It was a season of bangs that ended with a whimper. The Vancouver Whitecaps limped out of the Major League Soccer playoffs after having been soundly beaten 0-2 on home turf verses the Portland Timbers. There was no question which was the better team on the night.
Whitecaps fans were left wondering what the result could have been if our only real hope for success on the night, Kekuta Manneh, had not been injured early on.
Coach Carl Robinson put what appeared to be a solid and hopeful team out on the pitch. Defence looked solid as Ousted started in goal with Beitashour, Waston, Parker and Harvey in defense. Koffee and Laba patrolled the defensive midfield While Techera, Morales and Manneh played high midfield. The forlorn, snake-bitten Rivero played up front.
The best news of the night turned out to be the worst news of the night as Pedro Morales started and played the entire match. As the match wore on it was clear that Morales was in no shape to play the game. His fitness was poor and his passing compass was completely off. The man who made superbly accurate passes earlier in the season played as though he was blindfolded.
Morales made a series of embarrassing gaffes throughout the match, the last of which resulted in the second goal Portland scored. Twice he ran after perfectly good passes which he failed to catch, losing possession in dangerous spots.
Robinson’s decision to start Morales turned out to be a hopeful tactical gamble which failed miserably. Morales was good for no more than 30 minutes and should not have started.
The other bit of really bad news was the injury to Kekuta Manneh, who fell victim to the terrible playing surface at BC Place. Manneh fell three times trying to make cuts with the ball; on the third time he injured his ankle so badly that he could not play on.
It was Manneh who provided two scoring opportunities early on that could have changed the match. On the second he hit the goal post only to have the rebound hit Portland’s keeper in the back of the head and go back into touch for a corner kick. It was dreadfully unlucky, as was his injury.
It became clear after the match that Manneh’s injury basically put paid to any chance the Whitecaps had of advancing. Rosales was put on for Manneh, but one wonders why putting speed on for speed with Mattocks was not the option chosen. Rosales is a fine footballer but at 34 or so he is a bit like a turtle.
After Manneh’s injury the Whitecaps played the rest of the match at a dreadfully slow tempo, and Portland’s defenders had an easy time of it, laughing their way through the match and on their way out of BC Place after the final whistle.
Techera provided some bright moments but was ultimately well contained by Portland’s defence which dealt with his speed and dribbling well.
One has to give credit to Portland. The Timbers hung on and withstood some early pressure, and dominated the Whitecaps with some wonderful possession football. This was especially apparent in the second half when the Timbers passed the ball around at will while the Whitecaps looked on in dumbfounded frustration.
Portland scored two good quality goals executed after the kind of intelligent running and passing which was completely absent from the Whitecaps play. On the first goal Valeri slipped away from Beitashour from a throw in, while Koffee was slow to react and adapt to the move. Portland’s Adi finished with the confidence that has been so absent from our own Rivero’s game.
It was hard to comprehend how the Whitecaps could be so poor after finishing third overall in the league. Then again, playoff football is all about which team is peaking at the right time, and while Portland is doing exactly that, the Whitecaps were playing their worst football of the season at precisely the wrong time. It was a tale of two seasons as Portland had terrible injury problems early on in the season, while the Whitecaps suffered their injury woes late on in the season.
The late season injury to our Captain Pedro Morales really killed our season. Our most talented player could not achieve fitness in time to play a serious role in the playoffs. It has become clear that Morales is a moody sort of fellow for whom quality of play is dependant on just the right physical and mental conditions. He is a bit of a sensitive artist, and doubts are creeping in about his physical and mental fitness to play with the consistency we need him to.
Robbie Earnshaw provided the only real joy of the second half when he nearly scored from a bicycle kick soon after coming on. Rosales had a poor match and did not really register any notable positives for the team. I wonder if this is the last we will see of these two great professionals in Whitecaps shirts.
Lets face it, it was a great season. Did we dare dream about finishing third in the league at the beginning of the season? We won the Canadian Championship and with it the chance to play more Champions League football. The last seven or so matches made it seem like we had a terrible season when, in fact, there is a lot to be proud of.
With the youngest squad in MLS, the future looks bright so long as management manages well.
Lets take a break and then look forward to next season!
Tags: injuries, Pedro Morales, plastic grass, Polytan, Vancouver Whitecaps
The Vancouver Whitecaps recently looked capable of challenging for the MLS Supporter’s Shield this season, but a spate of muscle and tendon injuries have slowed the Whitecaps down from a healthy trot to a virtual crawl. Competitors in the Western and Eastern Conferences look like flying past them in the standings. Is the plastic grass at BC Place to blame?
Octavio Riveiro is nursing a sore Achilles, Mauro Rosales has a pulled groin, Pa Modou Kah has a pulled groin, Nico Mezquida has a pulled hamstring, Pedro Morales has a pulled hamstring, Steven Beitashour is nursing a sprained knee, and Christian Techera has pulled a leg muscle.
