Whitecaps rout sad Earthquakes at BC Place

July 27, 2015 at 9:21 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps | Leave a comment
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The Vancouver Whitecaps and their fans had been starved of a good home victory for some time now,(since May 30, in fact!). With a struggling San Jose Earthquakes coming to town, a home victory seemed more certain than not.

In spite of having a brand new gorgeous football stadium with a lovely natural grass playing surface, the Earthquakes are a bit of a sorry lot this year. They currently dwell near the bottom of the Western Conference. On this match day we saw why; they are perhaps the poorest team we have seen at BC Place this year, and what is more they didn’t seem to care that much either.

Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson started his usual formation of 4-2-3-1 with Dean, (in at left back for the suspended Harvey), Waston, Kah and Beitashour at the back, Koffie and Laba in deep midfield, Mezquida, Rosales and Manneh in attacking midfield and Riveiro at striker.

San Jose were at panic stations early as Kekuta Manneh struck terror in their hearts with one of many magnificent surging runs on this Sunday afternoon match. Though Manneh coughed up the ball on the play, so did San Jose’s defenders, leaving a surging Mauro Rosales to finish with a left footed low shot to the keeper’s right side. Frankly, it looked like most MLS keepers would have stopped it, but San Jose’s goalkeeper David Bingham (who is the worst keeper we have seen in a long time) flopped down like a limp piece of lettuce, letting the ball roll underneath him. It was 1-0 after only 5 minutes.

We were just chatting about how we were a bit disappointed that Waston and Kah had not scored this season when Rosales teed up a lovely out-swinging corner eight kick yards out from goal; two behemoths went up for the ball and ours won it. Kendall Waston had beaten Honduran international Victor Bernardez to the ball and headed it inside Bingham’s right post for the Whitecap’s second goal just after 30 minutes.

San jose only managed one breakthrough in the first half to the right of Ousted’s goal, but the close range effort went wide of the net. David Ousted was able to make a number of saves from shots but they were easy pickings for the big Dane.

Nico Mezquida made Bingham work with a full volley that looked like it might sneak into the far post, but this time the keeper was equal to the task.

When the half time whistle blew, a victory looked assured barring big collapse by the Whitecaps.

The collapse never happened, and in the 57th minute Mezquida chipped a ball over the earthquakes defensive line to Riveiro, who drew a penalty by positioning his body in front of the last defender and slowing his pace. Mezquida grabbed the ball and looked set to take the penalty, but cooler heads prevailed and Riveiro eventually stepped up to take it. The team decided to give Riveiro a break so he could get out of his scoring draught. Bingham guessed the correct way to his right, but Riveiro’s penalty had a deadly accuracy to it and pace to spare. It was 3-0 and Riveiro’s troubles were over.

Instead of going for more goals as they should have, the Whitecaps proceeded to practice passing the ball backwards between themselves. The result was a very boring last 30 minutes. The ‘Caps obsession with defensive passing actually handed San Jose two good chances late in the game. Why the Whitecaps did not keep attacking to entertain the home fans I don’t know. Why not go for 4 or 5 and strike fear into the hearts of the rest of the league?

Whitecaps old boy Shea Salinas clanged one off of the crossbar ten minutes from time, and to us it looked as thought the ball had bounced down over the line. In spite of what can only be described as a very poor performance, the Earthquakes managed to claw one back through Quincy Amarikwa in the 90th minute. Salinas was again involved; he seemed to be keen to show his old team a thing or two.

One treat of the second half was seeing Pedro Morales get 20 minutes at the end of the match as a sub for Mezquida. He was up to his old tricks a made some beautiful passes even if all of the bluster had gone out of this match by the time he came on. Hurtado came on for the great Rosales (who deservedly won man of the match) and Teibert replaced Koffie. All three Whitecaps substitutes must take responsibility for the fact San Jose scored a goal and nearly had another one after these three came on.

The San Jose Earthquakes were so bad on this night it looked like we were playing against the NASL’s Edmonton in a Canadian Championship game. Even previously deadly striker Chris Wondolowski looked like a plodder during this match. Wondolowski had played the day before for the USA against Panama in the Gold Cup third place match which only served to prove how bad the Earthquakes bench must be.

It was nice to win at home but I would have preferred to play against a team that actually put up a fight. Dominic Kinnear, the Earthquakes manager, must surely make some moves to improve his squad or risk finishing last in the Western Conference in 2015.

Laba screamer gives Whitecaps draw in Portland

July 20, 2015 at 10:19 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps | Leave a comment
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Having lost two games on the trot the Vancouver Whitecaps set off for Portland knowing Kendall Waston and Pa Modou Kah would not be available in the middle of the back four. The former was called up by Costa Rica for the Gold Cup, And the latter has crocked his ankle.  Christan Dean and Tim Parker would have a baptism of fire in Oregon.

Veterans Jordan Harvey and Steven Beitashour flanked the green central pairing. Matias Laba and Gershon Koffie both looked to improve on their poor performances against SKC at home last week, where they both had trouble passing the ball out of deep midfield.  Octavio Riveiro, Mauro Rosales, Kekuta Manneh, and Nicolas Mezquida played the forward diamond.

