Rivero strikes again in Whitecaps Orlando win

March 22, 2015 at 4:16 pm | Posted in Whitecaps season 2015 | Leave a comment
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The number 29 is becoming a special number in Vancouver Whitecaps history. Prior to its current owner, it belonged to Eric Hassli, who was the Whitecaps first star of the MLS era. Hassli brought the team its first goal of MLS play and scored some incredible scorchers off of his powerful right foot.

Now the number 29 belongs to Octavio Rivero, who is a different kind of footballer. Hassli was raw passion and thunder; Rivero is intelligence and cunning. Rivero brings a rare tactical sophistication to the Whitecaps. His instinct for being in the right spot at the right time is great, and the timing of his runs is superb. Like many Latin American footballers, his athleticism is good, but his sharp football thinking is what makes him special.

Walls of purple surrounded the Whitecaps on all sides as they walked in to play at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Only the lower bowl was open this time, but more than 30,000 Orlando fans still created a hostile atmosphere for the Whitecaps. It was a hot and humid affair; the players were all soaked through with sweat soon after kickoff.

In this match the Whitecaps made three changes to the starting line up from last week’s match in Chicago. Pa Modou Kah gave way to Diego Rodriguez at centre back, Russell Teibert gave his spot to Gershon Koffie, and Nico Mezquida took over from an injured Mauro Rosales. Robinson’s plan became clear: cede possession to Orlando, frustrate their game, and hope to score on the counter attack. The Whitecaps plugged up the middle of the park and camped out in front of their 18 yard box, with clear instructions not to let anyone inside the box.

Lets's hope brave Sam is OK

Lets’s hope brave Sam is OK

Orlando’s star Brazilian Kaka faced a forest of legs in front of him whenever he got the ball, and was frustrated for the entire match. Consequently, apart from a few occasions, Orlando resorted to long-range efforts which flew over the Whitecaps’ goal. Kendall Waston and keeper David Ousted took care of the high balls that came in. In injury time Orlando’s Canadian striker Larin got through only to have Ousted save the match by diving at his feet and knocking the ball away with his hand. It was one of the few times Orlando got into the Whitecaps box with possession of the ball.

Koffee was tasked with shutting down runs down the middle from Kaka, and did his job ferociously. He earned an early yellow card for an over-enthusiastic challenge. The Whitecaps rode their luck as the referee did not blow for a penalty when Waston knocked Molino over in the box in the first half, and Kekuta Manneh got away with a nasty two-footed lunge on Aurelien Collin just before being substituted in the second half. Manheh still has not tamed his red mist problem; he could have thrown the whole match away had the ref got that call right and got out his red card.

Poor Sam Adekugbe bravely challenged the giant Donovan Rickets in Orlando’s goal in the second half and, as would be expected, came off the worse for it. He was taken off in an ambulance with apparent rib injuries. It looks like he will be out for at least three weeks while his ribs heal up. It was a tough break for Adekugbe, who looked to become the presumptive starter for the Whitecaps at left back, and was just about to play for Canada’s senior men’s team.

Pedro Morales still looked a bit off in this match. Morales has had a rough time of it recently and has had a lot of things to take his mind off of his game. He has a new daughter and has been ill the last week or so. All the Whitecaps seem to need from Morales, however, is one or two moments of magic in order to win. Morales put Rivero through with a brilliant slide-rule pass in the first half. Deep in injury time it was Morales’ brilliant dipping free kick which Rivero deflected with the back of his head into the net. When Morales comes home next week I think we will see him in the form we are more used to from last year.

Rivero could have had three goals in this game. In the first half he nearly scored on a breakaway and hit the crossbar as well. Just prior to his goal he fell injured with cramp in his calf, but he picked himself up to limp his way into the penalty box to score the winning goal. All Rivero had to do was get a piece of the ball to deflect past Ricketts in Orlando’s goal, such was the pace Morales put on the ball.

