Robbo’s decisive substitutions earn draw against Galaxy

April 22, 2014 at 8:01 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Whitecaps season 2014 | 1 Comment
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Vancouver Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson demonstrated he will not be intimidated by player reputations or seniority in last Saturday’s 2-2 draw against the Los Angeles Galaxy.  First of all he sat Nigel Reo-Coker on the bench even though the former English Premiership star has been proclaimed fit after his mysterious misadventure with a bike rack.  Then, after a very poor first half he pulled two players off the pitch at half-time and replaced them. Andy O’Brien got an early yellow and was in danger of being sent off; Russell Teibert simply was chasing the game and not catching up. Players hate to be subbed off at half time because it means the coach thinks you are playing poorly.

Pedro Morales, who came off mid-way through the second half, looked slow and appeared to be playing in pain. The subs Robinson brought on proved decisive, as Kekuta Manneh, Johnny Leveron and Erik Hurtado all did their bit to save what appeared to be a lost cause in the first half.

Men of the match: Mattocks and Manneh

Men of the match: Mattocks and Manneh

 

Despite the lack of players that would  be considered stars in todays game, the LA Galaxy bring a certain reputation as being Major League Soccer’s glamour team.  Even through David Beckham left two years ago, his stardust still seems to glitter on the team. The Galaxy have one of the league’s top managers, Bruce Arena, who, like a true Californian, never seems to lose his cool, and one of the league’s strongest overall squads. Lucky for Vancouver Whitecaps fans our Robbo matched wits with the elder Arena.

In the first half, the Galaxy passed the ball among themselves with ease, scored an exquisite goal, and soaked up whatever pressure the Whitecaps could muster with relative ease.  True enough, the Whitecaps could have scored an early goal after 20 minutes had Darren Mattocks led with his foot rather than his head when he tried to get to Kenny Miller’s low cross.  Ten minutes later Morales lashed a shot on the half-volley which hit Miller’s elbow in a crowded LA penalty area, only to draw yet another fine save from LA’s Panamanian Keeper Jaime Penedo. Consistent with his prior performances against Vancouver, Penedo seemed to have the Whitecap’s number.

Just a few minutes later LA were 1-0 up after a very sophisticated deep ball by Gargan was headed back across goal by Husidic to Ishizaki, who headed home from six yards, completely unopposed.  It was a magnificently executed play which left the entire Whitecaps defence scratching their heads in disbelief; they had been torn to shreds. As the first half wore on, it became clear the Whitecaps had no answer to the Galaxy’s game, and the frustration in the Vancouver crowd became palpable.

The Whitecaps emerged with Leveron and Manneh in the team, and O’Brien and Teibert relegated to the subs bench.  Manneh immediately brought an offensive threat to the game that Teibert simply did not have on the night.  Leveron looked solid and played like he had been there in the first half as well.  It still looked to be a night of frustration, as Robinson pulled Morales and put Hurtado in, a move which had me scratching my head.  It looked as though Robinson hoped to kill the Galaxy with speed.  It paid off.

Manneh: speed, accuracy, power

Manneh: speed, accuracy, power

Darren Mattocks put in another full shift in this match and worked hard all game, and it was his speed that won the Whitecap’s an equalizer.  Erik Hurtado failed to control a pass from Beitashour, but got enough of a touch on the ball to slow it down on the way to Penedo.  Mattocks charged in after what looked to everyone to be a lost cause, and managed to dig the ball out from in between LA’s last defender and Penedo.  Mattocks then found himself in sole possession of the ball to the right of LA’s goal at a very poor angle.  Like a true striker Mattocks put his head down and shot the ball towards goal.  It had to be a perfect shot, and it was, just barely squeaking between a charging Omar Gonzalves and the near post; it was 1-1.

Minutes later Galaxy manager Arena decided to bring the giant Canadian striker Rob Friend into the picture.  Omar Gonzales is a big guy, but Friend made Gonzales look like a skinny little kid.  He is the biggest footballer I have seen at BC Place. Friend acted as the target man for high balls into Vancouver’s box to either score goals or provide knock-downs for others. After only ten minutes it worked, as Omar Gonzales had all the time in the world to cross a high ball to Friend, who knocked the ball down to Robbie Keane. Keane took a touch and then fired home from close range. In was 2-1 for the Galaxy.  

Its in!  Manneh ties it

Its in! Manneh ties it

Kekuta Manneh ought to earn the designation “super-sub” for what he brings to the Whitecaps off of the bench.  Manneh is able to use his speed, strength and dribbling ability to destabilize the toughest defences.  He has demonstrated that he can be a real sharpshooter as well, particularly when he gets the ball off to the left of goal just outside the box (remember that strike last year in Colorado?).  Hurtado played the ball back to Beitashour who crossed the ball to the other side of the box where he found Mattocks, who drew three defenders towards him before releasing the ball to Manneh, who was left all on his own.  Manneh took a touch to set the ball up for a perfect shot which beat a diving Penedo to his left at the far post.  It was a suburb shot, combining both force and accuracy.  Having looked like they would lose this one, the Whitecaps had clawed themselves back into the game again in the 86th minute.  They nearly stole the match two minutes later when Manneh found Miller, who scooped his shot wide under heavy pressure from Landon Donovan.

The match that had the potential to allow either LA or Vancouver to shoot up the standings failed to do so; both teams remained in fifth (Whitecaps) and sixth (Galaxy) in the highly competitive Western Conference.  It looks like it is going to be a real dogfight to get a playoff spot this year. With this match Robinson proved he can coach with the best of them. If he keeps making intelligent decisions like he did in this match, we are in it with a real chance for a playoff spot.

   

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