Wee Uruguayans save Vancouver Whitecaps in Salt Lake City

April 28, 2014 at 10:10 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Whitecaps season 2014 | Leave a comment

The Vancouver Whitecaps flew to Utah with three notable exceptions: Nigel Reo-Coker, Jay DeMerit and Pedro Morales all missed the trip.  Reo-Coker was apparently ill, there was no explanation for DeMerit, and Morales was recovering from his back troubles. Without these three available it looked as though the Whitecaps had no chance of getting out of Rio Tinto stadium without losing. Carl Robinson made Kenny Miller captain, playing him behind lone striker Darren Mattocks. Kekuta Manneh got the start to the left of Miller, and Teibert was on Miller’s right. Gershon Koffie and Mathias Laba were set to clog up the middle of the pitch ahead of Harvey, Leveron , Obrien and Beitashour.

What a crazy match.  The Vancouver Whitecaps and Real Salt Lake took turns at either end of this game exchanging horrific defensive errors.  All four goals were textbook lessons in incompetent defending.

The first ten minutes appeared to confirm my original fears about this match. The Whitecaps only lasted two minutes before little striker Joao Plata had put RSL in the lead.  There has been much criticism of Jay DeMerit after the Galaxy game last weekend, but the Whitecaps really missed his competitiveness, courage and pro-active tackling from the start.  Two minutes in Russell Teibert coughed up the ball in our end, and after a series of neat passes amongst RSL midfielders, Plata found himself 25 yards out to the left of our goal with no one near him in a Whitecaps jersey. Leveron was miles away from Plata which meant he could not enforce the defender’s first rule: don’t let the striker turn with the ball.  

Plata took full advantage of his solitude and easily pushed the ball past Leveron, who looked dreadfully slow by comparison, and slotted home a left footed low shot past keeper David Ousted.  Leveron was so slow and out of position that I think he can kiss his World Cup chance with Honduras goodbye. 

Only seven minutes later it was 2-0 to RSL, as no less than five sleepy Whitecaps including Teibert, Laba, O’Brien, Leveron and Harvey allowed Ned Grabavoy to do a stumbling dribble through them across the top of the 18 yard box before Alvaro Saborio came in from the right to smash home a curling left footed drive. Whitecaps left fullback Jordan Harvey ducked, turned away, and cowered in fear. Perhaps Harvey was afraid he would damage his good looks if he got hit by the ball. I’d hate to think of what Whitecaps old boy Roger Kenyon would say if here were there to see Harvey do that. Manneh had earlier failed to follow his man crossing the ball to Grabavoy from the right flank, just standing back and watching. It was clear all of the Whitecaps involved in defending did not have the spine of one Jay DeMerit. It was shockingly poor defending by all concerned. 

Too pretty to block shots?

Too pretty to block shots?

The camera panned to a stunned and disappointed Carl Robinson and to a bench full of Whitecaps substitutes with their eyes bugging out and their mouths agape. It was looking like the beginning of a very bad night. The Whitecaps were set to be thrashed in an embarrassing manner. The best that could be said of the rest of the first half was that the Whitecaps did not concede any more goals. It looked like the rest of the match would be simply an exercise in damage control.

Captain Kenny Miller huffed and puffed running around the pitch to no avail, and Darren Mattocks slipped back into his 2013 form, running into all the wrong spots and sulking when he didn’t get the ball. It was time for Robbo to give his first really nasty half time talk: the Whitecaps were playing like pieces of limp lettuce, failing to compete in the match.

Robinson did not take the same drastic action as he had agains LA the previous week, and let the same team take to the pitch in the second half, giving them a chance to redeem themselves. At 61 minutes it was Robbo time, and the Whitecaps coach rolled the dice by taking Manneh and Teibert off and putting Hurtado and Fernandez on. Five minutes later Kenny Miller was yanked to his clear displeasure for the little Nico Mezquida. As was the case against LA, Robbo’s subs proved to be decisive.

Hurtado lost a chance to get his first goal for the Whitecaps on 70 minutes when he failed to convert a clear header from close range off of a corner kick. Luckily, the Whitecaps dodged a bullet that would have seen them down 3-0 when RSL’s Saborio hit the crossbar in the 80th minute.

Darren Mattocks proved his worth again and got back into the match with a new attitude in the second half, repaying Robinson for leaving him on the pitch for the full ninety minutes. Mezquida crossed a free kick into the box which was weakly cleared by an RSL defender straight to the feet of Mattocks who found himself alone with the ball with some room to the left outside of the penalty box. Mattocks beat one defender, charged towards goal and unleashed a blistering left footed shot straight at RSL keeper Nick Rimando, who tried to catch the ball but failed. Mezquida, who had charged into the box after taking the free kick, pounced on the rebound and flicked the ball into the net past the humbled keeper. Mattocks had created yet another goal for the Whitecaps this season. It was 2-1 in the 86th minute and the Whitecaps were back in it with a chance.

Rimando: his two howlers saved us

Rimando: his two howlers saved us

I have spend a lot of time on my blog praising RSL’s Nick Rimando, whom I have admired as a brilliant and unconventional goalkeeper. He is a true MLS star, having forged his reputation as a star solely in the MLS. In the last ten minutes of this game he looked like a rookie playing in his first match, however. Two howlers by Rimando handed the Whitecaps a point which one could easily argue they did not deserve.

The Whitecaps pressured RSL through injury time, but when Saborio came up with the ball and headed out of RSL’s half with ten seconds or so left to play, it looked to be all over. With the Whitecaps retreating towards their own goal, however, Saborio played the ball too far in front of himself, and Beitashour rounded on him and slid into the tackle. Luckily for Beitashour the much larger Saborio did not commit and pulled out of the tackle. The ball rolled back towards RSL’s end to the feet of Seba Fernandez. Fernandez took one touch 40 yards out and hit the ball with lightning speed and accuracy towards RSL’s goal. Rimando was slow to see the shot and reacted clumsily as the ball dipped and bounced right in front of him. He mis-judged the bounce as he collapsed to his left, and there it was in the back of the net! The Whitecaps had tied it at 2 with no time left on the referee’s watch.

Deserves to suck his thumb...

Deserves to suck his thumb…

Fernandez ran towards the Whitecaps bench, which erupted with joy. For the second week in a row the Whitecaps had pulled a loss back and turned it into a very late draw. Carl Robinson is getting the reputation as something of a genius who knows how to play the right cards at the right time. It was an astonishing turn around from the first half, in which the Whitecaps looked like they just did not want to play football.

The investment The Whitecaps have made in little Uruguayan soccer players paid off in this match. Mezquida and Fernandez, both knee-high to a grasshopper, used their sharp footballing skills and instincts to pull the match back from the brink of disaster.

All I can say is Viva Uruguay!!!


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