Our top four looked like a very effective unit early on, keeping the ball in Portland’s half. Rosales, who sat at the bottom of the diamond, continued his good form of late, putting Manneh through alone. Manneh rounded the keeper and slotted the ball towards goal. Sadly for him Nat Borchers got there first and slid to stop the ball in a huge cloud of those little black tire bits that artificial turf has in it.

Manneh sprang himself loose from two Portland defenders in another chance, running parallel with the 18 yard box for a point blank shot at Portland’s goal but Timbers keeper Kwarasey was equal to the task, stopping the ball with his foot in a desperate save.

Parker and Dean were just getting settled in when Parker hit a poor ball off a free kick to Dean, who played a similarly telegraphed softie to Laba in midfield. The ball was so easy to read that Portland’s forwards were all over Laba immediately, stripping the ball off him and launching a lightning counter attack. Four Timbers charged down on a helpless looking Parker and Dean. Diego Valeri took the ball from Fernando Adi and crashed the ball past Ousted, who left the near post exposed.

Adding further anxiety was the fact Parker got himself in card trouble early with a desperate foul on a Timbers forward who slipped past him with the ball. It was 1-0 in the 33rd minute and the Parker and Dean show looked like it could turn out to be a dud.

Despite having carried the play and having two excellent scoring opportunities for Manneh, the Whitecaps had nothing to show at half time.

It was looking like it was going to be a rough night with the Timbers soaking up pressure from the Whitecaps with apparent ease in the second half when the most remarkable thing happened.

Laba played a ball forward to Manneh at the top of the box only to get it pinged right back to him. Laba found Portland’s defenders backing off of him, fulling expecting Laba to pass back to Manneh. Laba kept creeping up on goal and decided to shoot, something which is rarely heard of from the little Argentine. Laba let fly from well outside the 18 yard box and his shot headed towards the far corner like it had eyes on it. Riveiro and a defender were running across the Keeper’s line of sight, distracting him and making him dive late. As they said in Monty Python, “there it was in the back of the net.” Laba and the rest of us were just as surprised as we were happy to see that go in off of his foot. It was sensational.

In the 67th minute Robinson sensed he could win this match, taking off the Mosquito and and throwing on the Bug. It failed to pay any real dividends as Techera made little impression on the match.

In the 82nd minute Robinson decided to lock up the shop, taking a tired Rosales off for Canadian terrier Russell Teibert. Teibert’s tireless running and defensive harrying shut down the Timbers for good. In injury time Robinson Took Manneh off for Froese just to kill time.

There were some nasty tackles flying in late on and Jordan Harvey crashed into Valeri after putting the ball too far in front of him, and the ref immediately sent him off. It was quite unintentional on Harvey’s part and if the ref had actually took time to think about it, it was arguably a yellow and not a red.

After the match Canadian midfielder Will Johnson got himself sent off for cursing the referee after a shoving match between some of the players. That will help the Whitecaps cause in the Western Conference as well, and Johnson was left looking a bit stupid.

With this match the Whitecaps demonstrated great team spirit, with a willingness to battle for each other and their coach Carl Robinson. If they had lost this match the Whitecaps would have gotten themselves in a bit of a rut. Instead that inspirational Laba screamer will resound in the minds of the team and its fans for quite some time.

Returning Whitecaps stumble against Kansas City

July 13, 2015 at 10:00 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps | 1 Comment
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The Vancouver Whitecaps road trip was so long I had forgotten the names of the people sitting around me. The one fellow whose name I did remember was Italian football great Carlo Ancelotti. He must have been desperate to see some football but I was a bit embarrassed by what we showed him.

Sporting Kansas City is a serious football club with great fans and owners who take success seriously. We always knew it was going to be a tough match, even with Graham Zusi out of it playing for the USA in the Gold Cup, along with Whitecaps players Darren Mattocks and Russell Teibert.

Another notable absence was that of our Captain Pedro Morales who seems to have missed a lot of games with his calf strain. We could have used him tonight but he was signing autographs and posing for photos with the aforementioned Ancelotti instead.

Coach Carl Robinson started an attacking team with Rivero up front, Manneh, Rosales and Techera in attacking midfield, Koffie and Laba in defensive midfield, Beitashour, Parker, Waston and Harvey in defence and the ever present, (and MLS player of the month), Ousted in goal.

It began well as Manneh looked in the mood, dipping in and out of KC defenders early on. Unfortunately this was a duel that Manneh would lose as the night went on, as his marker soon figured him out and neutralized the little Gambian, who faded into obscurity in the second half.

Much of the play was on the right side of the pitch as Rosales, Rivero and Techera worked well together with neat touches and tidy passes. Rosales played particularly well, playing the entire match and getting lots of good crosses into the box, but the Whitecaps never really got on the end of them all night.

The Whitecaps looked very strong early on, and judging by the first 15 minutes, a betting person would have put his pound on the Whitecaps winning this match.

