again but got beaten in the quarter final by France in a penalty shootout. The master of those Brazil squads was Socrates, one of the greatest midfielders ever to grace a football pitch. Socrates put the joy of football above all else, even winning. He was a great artist. Before he died recently, Socrates bemoaned the lack of beauty in the Brazilian national team’s performances. He must be rolling over in his grave tonight.

In spite of the beauty of the Brazilian team of those earlier World Cups the Brazilian football leaders decided to abandon the Joga Bonito for a more pragmatic approach before the 1990 World Cup. In Italia 90 they modestly won their way through the group stage with boring but hard working performances. They were lambasted by the press back home for their conservative approach. In the round of sixteen they drew arch rivals Argentina, and, stung by the bad press back home, threw everything they had at Argentina. They had chance after chance but could not score. They were beaten 1-0 by a relatively prosaic Argentina side which featured Maradona and Canneggia.

Even though Brazil won two more World Cups in 1994 and 2002, the magical team play of the 1970, 1982 and 1986 teams never really resurfaced. While they had brilliant individual players, they never played beautifully as a team like before.

The Brazilian side of 2014 were under so much pressure to succeed they fell apart. The indomitable fortress Brazil was made of eggshells. The loss of two starters, Neymar Jr and Thiago Silva was enough to rattle the team so badly they lost 7-1 to a rampant German side.

I found the match to be shocking and profoundly sad. I had hoped to see a classic competitive match but instead witnessed the downfall and humiliation of a once proud footballing nation. Brazil has lost it’s footballing soul. I can’t imagine how Brazilians themselves must feel. The grief of Brazilians may well turn to anger. Heads will roll in Brazil because of this, well beyond the world of football. Rather than celebrating victory, the Brazilian people will rue the enormous cost of staging this year’s World Cup.

In many respects, the sad downfall of the Brazilian national team feels like the death of football itself as we know it.

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