Whitecaps Head South Needing Only a Draw

The first leg is in the books, and it’s onward and southward to Seattle for the climax of this thus far rather anticlimactic playoff series between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Seattle Sounders. The first leg in Vancouver this past Sunday was a cagey affair. Tension-filled, a chess match, one for the purists. In a word, it was boring. But the Whitecaps accomplished what they set out to. They denied Seattle an away goal, and enter Century Link Field needing only not to lose to advance.

Can they find any offence? That is the question hovering over the club and its supporters. Sure, the team can play defensively sound when it wants to, but the Seattle tandem of Lodeiro and Dempsey is likely to test them. Stefan Marinovic has been solid since assuming the starter’s job, but the best of keepers will be beaten if the line in front of them breaks or is broken down. Pulling the trick Seattle pulled in last year’s MLS Cup Final and winning without an attempt on goal is not likely to fly here. Offence will be needed, and it’s offence this club has struggled to find at times this year. They are the lowest-scoring remaining club in the playoffs. If the best eleven is available, there is hope, but Carl Robinson said just a few days ago that Yordy Reyna and Cristian Techera may not be available. If that’s the case, it’s anybody’s guess where the Whitecaps will find goals. Christian Bolaños looked capable of generating offence early in the season, but the same has not been true recently. Since returning from a knee injury he’s looked less sharp, and hasn’t been the threat Vancouver needs. Nicolas Mezquida had a brace against San Jose a week ago, but that was when the Earthquakes were chasing the game and Vancouver was pummelling them on the counter. Nosa Igiebor, who looked calm and excellent against Portland in the final regular season match, did not look like the attacking midfielder role suited him in the first leg. Fredy Montero is great at popping up out of nowhere to poach a goal, but he did not look like his former self until Reyna arrived on the scene and started unlocking other defences. So perhaps, as so often this year, it will be the hope of an early set piece goal and then a counter as their opponents press.

Carl Robinson says he likes the underdog role. He better. The oddsmakers certainly see them as such. Sports Betting Dime in particular has the Whitecaps at +380, with the Sounders -143, on expectations that Reyna and Techera can’t go. If either of those two look like slotting in, those odds will skew back to the visitors.

And if Vancouver can get past the Sounders, it’s a beatable Houston side or a ridiculously banged up Portland that will be all that stands between the Caps and their first MLS Cup appearance.

Vancouver Whitecaps at Seattle Sounders
November 2nd, 7:30pm
TSN 5 / TSN 1040

Dallas Dives Into BC Place To Meet Whitecaps on Saturday

After a much needed 2-week layoff, the Vancouver Whitecaps return to the pitch on Saturday to take on the infamous miscreants and divers of FC Dallas. The Caps have been on a bit of a roll in the league, winners of four of their last six matches, and unlucky (in one case hideously unlucky) not to have at least a point in all six. Can they keep the wave of success going against the Texans?

Dallas still sit third in the western conference, but have been in a bit of a slump since the end of April. In their last eight matches they have only two wins, both against lowly Real Salt Lake. (Though, in fairness, they beat the holy hell out of lowly Real Salt Lake on both occasions.) Outside of those wins, they’re managing less than a goal a game.

If we’re fortunate, we may get to see a battle of 16-year-old phenoms, as Alphonso Davies, fresh off his national team debut, may line up against Dallas’ Jesus  Ferreira. Ferreira, who recently bagged a goal in his debut, will be familiar to Caps fans via his father, David, who nearly single-handedly gave Dallas their reputation as cheating scumbags. Hopefully the lad picked up his dad’s talent without acquiring his love of playing against Vancouver or his tendency to be blown over by a calm easterly breeze.

Carl Robinson has settled on a starting eleven over the last month or two, but national team duty has taken its toll. Kendall Waston and Christian Bolanos both left Costa Rica’s matches with injuries and there is no word yet how long they’ll be out. With Bernie Ibini and Yordi Reyna still not quite ready, look for Brek Shea to get back into the starting lineup on the wing. Replacing Waston will be the more interesting decision. Russell Teibert impressed for Les Rouges on Tuesday, and could slot in beside Tony Tchani, freeing Andrew Jacobson up to move back to CB. Alternatively, Robinson could opt for a straight swap and hope Cole Seiler will be steady enough beside Tim Parker.

The key matchup will be on Vancouver’s left flank where Dallas’ Michael Barrios, who had three assists against RSL two weeks ago, will be looking for more. Much will depend on the ability of Jordan Harvey and Cristian Techera to shut him down. If he’s allowed too much space to operate, Vancouver is in for a bad time.