Tim Parker glanced a perfect near post corner kick from Techera past KC goalkeeper Melia only to have KC’s ace midfielder Feilhaber nod the ball out of danger from his defensive position at the far post. It was a shame because Parker was robbed of what would have been a well deserved (and spectacular) first MLS goal.

Thought the first half ended at 0-0 there looked like there was lots to look forward to. The halftime break somehow switched things over and KC were in command of the game for much of the second half.

In the 52nd minute KC earned a corner kick which the Whitecaps managed to clear. The clearance only went so far as a KC defender who found Nemeth with an over the head kick into the Whitecaps third. Nemeth found himself alone in possession of the ball at the right corner of the box. A marking mix-up involving Harvey and Manneh allowed Nemeth all the time he needed to find defender Ellis with a perfect cross which split Parker and Waston. Ellis’s glancing header to the far post was sublime and too much even for the excellent Ousted to stop.

It was slack defending by Manneh, who put in only the weakest of efforts to stop the cross from going in. Parker and Waston both let Ellis run in without the hint of a physical challenge for the ball. It was an example of how goals in soccer come from consecutive defensive errors.

Soon after Kansas City hit the post and the Whitecaps had to regroup to get back in control of this match. Koffee and Laba both had trouble passing the ball out of central midfield and the former was taken off for Deybi Flores in the 60th minute. Flores really did nothing better than Koffie did, however, and failed to change the game for the better.

Techera had an opportunity 15 minutes into the second half which came from a superb back-heel from Rivero. Rosales was cut off at the far post so Techera chose to shoot at close range and hit Melia rather than the back of the net. It was our best chance to score.

The now ineffective Manneh was taken out for Erik Hurtado after 80 minutes, but Hurtado barely touched the ball. Veteran Robbie Earnshaw came on late but too late to do anything. By the end of the match the Whitecaps were playing with four up front, three in midfield and three at the back. Ousted stared rushing up for corners.

Parker rose brilliantly again and headed towards goal in the last minute of regular time but that man Melia dove to his right and barely got to the ball, palming it around the post for another corner kick.

The Whitecaps lost this game in the second half with one defensive breakdown. They had the chances to win the match but came up against a determined and organized Kansas City with its hot goalkeeper. There was definitely the sense that the Whitecaps ran out of ideas trying to break down a stubborn KC defense. It was rather like watching the home match against Seattle earlier in the season. Frustration was the overall feeling.

Had the Whitecaps won this match they would have been at the top of the Western Conference but it all went up in smoke to leave a very compressed table in which we are in the thick of it rather than on top of it. Now it is only two points between first and sixth place.

The man who might change it all for the better, Morales, seems to be still hobbled and I doubt if we will see him travel to Portland to play on the plastic grass there.

Women of the World Cup shine despite Canada’s shameful plastic pitches

July 6, 2015 at 9:09 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps | 2 Comments
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The fact is we Canadians let the best women football players in the world down by making them play a World Cup on inferior plastic playing surfaces.

I am embarrassed as a Canadian that my country, a first world country, could not provide grass playing surfaces for the world’s best players. While the organization and attendance at the World Cup were top class, the playing surfaces were truly embarrassing, making this a much poorer World Cup to watch than the last one.

While Canada’s World Cup showed top class organization, the poor playing surfaces show we as Canadians are still in the stone age in footballing terms. All of those apologists for the plastic pitches, including the Canadian Soccer Association, demonstrated they simply don’t know football and don’t deserve to be in the positions they are in.

Many of the top players, like Abby Wambach, had the courage to launch a human rights lawsuit about it, but dropped it to play football instead. We owe them a debt of gratitude for that.

Abby Wambach got to have her cake and eat it too. She had the courage to expose the sexist attitudes that our plastic playing surfaces represented and then went on to win the trophy nonetheless. She proved she is a true champion and a courageous person who is willing to speak her mind. She spoke the truth: it is laughable to even suggest the Men’s World Cup would ever be played on plastic grass.

I got to take in two matches: USA v Nigeria and Canada v Switzerland. Both matches were played in front of more than 50,000 people. It was a spectacular affirmation of the greatness of women’s sport, and an affirmation of the greatness of the players, whose names and exploits we will not forget. I will never forget the sight of Japan’s Homare Sawa coming in as a sub in the final in her sixth world cup. Simply unforgettable.

Our Canadian team was knocked out earlier than we would have liked but is there any doubt they made us proud to be Canadian? I am grateful to them all, even to those who made errors. They all had the courage to pull the red jersey on to fight for our country in front of tens of thousands of people. Canadian girls,(and boys too, it turns out!), will remember this tournament and will strive to win a World Cup one day.

What a shame it is the tournament was not played on grass. It would have been better as a spectacle, the football would have been better, and the players would have felt better and played better. From watching this World Cup there is no doubt in my mind that Canada’s plastic playing surfaces held the players back from their best.

Thank God women footballers have been promised the next Women’s World Cup will be held on proper grass playing surfaces. The top women’s football tournament should never be held on plastic playing surfaces again.

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