While it is true football teams will accrue injuries as the season goes along, my view is the plastic grass at BC Place has taken a huge toll on our squad, which is now decimated to the point where an early exit from the playoffs looks sadly likely. A strong Whitecaps starting eleven is now a mediocre one at best due to injuries.
There are plenty of apologists, including the Vancouver Whitecaps own top brass, for plastic grass. The opinions of the Whitecaps brass are informed by a lack of choice in the matter, however. You cannot grow a good grass pitch in BC Place, and there is nowhere else for the Whitecaps to play.
There are even “scientific studies” which claim to demonstrate that plastic grass causes no more injuries than natural grass. In my view they are not worth the paper they are written on. Anyone who has played on grass pitches and on plastic grass will tell you that plastic grass is much harder on the body.
Pedro Morales, our best player by a country mile, has had a terrible season with muscle and tendon injuries. Morales suffers from back muscle problems, and playing on plastic grass has been a disaster for him. This season he has had back, calf and hamstring problems.
The world’s best teams refuse to play their squads on plastic grass for a reason. They refuse to do so because plastic grass causes muscle and tendon injuries and makes existing injuries even worse.
While Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard and David Villa recently towed the MLS company line and refused to criticize Vancouver’s plastic surface, is there any real doubt about how they truly feel? Recently LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena spoke before a recent fixture with Seattle about how he had to “dumb down” his team’s playing style because of Seattle’s plastic pitch
Interesting to note that while Seattle plays on a plastic grass field for their home games, they train on a beautiful grass pitch at the Starfire Soccer complex outside of Seattle. In my view if the Whitecaps are forced to play their home matches on plastic grass they should conduct all training on grass to save the players from greater injury risk.
In my view there is no coincidence the Whitecaps starting eleven are dropping like flies; their bodies are feeling the ill effects of playing and training on plastic grass.
All of this demonstrates the need to resurrect the vision of a soccer specific stadium for the Vancouver Whitecaps with a proper grass playing surface.
Tags: Cascadia Cup, Clint Dempsey, I-5 Derby, Obafemi Martins, Octavio Rivero, Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps
Oh, the indignity of it. The Seattle Sounders humiliated the Vancouver Whitecaps in front of a sold out crowd at BC Place yesterday. What made it worse was that the Whitecaps had the opportunities to put this one away early, but could not find the back of the net.
Coach Carl Robinson started the match with Ousted in goal, Smith at left back, Kah and Waston at centre back, and Harvey at right back. Teibert and Koffie took up positions in defensive midfield, while Techera and Manneh flanked Rosales in the number 10 spot. Rivero played the lone striker up front. The Whitecaps were without Laba, Beitashour and Morales and man, did it show.
Teibert’s play only made Laba’s absence more keenly felt, Smith looked weak on defence, ponderous in his runs and poor in crossing the ball, while Rosales sprayed the ball around accurately but to no real effect.
The last time Seattle came to Vancouver was when they beat us 2-0 earlier in the season with two Chad Barrett markers. They played Clint Dempsey in deep midfield then and repeated the strategy yesterday. Dempsey did a fine job of helping Seattle keep possession throughout a match where the pressure was on the Whitecaps. The Whitecaps needed to win to retain the Cascadia Cup, and Seattle decided to soak up the pressure and keep the ball as long as possible when they got hold of it.
Seattle showed they did not just come to defend when Evans forced an excellent save from Ousted early on with a header that was going into the roof of the net.
Whitecaps Striker Rivero looked lively early on and had a chance to put Seattle on the back foot after 18 minutes. A bad back pass put Rivero through on goal with no one to beat except Sounders keeper Frei, who was out of the play and at Rivero’s mercy. Astonishingly and disappointingly, Rivero hit the ball first time wide of the net; all he needed was to find the target and Frei likely would not have been able to stop it.
Techera later put an amazing low long pass through to Rivero, who was again in alone. Frei had read the play well, however, and got out early to block the effort by Rivero.
Twenty minutes later Kah put a high diagonal ball over Seattle’s defences to Techera who deftly trapped the ball and out-paced a Seattle defender to approach Seattle’s goal alone from a steep angle on the right. Techera fluffed his left footed effort and Frei was able to easily gather the weak shot. Rosales and Rivero were both free and available in front of goal awaiting a pass, making the whole situation all the more frustrating.
Football is the kind of game where missed chances come back to haunt you and this game just served to prove the point.
