Injuries threaten to kill Whitecaps 2015. Is plastic grass to blame?

October 13, 2015 at 10:46 pm | Posted in Vancouver Whitecaps, Whitecaps season 2015 | 2 Comments
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The Vancouver Whitecaps recently looked capable of challenging for the MLS Supporter’s Shield this season, but a spate of muscle and tendon injuries have slowed the Whitecaps down from a healthy trot to a virtual crawl. Competitors in the Western and Eastern Conferences look like flying past them in the standings. Is the plastic grass at BC Place to blame?

Octavio Riveiro is nursing a sore Achilles, Mauro Rosales has a pulled groin, Pa Modou Kah has a pulled groin, Nico Mezquida has a pulled hamstring, Pedro Morales has a pulled hamstring, Steven Beitashour is nursing a sprained knee, and Christian Techera has pulled a leg muscle.

While it is true football teams will accrue injuries as the season goes along, my view is the plastic grass at BC Place has taken a huge toll on our squad, which is now decimated to the point where an early exit from the playoffs looks sadly likely. A strong Whitecaps starting eleven is now a mediocre one at best due to injuries.

There are plenty of apologists, including the Vancouver Whitecaps own top brass, for plastic grass. The opinions of the Whitecaps brass are informed by a lack of choice in the matter, however. You cannot grow a good grass pitch in BC Place, and there is nowhere else for the Whitecaps to play.

There are even “scientific studies” which claim to demonstrate that plastic grass causes no more injuries than natural grass. In my view they are not worth the paper they are written on. Anyone who has played on grass pitches and on plastic grass will tell you that plastic grass is much harder on the body.

Pedro Morales, our best player by a country mile, has had a terrible season with muscle and tendon injuries. Morales suffers from back muscle problems, and playing on plastic grass has been a disaster for him. This season he has had back, calf and hamstring problems.

The world’s best teams refuse to play their squads on plastic grass for a reason. They refuse to do so because plastic grass causes muscle and tendon injuries and makes existing injuries even worse.

While Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard and David Villa recently towed the MLS company line and refused to criticize Vancouver’s plastic surface, is there any real doubt about how they truly feel? Recently LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena spoke before a recent fixture with Seattle about how he had to “dumb down” his team’s playing style because of Seattle’s plastic pitch

Interesting to note that while Seattle plays on a plastic grass field for their home games, they train on a beautiful grass pitch at the Starfire Soccer complex outside of Seattle. In my view if the Whitecaps are forced to play their home matches on plastic grass they should conduct all training on grass to save the players from greater injury risk.

In my view there is no coincidence the Whitecaps starting eleven are dropping like flies; their bodies are feeling the ill effects of playing and training on plastic grass.

All of this demonstrates the need to resurrect the vision of a soccer specific stadium for the Vancouver Whitecaps with a proper grass playing surface.

Vancouver Whitecaps get Saturday afternoon spanking by Seattle

September 20, 2015 at 10:02 pm | Posted in Whitecaps season 2015 | Leave a comment
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Oh, the indignity of it. The Seattle Sounders humiliated the Vancouver Whitecaps in front of a sold out crowd at BC Place yesterday. What made it worse was that the Whitecaps had the opportunities to put this one away early, but could not find the back of the net.

Coach Carl Robinson started the match with Ousted in goal, Smith at left back, Kah and Waston at centre back, and Harvey at right back. Teibert and Koffie took up positions in defensive midfield, while Techera and Manneh flanked Rosales in the number 10 spot. Rivero played the lone striker up front. The Whitecaps were without Laba, Beitashour and Morales and man, did it show.

Teibert’s play only made Laba’s absence more keenly felt, Smith looked weak on defence, ponderous in his runs and poor in crossing the ball, while Rosales sprayed the ball around accurately but to no real effect.

