Tags: champions league, CONCACAF, Don Garber, MLS, Tigres UANL, Vancouver Whitecaps
It is a funny thing when you make the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League and all you have played is a couple of Major League Soccer (MLS) teams (and one of those clubs only played their b-team) and a very poor team indeed from Trinidad.
Things will change dramatically tomorrow night when the Whitecaps play comparative giants Tigres UANL in Monterrey, Mexico. Whereas MLS clubs play in a climate controlled aquarium, Tigres play in the open ocean of world football. MLS clubs labour away under a heavily cost controlled environment with mysterious rules which only a priestly caste can understand. Tigres operate freely, and can pay their players what they wish.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber would love to have MLS teams beat Mexican teams in the tournament, but it just does not happen that often. It is always a Mexican team that lifts the trophy at the final whistle in the tournament finale. The truth is that most clubs in the MLS are not that enthusiastic about the tournament, and MLS fans tend not to show up for games. The barrier to MLS clubs winning is not just money, but commitment, especially, south of the border. Canadian clubs have shown more enthusiasm, especially the Montreal Impact, who made their way to the final only to be humbled by Club America of Mexico.
Liga MX, Mexico’s top football league, is superior to MLS in overall player quality, as the Vancouver Whitecaps are about to find out. If the Whitecaps escape Monterrey tomorrow night having conceded only four goals, they will have done well.
The Whitecaps will face a crowd of over 40,000 hostile Tigres fans who will expect their team to deliver on the beautiful grass pitch in the stadium called “the Volcano”. The Whitecaps will also face international players Vargas, of Chile, and Gignac, of France, if Tigres deem it necessary to play them.
While I will cheer the Whitecaps on with hope in my heart, the reality is that the MLS cost controlled model does not yet produce teams capable of winning the tournament. It will require MLS some years of development and some loosening of financial restrictions before that can happen.
With three games in eight days we knew this period was going to stretch the Vancouver Whitecaps squad. San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, Tigres UNAL on Tuesday and Toronto FC the following Saturday. The San Jose match looked like the easiest of the three even if it was on the road.
Coach Carl Robinson started a mix of second stringers and first stringers. Ousted started in Goal with a back line of Nerwinski, Dean, Waston, and Harvey. Robbo started a five man midfield consisting of McKendry, Teibert, Manneh, Mezquida, and Techera. Hurtado got the call as lone striker.
Things started exceedingly well when a hustling Hurtado chased a high bouncing ball headed into San Jose’s box by Techera which was met with some poor and hesitant defending. Hurtado nipped between two defenders and an out of position David Bingham in San Jose’s goal and volleyed the ball into the net off of the upright. It was not pretty, but Hurtado got an “A” for effort on that one. It was great to see the hard working Hurtado get some joy.
The goal got the Whitecaps tails up and they played with plenty of confidence against a San Jose team which came out flat. Soon after the surging Hurtado made a great move to get clear of a defender Lima to the left of San Jose’s goal. He crossed a low one into Mezquida, who took one touch to get past a couple of defenders and then cooly stroked the ball in low past Bingham with his left foot to make it 2-0 Whitecaps with not even twenty minutes on the board. It was a superb way to start a testing week.
Not five minutes later came the critical series of errors which would unravel all that the Whitecaps had done. San Jose sent a high ball straight to the heart of the Whitecaps defence with one San Jose striker challenging. Dean went for the ball in midfield and so did Waston, but neither got there properly to head the ball to safety. The ball arched over to a charging Wondolowski who was in all alone on Ousted. Ousted came out of his box and met the striker there, going down with his feet and catching the strikers foot as he went by. It was a straight red card and we were down to ten men with more than two-thirds of the match left.
Oh, David Ousted. If only we could get the keeper to stop these game changing errors which caused us so much damage in 2016. Ousted should have stayed in his box and tried to make Wondo go wide in the hopes he would miss the net. The striker probably wouldn’t have missed but at least we would have had eleven men on the pitch. In came the comparatively skinny Paulo Tornaghi. And, very strangely, it was Nico Mezquida, one of our hardest working players, who came off for him.
I am not sure what Robbo was thinking bringing Mezquida off and not MLS debutant McKendry, who struggled for the rest of the night. McKendry had trouble with the pace of the match and was seen slipping and falling on the surface a number of times.
Backup keeper Tornaghi started very well, making some excellent saves which gave hope that the Whitecaps might be able to survive. In the 32nd minute Tornaghi was exposed, however, when he came out weakly on a corner kick and failed to clear his area with a poorly executed punch. The ball fell in the box to the giant Honduran Bernardez who crossed in for Wondolowski to score another of his many goals verses the Whitecaps. The house of cards had begun to fall.
