Whitecaps win over Montreal nothing to gloat aboutMay 6, 2011 at 5:15 am | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps In MLS, Whitecaps Season 2011 | 4 Comments
Last night the Vancouver Whitecaps played the second leg of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship semi-final at home against the Montreal Impact. They won the total goal series 2-1 having scored one goal at home and one in Montreal. To say the Whitecaps were lucky to win the series would be an understatement.
In fact, the Montreal Impact snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. In the last play of extra time Montreal Striker Ali Gerba launched his body full length into a free header with the entire Whitecaps goal at his mercy. He was completely unmarked, and Whitecaps keeper Jay Nolly did not even know he was coming. Gerba’s header glanced the far post and went wide. All of the Whitecaps players and coaches looked stunned and embarrassed, and so they should be. To have so many men forward in the final stages of the match when we had a one goal lead was a scandal. It was a scandal that both central defenders Maloud Akloul and Greg Janicki lost track of the Impact’s most deadly striker at the crucial last moment of the game.
While Akloul scored the goal which won us the series in the 113th minute to make it 2-1 in the series, he was exposed at the back several times and looked more keen to score than to defend. His partner, Janicki, looked very shaky, and could have cost us the match with his mistakes. Several Montreal crosses dropped in our box without a touch from our central defenders, and would have been goals had Montreal strikers not been just as incompetent as our defenders. If this was an MLS game we would have been soundly defeated with this kind of lackadaisical defending. Akloul seemed incapable of winning a one-on- one battle to head high balls, which is a critical failing for a central defender.
The Montreal Impact play in the division 2 NASL, the division below us, but to give them credit, they played some very sophisticated football and would have won but for sloppy finishing. The Impact has never been a team to try to create many chances on goal, but have always focussed on finishing the few chances they do get. This formula nearly worked to defeat us last night.
Our goal in the 113 minute again came from our best and wisest footballer, Alain Rochat. On a free kick deep in Montreal territory, Rochat sought to win a rebound from the keeper for one of our players to finish off. It was perfectly executed. Rochat hit the ball hard and low forcing a save from Montreal’s keeper Gaudette, who coughed up a rebound for Akloul to swat home. It was a textbook free kick which redeemed the pathetic free kicks the Whitecaps had taken earlier in the match.
I felt this game might be the opportunity to play the ball along the ground and dominate Montreal with a possession game, but we were not able to string too many passes together before losing the ball. The Whitecaps too many times played long balls to Hassli and Salgado up front, who struggled to keep possession without proper midfield support. While I appreciate Teitur Thordarson played an attacking game, I think he should have emphasized possession and creating quality chances. Instead, we attacked with a lot of enthusiasm but not a lot of skill or planning, and the result was Montreal were able to defend in front of a sharp keeper without a lot of trouble.
Frankly, I was a bit embarrassed to have Montreal so close to defeating us. We are supposed to be a division above them, yet they played as well as we did, and the margin between victory and defeat was literally a razor’s edge. Last night’s game illustrated our team still needs a lot of work. Though we scored on a well executed free kick, our other free kicks were an embarrassment, and I hope they get to practicing set plays in training, because it is obvious they need work.
Though I am happy we won, I don’t take a lot of joy from this game because we were very close indeed to a humiliating defeat at the hands of one of our great rivals. I feel more a sense of relief than of joy. The Vancouver Whitecaps need a lot of work,and the squad needs strengthening if we are to win more games this season on something other than dumb luck.
Time to spend some of that money that we have heard about!