The last time Seattle came to Vancouver was when they beat us 2-0 earlier in the season with two Chad Barrett markers. They played Clint Dempsey in deep midfield then and repeated the strategy yesterday. Dempsey did a fine job of helping Seattle keep possession throughout a match where the pressure was on the Whitecaps. The Whitecaps needed to win to retain the Cascadia Cup, and Seattle decided to soak up the pressure and keep the ball as long as possible when they got hold of it.

Seattle showed they did not just come to defend when Evans forced an excellent save from Ousted early on with a header that was going into the roof of the net.

Whitecaps Striker Rivero looked lively early on and had a chance to put Seattle on the back foot after 18 minutes. A bad back pass put Rivero through on goal with no one to beat except Sounders keeper Frei, who was out of the play and at Rivero’s mercy. Astonishingly and disappointingly, Rivero hit the ball first time wide of the net; all he needed was to find the target and Frei likely would not have been able to stop it.

Techera later put an amazing low long pass through to Rivero, who was again in alone. Frei had read the play well, however, and got out early to block the effort by Rivero.

Twenty minutes later Kah put a high diagonal ball over Seattle’s defences to Techera who deftly trapped the ball and out-paced a Seattle defender to approach Seattle’s goal alone from a steep angle on the right. Techera fluffed his left footed effort and Frei was able to easily gather the weak shot. Rosales and Rivero were both free and available in front of goal awaiting a pass, making the whole situation all the more frustrating.

Football is the kind of game where missed chances come back to haunt you and this game just served to prove the point.

Just before half time Obafemi Martins shrugged off a couple of challenges from Waston 35 yards from the Whitecaps goal when he spotted Seattle’s Austrian new boy Ivanschitz ghosting past Smith at the far post. Smith let to try to cut out the high ball but was well out of position. Ivanschitz latched on to the ball unopposed and drove it through Ousted’s legs into the Whitecaps’ goal. It was 0-1 Seattle. The timing of the goal could not be more devastating; Smith’s lack of concentration proved to be deadly to the Whitecaps’ efforts to retain the Cascadia Cup.

The second half began with the Whitecaps creating several good chances but each time the result was a shot comfortably into the loving arms of the waiting Frei, whose well-organized defence put intense pressure on Whitecaps shooters. Chad Marshall played like Vancouver’s own Kendall Waston, using his size to clear Seattle’s 18 yard box of any high balls.

With the Whitecaps desperate to score to claw back the match and the Cascadia Cup, they became vulnerable at the back and Dempsey was put in charge of marshalling counter attacks, which he did with devastating effectiveness. Dempsey provided passes for two goals, one by Pineda in the 70th minute and one by Martins in the 87th.

The first was a masterclass of counter attacking football, with no fewer than 5 Sounders involved in the Whitecaps half of the field in a fluid passing manoeuvre resulting in Pineda’s devastating strike off the post and into the net. Smith again looked wanting, flailing about rather than taking decisive action as last man back.

The last goal found the Whitecaps caught with only two men back as Dempsey sprinted deep into Whitecaps territory causing a ball with only Teibert in pursuit. Dempsey shrugged Teibert off like he was a rag doll and slotted the ball to an unmarked Martins who made no mistake to make it 3-0. This third goal shovelled on the grief at BC Place, which had begun emptying out earlier. The mood reminded me of the funeral I had attended earlier on this rainy September day.

The loss left the Whitecaps still atop the league but sitting on a real bubble, with three Western Conference teams, (Dallas, LA, and Seattle), within three points of them. The Whitecaps have five MLS matches left.

I don’t think there was one Whitecaps player who could be happy with their performance on this night. Techera and Rivero needed to be better in front of goal in the first half, and the team was lacking in ideas in the second half, failing to bring one difficult save from Frei in Seattle’s goal. Matias Laba was missed in particular, with his replacement Teibert lacking both in defence and going forward.

How things can change in a month and a half. On the first of August we easily beat a very poor Sounders team 3-0 on their own pitch; now they have done the same to us, meaning they win the series two games to one in MLS play.