Just before half time Obafemi Martins shrugged off a couple of challenges from Waston 35 yards from the Whitecaps goal when he spotted Seattle’s Austrian new boy Ivanschitz ghosting past Smith at the far post. Smith let to try to cut out the high ball but was well out of position. Ivanschitz latched on to the ball unopposed and drove it through Ousted’s legs into the Whitecaps’ goal. It was 0-1 Seattle. The timing of the goal could not be more devastating; Smith’s lack of concentration proved to be deadly to the Whitecaps’ efforts to retain the Cascadia Cup.
The second half began with the Whitecaps creating several good chances but each time the result was a shot comfortably into the loving arms of the waiting Frei, whose well-organized defence put intense pressure on Whitecaps shooters. Chad Marshall played like Vancouver’s own Kendall Waston, using his size to clear Seattle’s 18 yard box of any high balls.
With the Whitecaps desperate to score to claw back the match and the Cascadia Cup, they became vulnerable at the back and Dempsey was put in charge of marshalling counter attacks, which he did with devastating effectiveness. Dempsey provided passes for two goals, one by Pineda in the 70th minute and one by Martins in the 87th.
The first was a masterclass of counter attacking football, with no fewer than 5 Sounders involved in the Whitecaps half of the field in a fluid passing manoeuvre resulting in Pineda’s devastating strike off the post and into the net. Smith again looked wanting, flailing about rather than taking decisive action as last man back.
The last goal found the Whitecaps caught with only two men back as Dempsey sprinted deep into Whitecaps territory causing a ball with only Teibert in pursuit. Dempsey shrugged Teibert off like he was a rag doll and slotted the ball to an unmarked Martins who made no mistake to make it 3-0. This third goal shovelled on the grief at BC Place, which had begun emptying out earlier. The mood reminded me of the funeral I had attended earlier on this rainy September day.
The loss left the Whitecaps still atop the league but sitting on a real bubble, with three Western Conference teams, (Dallas, LA, and Seattle), within three points of them. The Whitecaps have five MLS matches left.
I don’t think there was one Whitecaps player who could be happy with their performance on this night. Techera and Rivero needed to be better in front of goal in the first half, and the team was lacking in ideas in the second half, failing to bring one difficult save from Frei in Seattle’s goal. Matias Laba was missed in particular, with his replacement Teibert lacking both in defence and going forward.
How things can change in a month and a half. On the first of August we easily beat a very poor Sounders team 3-0 on their own pitch; now they have done the same to us, meaning they win the series two games to one in MLS play.
This match proved that if we meet Seattle in the playoffs we had better have all of our first team fit if we expect to be successful. Now it is back down the I-5 to Seattle for CONCACAF Champions League play. Lets hope we can win some of our honour back.
The Whitecaps went to play in Houston last Saturday night for their 8th game of August 2015. After the emotional high of winning the Canadian Championship, there was no time to rest and it was off to hot and steamy Houston, Texas.
As if knowing there was tittle chance for his exhausted team to win, Robinson experimented with the line-up playing with two strikers and three defensive midfielders. Manneh and Mattocks played as strikers with Rosales in behind them for support. Laba, Teibert and Flores played in front of Dean, Waston, Parker and debutant fullback Jordan Smith. Iron-man Ousted started in goal.
The plan was clear: concede possession, defend, defend, defend and hope that Rosales, who played behind Manneh and Mattocks, could feed one of the two and steal the game on counter attacks.
It was working early on as Mattocks, fed by Manneh and Rosales, managed to beat the last man in Houston’s 18 yard box but ran out of room to get away a proper shot before onrushing Dynamo keeper Deric smothered the ball.
The Whitecaps went down 1-0 after they fell asleep momentarily. Dean gave winger Williams too much room and time on the ball allowing the Houston player to get around him and knock in a low cross. Striker Eric “Cubo” Torres beat Parker to the ball and deflected it past the defender leaving the ball sitting for Riccardo Clark to knock in. It was an ugly goal that barely dribbled into the net but it counted and won the game for Houston.
Tired Whitecaps minds and legs settled this match as both Waston and Laba got into card trouble with reckless and unnecessary fouls in midfield in the first half. In the second half both were sent off for completely silly and unnecessary tackles (Waston in the 56th minute and Laba in the 64th). Though they can’t be faulted for being tired, I would expect better from two leaders in our team who basically made it impossible for us to win the match.
Even when the Whitecaps were down to nine men, a very poor Houston team still looked vulnerable until they killed the game off of through a glancing header by Rodriguez in the 87th minute. For twenty minutes after they went down to 9 men the Whitecaps still looked as though they could at least tie up the match.
After eight games in August with four on the road, the Whitecaps finally collapsed and fell apart. Not that we can complain; in the month of August the team won four, tied two, and lost two. That is a pretty good record and a testament to the strength and determination of the Whitecaps squad. It also shows our team is being coached very well by Carl Robinson.
It was a match to forget, and thank God the Whitecaps now get ten days of well deserved rest.