It was a pretty poor match to watch up until the minutes before the final whistle. This year’s Whitecaps team is the hardest to beat yet, with strength and fight in every position. Substitutes like Kianz Froese came on and battled just as hard as the starters did. The Whitecaps played an intelligent and tough away game with a clear strategy which paid off in spades.

Coach Carl Robinson got this one absolutely right. His Whitecaps team has bounced back from the opening day disappointment against Toronto with two stunning away wins.

New Seattle Sounders Stadium extension means poor playing surface

March 18, 2015 at 9:16 pm | Posted in General Football, Whitecaps season 2015 | 1 Comment
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The Seattle Sounders recently made a deal to continue playing in the massive CenturyLink Field in downtown Seattle for the next ten years. The deal has a lot going for it and fits within the now preferred downtown stadium model that Major League Soccer has wisely adopted.

With a competitive team, a spectacular stadium and some of the biggest crowds in world soccer, what could there be to complain about? Artificial turf, that is what. Artificial turf, also called Polytan or Fieldturf depending on the manufacturer, blights the game of soccer in the Pacific Northwest.

Pacific Northwest soccer is booming like never before with Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver thriving in Major League Soccer. Fans are filling the stadia, but get let down by the awful playing surfaces.

BC Place in Vancouver, which will host the final of the Women’s World Cup this year, has a playing surface so bad that top Women players started a law suit so they would not have to play on it along with other stadia with similar playing pitches. Like all top players they prefer to play Soccer on grass. This is because the game is so much better on grass, and because of the toll artificial pitches takes on player’s bodies.

The Vancouver Whitecaps have been playing on artificial pitches for four years and fans here routinely miss seeing star players because they refuse to play on the stuff. We never once got to see Thierry Henry, and other stars who had niggling injuries preferred to not play because of the risk of aggravating those injuries.

All of the Pacific Northwest teams attempt to appease their fans by promising better artificial surfaces. This is window-dressing. What they are doing is promising to make something awful a little bit less awful.

While Pacific Northwest soccer fans are top class, the teams they support and the soccer they watch will continue to be substandard because of artificial pitches. We fans of Pacific Northwest soccer deserve better; we deserve to watch our teams play the beautiful game on grass.

O. Rivero! Whitecaps beat Chicago Fire 1-0

March 15, 2015 at 10:58 pm | Posted in Whitecaps season 2015 | Leave a comment
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After last week’s disappointing home opener against Toronto Football Club, Vancouver Whitecaps fans looked to the team to bounce back with a good result on the road in Chicago. We were not disappointed.

The Whitecaps responded brilliantly, beating Frank Yallop’s Chicago side in an entertaining, end to end match. Carl Robinson’s men were never content to park the Whitecaps’ bus in front of their own goal. The Whitecaps always looked likely to score even if the winner came late in the match.

Octavio Riveiro left no doubt as to his ambition with his second performance in a Whitecaps shirt. River ran his blood to water, and showed some fancy footwork which made Captain Pedro Morales look almost ordinary. He won the match with his second goal in only two games for the Whitecaps.

Whitecaps legend in the making: Octavio Rivero

Whitecaps legend in the making: Octavio Rivero

Whitecaps coach Robinson made one change to last weeks line up: Jordan Harvey gave way to young Canadian Sam Adekugbe. Rivero was up top as striker with Rosales, Morales and Manneh in attacking midfield. Russell Teibert and Matias Laba clogged up the middle in defensive midfield, in front of a back four of Beitashour, Waston, Kah and Adekugbe. The ever present David Ousted kept goal.

Adekugbe made a good impression last year with the occasional showing in the first team. He may well have won himself a regular starting spot with an excellent performance in this match at left back. Adekugbe was excellent in defence, providing two key blocks on Chicago shots that were headed into the Whitecaps goal, and rattled Chicago defenders with quick, surging forward runs.