This match proved that if we meet Seattle in the playoffs we had better have all of our first team fit if we expect to be successful. Now it is back down the I-5 to Seattle for CONCACAF Champions League play. Lets hope we can win some of our honour back.

Vancouver Whitecaps finally win the Voyageurs Cup

August 27, 2015 at 10:23 pm | Posted in Whitecaps season 2015 | Leave a comment
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After years of frustration and anger the Whitecaps finally won the Canadian Championship, dispatching the other finalist the Montreal Impact with a 2-0 win on the night giving them a 4-2 aggregate victory over two legs. It may not be such a coveted prize, but the Voyageurs Cup is ours after long last.

Only five teams compete in the Canadian Championship (the three Canadian MLS teams, and Ottawa and Edmonton from the NASL), but winning it means you get to compete in the CONCACAF Champions League, which is CONCACAF’s rather poor cousin to the UEFA Champions league and the Copa Libertadores from South America.

This will now put to rest the horrible memories from the 2009 competition when, in a mid-week match, Montreal put its second team out in the second leg verses Toronto and lost the match by a lopsided score allowing Toronto to overcome a big first leg deficit. This meant the Whitecaps lost top spot in the competition and were pipped by Toronto for the Voyageurs Cup.

The hollow look on the faces of Teitur Thordarson and his players as the rain poured down on them as they watched the Cup slip away has haunted Vancouver Whitecaps fans since that date. The Whitecaps USL squad were supposed to collect the Voyageur’s Cup and come home but ended up watching the jubilant celebrations of Toronto FC instead. To add insult to injury Montreal beat the Whitecaps in Montreal the following Saturday.

The Whitecaps put a strong squad on to the pitch with Ousted in goal; Beitashour, Parker, Waston and Harvey in defence; Koffie and Teibert in defensive midfield; and, Manneh, Morales, Techera and Riveiro in the forward diamond. Only Laba and Pa Modou Kah were missing from the Whitecaps best eleven.

Montreal struggled to compete early and looked slow, tired, and out of shape. Montreal’s centre back Cabrera was sent off after persistently fouling Riveiro, leaving Montreal with ten men after only 30 minutes of football. Soon after an errant back pass from Whitecaps old boy Nigel Reo-Coker was snatched by Techera, who eventually bundled the ball past Montreal’s keeper towards the open goal. The goal-starved Riveiro sprinted after the ball and just tapped it in at the last second, claiming the goal. I would say he owes Techera a nice dinner after that!

In the second half Tim Parker emphatically nodded in a Morales corner kick past Montreal’s undefended far post. With that the game was over, and possession football led by substitute Mauro Rosales took over to see the match out.

The crowd stood in anticipation of the final whistle and were jubilant when the referee finally blew time. The Whitecaps had won their first title of the MLS era. The players began celebrating before the final whistle with Kah and Captain Morales (who was substituted by Rosales) celebrating on the sidelines in the final minute.

Pay Modou Kah stole the show by dancing on some bizarre little automatic skateboard as he zoomed around the pitch before the trophy was awarded like a character from the Jetsons. It really was quite hilarious.

All of the players looked delighted to get the trophy and even grizzled veterans Rosales and Earnshaw smiled like they had won a major trophy. The players were clearly enjoying their moment together. It is clear the squad is very close and that they are truly enjoying one another’s company. With this attitude more trophies could follow.

The crowd stayed late to savour the moment, and those of us who have supported the team since the Swangard days got to embrace our first title since we won the USL championship match back in 2008.

Robbo gets his mojo back in victory over Dallas

August 24, 2015 at 10:02 pm | Posted in Whitecaps season 2015 | Leave a comment
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After a disastrous previous week in which the Vancouver Whitecaps had squandered a 2-0 lead in Montreal and a 3-1 lead in Kansas City it looked as though Coach Carl Robinson had lost his touch.

Last Saturday in Kansas City Robbo used all three substitutes in his forward diamond when tired legs in the defensive part of the team needed refreshing. Though he brought plenty of talent on and looked to have won the match when substitute Pedro Morales scored a beautiful free kick, a defensive collapse soon followed and the Whitecaps lost 4-3.