I tend to think that the two-week layoff, along with the teams’ respective form, will see Vancouver through, and I’m not alone. Sascha Paruk, editor and oddsmaker at Sports Betting Dime agrees, saying: “The home team has not lost in the last 11 matches between the two. Barring any major injuries, Vancouver should be about a 4/3 favorite with Dallas around 3/1 and the draw at 11/5.”

Sounders Somehow Lose To Whitecaps: Vancouver 2-1 Seattle

It’s amazing what having a proven goal scorer can do for your side. When you don’t have one, sometimes you get games like last year’s tilt between Vancouver and New York Red Bulls, where Erik Hurtado couldn’t hit the ocean from a boat. When you do have one, you get games like last night, where a Fredy Montero brace earned the Whitecaps a win in 2017’s Cascadia Cup opener despite them being outplayed and outchanced. I was not in the building on Friday evening due to work, so this post is based on a viewing of the game two days later, with the result already known. My conclusion is this: some of your perceptions are clouded by what looked like a great derby atmosphere and a win.  Continue reading Sounders Somehow Lose To Whitecaps: Vancouver 2-1 Seattle

Round One Predictions

Playoff predictions are a fine art. You can put dozens of hours into statistical analysis and go oh-fer, and another year ignore the standings altogether and win your bracket based on jersey colours alone.

Me, I’m going somewhere in-between. Stirring a wee bit of gut instinct in with hardcore hockey knowhow, I’m pretty sure I’ll bat roughly .500 in my ROUND ONE PREDICTIONS:

It’s hard to bet against Carey Price, but the New York Rangers have a stronger roster and better coaching. Give it to the blueshirts: Rangers in six.

Despite his imressive World Cup of Hockey tourney earlier this year (and a hat trick here against the Canucks a few weeks back), Brad Marchand will never get my vote. The Senators, on the other hand, have Craig Anderson and Erik Karlsson. Sens in seven.

John Tortorella may have scared Columbus into contention through the season, but it’s hard to believe he can conjure serious playoff mojo — especially when Crosby & Co. are skating the other way. Make it five series in a row for Pittsburgh. Pens in five.

Minnesota Wild fans have some wonderful things to cheer for this year, and may just get some playoff payoff sometime soon, but the Blues are just too dangerous to ignore. Tarasenko scores six goals and threatens many, many more times than that. Blues in six.

There`s been little more exciting this year than Connor McDavid`s emergence as the league`s premier scoring threat. Edmonton, after so many years of pathetic play, is finally more than just happy to be here. Still, San Jose has too much to work with at both ends of the ice; their goaltending is the difference. Sharks in seven.

Like McDavid, Auston Matthews is fantastic. However, Leaf Nation will need another couple of years before they can turn playoff towels into playoff wins. Alex Ovechkin, on the other hand, might just win his Cup this year. (Can`t you just taste that White House visit, you Big Russian?) Caps in five.

Nashville always plays Chicago hard, and Pekka Rinne can steal a few games for the Predators at any moment. I would love to see PK Subban go a few rounds just to snub the idiot Habs for trading him away. That said, the Blackhawks are still the class of the league on paper, and they`ve got enough Cup pedigree on the roster to preclude any bets for those ugly yellow shirts across the hall. Hawks in six.

Calgary should just stay home. Ducks in five.

Whitecaps Don’t Disappoint Despite Loss – Vancouver 1-2 Tigres UANL (1-4 agg.)

Brek Shea scored early for Vancouver in the second leg of the CCL semi-final against Tigres, before coming off with an injury five minutes later. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head

I walked into BC Place Stadium last night with a curious sense of optimism and excitement. For one thing, there are almost no paths to disappointment when you enter the second leg of a series against one of the best teams in North America down 2-0. For another, I’m not cut out for big games. Even routine Cascadian derbies turn me into a bit of a wreck. I was basically useless at being a human for 48 hours before the Canucks’ 2011 game seven.  And finally, these are sensations that six plus years of Whitecaps FC fandom has mostly beaten out of me. Like most Whitecaps fans, I can’t help but imagine what fresh hell the team will concoct in their never ending quest to find creative new ways to lose cup competitions. So… I was puzzled at my optimism. Then Brek Shea engineered the dream start with a goal in the third minute, and suddenly, against my better judgement, I thought perhaps the optimism was warranted. Continue reading Whitecaps Don’t Disappoint Despite Loss – Vancouver 1-2 Tigres UANL (1-4 agg.)