It is a lot to ask for a team to play one man down for 70 minutes. The Whitecaps had very little possession of the ball, and the 2017 version of the Earthquakes has some very potent attacking weapons including Godoy, Hyka, and Lima in addition to Wondolowski. An unmarked Lima scored in the 52nd minutes after Wondolowski knocked a deep cross back to him for an easy finish. Manneh was close behind Lima but forgot to defend on the play.
Robbo threw Bolanos and Montero on for Manneh and Hurtado in the 61st minute and briefly it looked as though we might actually be able to possess the ball for some periods. The Whitecaps did look better than they had with the changes.
Godoy scored a screamer in the 80th that I fancy Ousted would have stopped. Unfortunately Tornaghi, whom I rate as the worst backup keeper in the entire MLS, flapped at what was, admitted, a very hard shot to stop.
It was a deflating end to a match that had started with such great promise. There is no doubt it would have been a hard match even though we were up at 2-0, but Ousted’s red card sealed our fate.
While Ousted will be able to play against Tigres UNAL on Tuesday, we face the prospect of starting a weak goalkeeper going up against TFC and the likes of Altidore and Bradly next Saturday while Ousted serves a ban. Lets hope Giovinco misses that one through the injury he sustained against Philadelphia.
And the week had started so well…
I waited all weekend and walked through sheeting ice pellets for that?
The first Vancouver Whitecaps match of the 2017 season was a disappointing bore. The Whitecaps decided to play the first match of the MLS season as late as possible on Sunday because the team had only two full day’s rest from last Thursday’s successful CONCACAF Champions League match against the New York Red Bulls. Our game was the last of match day 1 weekend, and not the only 0-0 draw among the games, as rusty and unfit MLS players clunked their way into action after a long off-season.
With injuries, suspensions, and an exhausted squad, it was bound to be a bit of a struggle getting anything other than a mediocre team out to play for the Whitecaps. It was an underwhelming line-up starting the match with Ousted in Goal, and Williams, Dean, Parker, and Harvey on the backline. Wingers Techera and Davies flanked a central midfield pairing of Laba and Jacobson. Manneh and Hurtado played up front.
What was apparent all night was a lack of creativity and fluidity in our midfield. Laba and Jacobson did a good job defensively, but the passing from these two was mostly backwards to Dean and other defenders to hoof the ball up hopefully to the front line. What made it all worse was watching the majestic Bosnian Haris Medunjanin play beautifully in midfield for Philadelphia. What I would give to have a player like him (Atiba Hutchinson please come over!).
It was one of those matches where we end up talking about how good defenders were. Ousted looked solid and unusually calm in goal, and Christian Dean made a triumphant return to first team football with a composed and mature game at centre back. After suffering all last season with terrible right fullbacks, we seem to have found a real one in Sheanon Williams. Williams is a strong and graceful player who looked both fit and capable with the ball at his feet. In terms of overall team strength, Williams looks to be an excellent acquisition.
Christian Techera was disappointing and squandered the best chance of the match by dragging the ball embarrassingly wide when a move started by youngster Davies put him in alone with only Philadelphia keeper Blake to beat.
Alfonso Davies and Kekuta Manneh clearly suffered from a lack of rest following Thursday nights game. Even if he seemed a bit muted, Davies created a few electrifying moments, one of which ended up with a defender Fabinho taking out a linesman after trying to foul Davies. He failed to stop Davies, but the referee called a mysterious foul on Davies. After all, it would be too exciting to let play continue!
The refereeing was the ordinary substandard garbage we have come to expect for MLS matches. Referee Sorin Stoica just loved the sound of his own whistle and seemed to blow it every single time there was a physical challenge in midfield. Consequently the match had a choppy feel to it and no fluidity.
Substitutes Montero (for Manneh) and Shea (for Hurtado) allowed us to look at the new boys in an MLS match. Shea seemed unable to click with Techera, who had problems clicking with anyone on this night. Shea looked like he will be a real benefit to the Whitecaps going forward; he displayed some nice foot skills and has a great physical presence. Shea’s timing was a bit off with his new teammates but if he is able to get into a rhythm back in his natural attacking position I think he will be a real benefit to the Whitecaps.
Montero ran majestically around the pitch but it was not the type of match for us to get a good look at him. Techera made way for Mezquida, but the Uruguayan came on too late to really make a contribution.
We would have gone away satisfied with just one goal and it nearly happened off of a corner kick when an unmarked “goal king Harvey” volleyed an accurate shot towards the corner of the net only for his effort to be cleared off the line by a defender.
When the final whistle blew we all trudged out into the cold thinking we had seen a poor match which felt like a chore to watch. It was a bit like watching the dull 2016 side play. Too bad I missed Thursday night’s match because of work!
Perhaps we will have more joy when talented midfielders Bolanos and Reyna recover form their injuries.
This is an excellent article written by Peter Mothe about Terry Felix, who had a brief run with the Vancouver Whitecaps back in the 80’s. Well worth a read!