It was a good day for Canadian talent overall as Russell Teibert played the full 90 minutes in midfield. Teibet has made a leap forward in quality and commitment this year, as he and Laba buzzed around the midfield harassing Chicago’s creative players.

Pedro Morales was curiously off-colour again; our complicated Captain had opportunities to score but his efforts went strangely wide. One opportunity had him alone against the goalkeeper yet he managed to shoot wide. The odd thing about Morales is that he can make the ball land on a dime from 60 yards with his passes but his shooting accuracy during open play is abysmal.

Even if Morales was again a bit off-colour, it was his cross which led to the winner late in the match. Morales sent a screaming, curling cross deep into the Chicago box from the right flank which confounded poor Fire defender Lovel Palmer who coughed the ball up for Steven Beitashour. Beitashour was at a steep angle to the right of goal but spotted Rivero calling for the ball in a better position in front of goal. He passed the ball to Rivero, who shot low between the legs of Palmer for the winner.

It was a greatly entertaining match to watch in spite of some challenging conditions. Mauro Rosales, who unfortunately sustained a sprained ankle in the first half, seemed unable to get the ball off of a soft pitch, and when he did the wind caught it. The great news was that once Rosales left the pitch injured Nico Mezquida came in and did a fine job. He looks stronger and faster than he did last year, and he showed tremendous tenacity, skill and commitment.

Carl Robinson made much smarter substitutions this week than last. Darren Mattocks came in for Manneh late and helped the Whitecaps kill the game with some intelligent possession. Gershon Koffie came in for Morales later still and helped the Whitecaps withstand the last desperate attacks of Chicago before the final whistle went.

Lets not forget that David Ousted also did his bit, keeping the Whitecaps in the match with some good first half saves. Ousted has grown again this year in confidence and maturity. He seems to have mellowed out a bit, with less hysterical bellowing at his defenders!

This match left me feeling that the ship has been righted after a disastrous season opener last week. This win will give the Whitecaps confidence going into what will be a cauldron in Kaka’s Orlando next Saturday.

Second half slumber sinks Whitecaps against TFC

March 8, 2015 at 6:19 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Whitecaps season 2015 | 1 Comment
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For five years now the Vancouver Whitecaps have had the privilege of playing their first game at home. In Major League Soccer playing at home is a distinct advantage. Squads like Toronto Football club face a five hour flight and a three hour time adjustment when they come to Vancouver. This, in part, explains why the Whitecaps have won their four previous opening day matches, which have always been against Eastern Conference opposition. With TFC signing some major talent in Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco to accompany Micheal Bradley I had the feeling this might be our first opening day loss. It was, as the Whitecaps went down 1-3.

Early in the match the Whitecaps were buzzing with new signing Octavio Rivero starting up top as the Whitecaps’ striker. Kekuta Manneh and Mauro Rosales played on the flanks with Pedro Morales at the bottom of the diamond. Canadian Russell Teibert and Matias Laba played midfield stoppers in front of a back line of Jordan Harvey, Pah-Moduo Kah, Kendall Waston and Steven Beitashour. The ever-present David Ousted started in goal.

Rivero scored his first... But what a miss!

Rivero scored his first… But what a miss!

TFC had a major overhaul in terms of their personnel in the off-season and early on they played like a team that did not know each other. The Whitecaps were rampant and had no difficulty in getting behind TCF’s flat back defence. Early on Russell Teibert got deep and crossed the ball right on the foot of Rivero who had an easy tap-in. Instead, he stepped on the ball and left it behind. We can thank our artificial turf manufacturers Polytan for that miss, and Rivero will now be condemned to being on YouTube under the “incredible misses” category. We would later wonder what the result would be had Rivero scored.

Soon after Rivero would make up for the miss, however, as a fine ball from Kah found La Cabeza running behind TFC’s high line of defence. Rivero ran for 30 yard on his own and put the ball through TFC keeper Joe Bendik’s legs to put the Whitecaps up 1-0 after 20 minutes. Rivero looked excellent in this match, but suffered from starvation in the second half because of a lack of service.