Caps Make April Fools Out Of Galaxy: Vancouver 4-2 Los Angeles

The great April Fools Joke is an art form. Perhaps a lost one. It strikes a neat balance between the believable and the absurd, or else it is Onion-esque in its humourous ridiculousness. Recent years have seen some truly terrible attempts. No, you can’t just say “we’re pregnant,” or “we’re getting married,” and expect people to chortle when you reveal that you were only toying with their emotions. Too believable, not absurd enough. Similarly, you can’t just  throw anything out there. David Beckham, to cite one example, is not coming out of retirement, least of all to play for the Galaxy again. Too absurd, not believable enough. The Caps, it must be said, were leaning towards the latter when, shortly before 9pm, they tried to convince the 25,083 BC Place faithful that they had just beaten the LA Galaxy 4-2 on the strength of a Matías Laba brace. Continue reading Caps Make April Fools Out Of Galaxy: Vancouver 4-2 Los Angeles

Caps Completely Fail To Catch Tigres By The Tail – Tigres UANL 0-2 Vancouver

I recently reread William Gibson’s seminal 1984 cyberpunk novel Neuromancer. The book tells the tale of Case, a drug-addled hacker who succeeds in bringing down an artificial intelligence of vastly superior capability owned by a company of vastly superior wealth. Needless to say, that plot is unlikely to compare to our heroes in blue and white as they trail 2-0 to Tigres after the first leg of CONCACAF Champions League semifinal action. Rather, I’m reminded of a line from the foreword of my copy, penned by Jack Womack. Womack, an accomplished sci-fi author in his own right, relates the time he first read Gibson’s work. “It quickly became apparent that, while we were kicking the same groin, we were shod in variant footwear.” That’s more like it. Continue reading Caps Completely Fail To Catch Tigres By The Tail – Tigres UANL 0-2 Vancouver

Robinson Lets Caps Be Toppled By Earthquakes – San Jose 3-2 Vancouver

Saturday in San Jose was the type of game in which a manager can earn his salary. As the Whitecaps rolled into Avaya Stadium, Carl Robinson faced a tough decision: to focus on the league, with a daunting challenge against one of the top teams in North America only three days away, or to play some reserves against the Earthquakes in hopes of taking his shot against Tigres. Robinson opted for the latter, and looked brilliant for twenty-two minutes. Then he faced his second challenge: how to react to an in-game disaster, and abruptly his managerial aptitude was once again being questioned by the Vancouver faithful as Vancouver coughed up a 2-0 lead to fall 3-2 to the San Jose Earthquakes. Continue reading Robinson Lets Caps Be Toppled By Earthquakes – San Jose 3-2 Vancouver

Union Lock Out Caps: Vancouver 0-0 Philadelphia

I know, I know. It’s the employer that locks out the Union, not the other way around, but Sunday’s result was better for the visitors. On a night when the greatest scare the Vancouver Whitecaps had came from seeing Alphonso Davies go down awkwardly a few minutes from time, the home side played the Philadelphia Union to a nil-nil draw Sunday evening at BC Place.

Alfonso Davies moves the ball upfield.
Alphonso Davies, with no hyperbole, just may be the most exciting player to hit Vancouver since Pavel Bure. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Sunday started much the same way that Thursday ended, with Vancouver content mostly to sit back, letting Philadelphia have as much of the ball as they wanted, so long as they did nothing with it. Unfortunately for the 19,083 announced attendance, Philly had much the same idea. Continue reading Union Lock Out Caps: Vancouver 0-0 Philadelphia

Red Bulls Give ‘Caps Wings: Vancouver 2-0 New York (3-1 agg.)

It seems both not that long and an eternity ago that the Whitecaps were contenders. As recently as the second half of 2015, Vancouver had a realistic shot at the Supporters Shield before faltering down the stretch. Think back to that time. Glorious, wasn’t it? David Bowie and Carrie Fisher were still alive. The President of the United States had big boy-sized hands that weren’t hovering over the nuclear launch button. None of our Cascadian rivals had stars on their kits. The Caps had qualified for their second straight Champions League by winning their first Voyageurs Cup. Then 2016 happened. And happened. And continued to happen. Jesus, it just kept happening. Then on Thursday evening, Vancouver returned to form, defeating the New York Red Bulls 2-0 to become only the seventh MLS team to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals.

Men run after an inflated rubber thing on plastic grass.
Derrick Etienne of the New York Red Bulls chases Jake Nerwinski of the Vancouver Whitecaps during CONCACAF Champions League action. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Continue reading Red Bulls Give ‘Caps Wings: Vancouver 2-0 New York (3-1 agg.)