Robbo put the ship back on course with a thrilling 1-0 win over a strong and talented Dallas FC. Dallas led the Western Conference early on in the 2015 season but lately they have been clawed back and passed by several teams. Had they beaten the Whitecaps in this match they would be back near the top of the conference and the Whitecaps would find themselves surrounded by hostile enemies.

The big worry pre-match was that starting centre back Pa Modou Kah was signing autographs out front of BC Place rather than getting ready to play in the dressing room. He is recovering from a facial fracture and Tim Parker took his spot next to the giant Tico Kendall Waston. Parker was on the pitch for all six goals in the past two games, but made up for that with a brilliant performance on this night.

Fullbacks Beitashour and Harvey completed the back four, which was shielded by Koffee and Laba in defensive midfield. Pedro Morales started at the bottom of the diamond in the number 10 spot flanked by Manneh and Techera. Riveiro let the line as sole striker.

Fabian Castillo and Blas Perez were the big threat from Dallas, and Whitecaps old boy Atiba Harris played on the right flank. Jesse Gonclaves, a skinny kid who looked like he was 16, started in goal for Dallas.

It was refreshing to see Dallas play such an attacking game right from the start. The Toros had the best of the match early on and had us fans worried with their intricate one-touch passing plays which the Whitecaps defenders struggled to cope with. In the first ten minutes it looked like it might just be Dallas’ night. The crucial last ball never came to their strikers to shoot however, and only old boy Harris made Whitecaps keeper Ousted work in the first half with a low drive to the keeper’s right which was well saved.

The Whitecaps managed to start working with the space left in midfield by Dallas attacks. In the 31st minute Kekuta Manneh and Jordan Harvey found themselves with the ball on the left side of the pitch in the Dallas half. Manneh played the ball to Harvey from the touchline on the left side and moved towards the middle where Harvey returned it to him. Manneh charged across the pitch and looked primed to shoot the ball at the top of the 18 yard box. He put the ball still further across to the right side of goal and charged around the last defender, putting a low angled cross behind Techera. Techera deflected the ball with a back heel past a bewildered Dallas defence into their goal.

It was a spectacularly cheeky and skillful finish from the brilliant little Uruguayan who profited from some equally spectacular effort from Manneh. Manneh’s stature seems to rise with every game. It was an astonishing run from the wee Gambian which Dallas simply could not cope with.

At half time the talk in the stands was about what an attractive and skillful match we were watching. There was lots to admire in the play of both teams. Lucky for us the second half was just as absorbing as the first, even if it produced no further goals.

In the 68th minute Robbo yanked Morales and put Mauro Rosales in as the midfield number 10. Rosales settled the young Whitecaps down and helped the team keep possession of the ball. Rather than hunkering down in their own end and kicking the ball out, the Whitecaps defended their lead by denying Dallas possession of the ball. It worked a charm and the Whitecaps saw the game out with relative ease. Gershon Koffie was excellent in this regard and kept his concentration throughout the match.

Robbo replaced man of the match Techera with Nico Mezquida, and brought Christian Dean in when Harvey went down late with cramp in his leg. Both substitutions worked well and helped the Whitecaps win the match.

An injury time Dallas corner kick provided a late scare but the cross was dispatched by a strong one-handed David Ousted punch and soon afterwards the final whistle blew.

With all of the bad refereeing we see in MLS it was a refreshing change to see Referee Elfath do a great job of staying in the background and making only the necessary calls.

The win put the Whitecaps up at the top of the MLS for a moment. Given the LA Galaxy were playing the next day it was a lead not likely to last for 24 hours.

Carl Robinson may have got it wrong in the disaster in Kansas City, but he got this one right from the start. He chose the best team and then helped matters along with smart substitutions. He also helped conserve key players for this Wednesday’s Voyageurs Cup final.

Never mind the fear of losing the players we have to other clubs, will we be able to hold on to our coach Carl Robinson?

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