The high price talent of TFC struck back 12 minutes later when Giovinco managed to lose Teibert on the right side of the pitch. He headed for the middle and found Altidore in the box with a wonderfully deft pass; Altidore dribbled around Ousted and slotted home from the right of the goal. Altidore had managed to get on the blind side of both Watston and Kah, who were caught ball watching. Harvey saw Altidore’s run but reacted too late to do anything useful about it. This same mistake would be repeated by all in the second half.

Even though the Whitecaps had been pegged back to 1-1, they went into the half time break knowing they were unlucky not to be 2 goals up on TFC. It still looked promising for a win.

That's what money buys you. Altidore scores.

That’s what money buys you. Altidore scores.

The Whitecaps’ tea lady must have got the brew wrong during the half-time break; did she use Sleepy Time Tea instead of English Breakfast? Perhaps coach Robinson sang lullabies instead of giving a stirring speech. The Whitecaps came into the second half with none of the urgency they had so effectively used in the first half. TFC Coach Greg Vanney made some smart tactical adjustments, playing his whole team much deeper in defence, thereby neutralizing the Whitecaps’ ability to get behind their defensive line. Manneh consequently disappeared, as did Rosales. It was nothing but frustration in the second half as the Whitecaps created far less chances in the second half, and could not adjust their own tactics to meet TFC’s changes.

One would think that Vanney’s tactical move would have given Pedro Morales more room to play in midfield but our star player had a bad match overall. While he sprayed some magnificent long passes to the flanks, his short passing game in the middle of the pitch was abysmal. He gave the ball away time and time again. Worse still, Morales did not look match fit, and was probably one of the worst conditioned players on the pitch. Last year the excuse was that he had not had a break and was exhausted. Lets hope this game has helped him to get into shape. There is no doubt TFC’s new star Giovinco easily outplayed our star Morales.

While the Whitecaps misfired through the second half, TFC grew in strength. Justin Morrow got around Beitashour and crossed low for Robbie Findley to blast in to the Whitecaps’ net from close range after 60 minutes. As in the first goal, Kah and Waston were caught ball watching and were unaware of Findley’s blind side run between Kah and Harvey. Harvey again saw Findley’s run but was again too slow to react and chased him in vain. The fact is both Beitashour and Harvey looked easily beaten in this game, and if I were Sam Adekugbe and Ethen Sampson I would be getting butterflies because they might just be starting matches soon enough. The fact is too many Whitecaps put in sub-standard performances in the second half.

Through the legs and in... Rivero's first

Through the legs and in… Rivero’s first

TFC’s third goal came from a ball played right over the middle of the Whitecaps defence as Atidore got the better of Kah. Kah took a wild swing at the ball across Altidore’s body and brought him down. Altidore’s cheeky chip into the net on the penalty and his sarcastic celebration in front of the Southsiders brought him a beer shower as fans chucked their beverages at him. We will have to see what the club and MLS does about that one, but I would imagine some fans are going to lose their season tickets if they can be identified.

As the final whistle blew, we fans were left to ponder our first opening game loss in the Whitecaps MLS era. One fellow sitting in front of me joked “the season is over”. It all made me reflect on the fact that money does win soccer games as TFC’s high priced talent certainly was more effective in execution than our comparatively cheap squad.

Coach Carl Robinson must also look in the mirror; he was not able to match Vanney’s half time tactical shift. Robinson’s substitutes were more naive than effective as Laba and Rosales made way for Hurtado and Mattocks. The changes left the Whitecaps lacking in shape and intelligence, looking for all the world like a schoolboy team. TFC easily absorbed the “pressure” and saw the game out for a convincing win.

It is back to the drawing board for coach Robinson. Last year’s problem was a lack of goals, but this year’s problem would appear to be poor defending. The Whitecaps defence looked just as unconvincing as the team’s captain in this match.

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