Whitecaps narrowly avoid Chivas defeat

September 2, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Posted in Whitecaps Season 2013 | 2 Comments

Major League Soccer’s worst ever marketing concept came to visit the Whitecaps on Saturday in the form of Chivas USA.

The crowd was abuzz with comments about how this was a “must win” given the tight playoff race in the Western Conference. The Whitecaps sat in seventh spot in the West, but a win would take them into a tie for the last playoff spot. Chivas came into town the last placed team by far in the West, but in better form recently, having beaten the NY Red Bulls last week. They also now have a certain fellow called Carlos Bocanegra playing for them, who was not here when we beat them 3-1 when Chivas last visited Vancouver in June.

Erick Torres: 2 superb goals

Erick Torres: 2 superb goals

Football is a game of eleven verses eleven but it is remarkable how a change in one player can fundamentally change a team for better or for worse. The Whitecaps were on the wrong side of this equation on this match day; the loss of Nigel Reo-Coker through suspension meant the Whitecaps were a much poorer team than usual. Without Reo-Coker the team had no unifying or driving force. While the team had good spells, overall they were predictable, slow and lacking drive and creativity.

Cobwebs continue to cover Andy O’Brien after his lengthy absence due to hamstring injury. Early in the match he made a clumsy challenge to striker Erick Torres. O’Brien’s deflected header flew straight up in the air where O’Brien lost sight of both the ball and Torres, leaving the Chivas man standing alone in front of goal. Torres took a look around, saw he was alone and did a perfect bicycle kick past ‘Caps keeper David Ousted to put the Whitecaps down 0-1 after only three minutes. It looked like this match might follow the script of the June match where the Whitecaps went down a goal early and came back to win 3-1. In fact, things went the other way.

Man o' the match: Torres scores again

Man o’ the match: Torres scores again

The Whitecaps had a chance to peg one back soon after Torres’ strike when Matt Watson put Kenny Miller through alone on the right of Chivas’ goal. Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy expertly cut down the shooting angle, however, and Miller did well to squeeze a shot by him onto the goalpost.

Some neat play ten minutes later by Chivas on the right flank led to a perfect cross being driven into the Whitecap’s box by the Goats’ Edgar Mejia. The cross split Johnny Leveron and Andy O’Brien, where Torres’ timed a perfect run to deflect the ball into the far post past a flailing Ousted; Chivas were up two after only fifteen minutes of play.

As a football purist, it was a real pleasure to see a footballer like Torres, who is a credit to MLS. His play was a joy to watch all night, and it is clear he is a special player with outstanding technical football skills. Even Whitecaps fans applauded his first goal given how well taken it was. As fans of the Whitecaps, however, this was the worst football we had seen from our team at home all season.

As the first half ended I took heart from the fact the Whitecaps had started slowly in many games at home this season only to come roaring back and win the match. Early indications in the second half did not look good however, as Ousted was forced to make an excellent save to his left to stop the Whitecaps from going down 0-3. It was nice to see Ousted actually make a save because recently all we have seen is balls flying past him into the net.

Koffie strikes his goal

Koffie strikes his goal

The Whitecaps starting putting heavy pressure on the Goats in the second and forced a mistake in the 63rd minute. Chivas keeper Dan Kennedy, who is one of the more eccentric keepers in MLS, came out of his goal into the bottom corner his 18 yard box to make a clearance with his weaker left foot under pressure from Watson. Kennedy coughed the ball up to Gershon Koffie in the middle of the park. Kennedy tried to scramble back to his goal as the crowd yelled “Shoot! Shoot!”. Koffie got the ball tied up in his feet but eventually recovered to send a screamer towards goal from thirty-five yards. Koffie’s curling and dipping shot caught an off-balance Kennedy going the wrong way and the keeper merely helped the ball into his own net. There was life in the Whitecaps yet.

In spite of what was a slow and predictable build up, the Whitecaps managed to create a number of chances to equalize. Kenny Miller was buzzing and working very hard all night trying to fill in the gap of experience and expertise left by Reo-Coker’s absence. He found himself free on the left side of goal, and managed to dribble his way to the top of the 18 yard box where Kekuta Manneh and Camilo tried to steal the shot from him. Manneh made contact but the ball dribbled wide.

With the Whitecaps still down in the 80th minute and their chances of making the playoffs at risk, Coach Martin Rennie gambled and took off centre back O’Brien for striker Tom Heinemann. Chivas were defending deep and the Whitecaps engaged in an all out assault on the Chivas goal.

With only three at the back, the Whitecaps looked exposed on several occasions. Late on Chivas player Bowen missed a golden opportunity to finish off the match but hooked the ball high over the net with Ousted at his mercy.

It looked like it was all over in injury time when Eric Hurtado, who replaced an apparently incensed Russell Teibert early in the second half, was found eight yards out by a deft Heinemann cross. Hurtado could not keep the ball from bouncing on the accursed BC Place Fieldturf and ended up skying the ball over the bar. Surely our misery was sealed.

A late injury time by Tom “the Wolfman” Heinemann saved the Whitecap’s blushes for a 2-2 tie, however. Miller’s buzzing about and thirst for the ball started the move down the left side of the pitch. He passed the ball to Manneh who crossed a deadly ball to the far post which bounced in front of Hurtado, who headed the ball back in front of the net. It was a simple smash-in for teh unmarked and waiting Heinemann, who thoroughly deserved to score his first goal in MLS play for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

The Wolfman gets his due

The Wolfman gets his due

Heinemann’s injury time equalizer gained us a precious point, which, aided by losses suffered by Portland, Colorado and San Jose, helped us keep pace with the playoff fight in the Western Conference. We actually moved up a spot and sit in sixth only two points behind both Colorado and Portland who sit in fourth and fifth, respectively. It looks like Seattle, LA and Salt Lake will finish in the top three in the division, leaving us in a tight dogfight with Dallas, Colorado and Portland for the last two playoff spots.

We can only thank our lucky stars that Reo-Coker will return next match. Without him the Whitecaps looked like a team that does not know how to play football. The lack of shape and tactical awareness the Whitecaps showed in midfield at points in the match made them look like a schoolboy team, and made coach Martin Rennie look like a fool.

One thing the match against Chivas proved is that we don’t stand a chance of making the playoffs without Nigel Reo-Coker on the pitch.

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2 Comments »

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  1. We are now 1-4-2 into the final 15 game stretch. We went 3-8-4 in the last 15bin 2012. It’s deja vu all over again. They need 4 pts from this road trip min or its over. The need 4 wins, 2d ,2L (14 pts) out of a possible 24…if last night is an an indication we will be out of the playoff picture by the end of the RSL game. Hey but thank god we have three keepers.

  2. Also do not count san jose out. Its s 5 team battle for 2 spots.


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