Manneh saves Whitecaps from pointlessness

The Vancouver Whitecaps made out like they’d been gutted by last week’s 1-nil loss at StubHub Center in Los Angeles, but let’s face it: after snatching a tie from the jaws of defeat this weekend, they were lucky to get a single point out of the possible six. A home-and-home against the most successful team in MLS history, still stacked with names like Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, is a good recipe for an oh-fer.

Storylines begged for moral victories: case in point, the Caps managed to keep Donovan off the scoresheet for two consecutive weeks, and by doing so avoided having David Ousted’s name go down in infamy as the keeper who allowed the 135th and thus record-breaking goal of the diminutive star’s storied MLS career. Largely thanks to the defensive work of Russell Tiebert in LA and Matías Laba in Vancouver, Donovan was rendered inert; the little man had a few shots from distance, but never really threatened Ousted directly.

Also in the plus column: stretches of play in the Galaxy half of the pitch. The Caps were unlucky to score when a Pedro Morales shot ricocheted toward the far corner in the first half; Jaime Penedo made a wonderful reaction save that has rightly been tapped as an MLS Save of the Week nominee. But it was the second half, with subs Kekuta Manneh and Erik Hurtado, that saw extended forays goalward for the (mostly) young Caps squad.

Sadly, with their focus on Landovan, the blue & white were not able to shut Keane down — including the winner in LA and another at BC Place this past Saturday, the Irish forward now has goals in four straight games and “is partially made of magnesium.” (It says so on Wikipedia, so it must be true.)

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Joni Ortio, recently named to the 2013-14 AHL All-Rookie Team, backstops the Abbotsford Heat as the rev up for post-season play. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Heat host Barons, prepare for playoffs

The Abbotsford Heat hold their final homestand of the regular season this weekend, with games against the Oklahoma City Barons on Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

Joni Ortio, recently named to the 2013-14 AHL All-Rookie Team, backstops the Abbotsford Heat as the rev up for post-season play. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Joni Ortio, recently named to the 2013-14 AHL All-Rookie Team, backstops the Abbotsford Heat as the rev up for post-season play. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The Heat are riding high at the moment, having clinched a playoff berth after sitting out last year’s post-season. They are also celebrating goaltender Joni Ortio’s nomination to the AHL All-Rookie Team for 2013-14; Ortio has been a revelation in the Heat crease, netting 24 wins and two shutouts in just 34 games played. As well, left winger Sven Baertschi has knotted seven points in two games against the Rockford Ice Hogs last week, earning AHL Player of the Week honours.

The Barons have just four wins in their past ten games, and have lost four of the last five meetings with Abbotsford. This weekend marks a return for former Heat forward Roman Horak, who is the Barons leading scorer this season.

With five games left, the Heat sit in fifth place in the Western Conference, and are almost guaranteed to open the post-season against the St Louis Blues affiliate Chicago Wolves.

For those interested in ye olde arena foode, Friday night’s game features 3-2-1 pricing on beer, hot dogs and soda; if prizes are your thing, Sunday’s home finale offers fan appreciation giveaways, including jerseys and a freaking car.

Get tickets here.

Gershon Koffie assisted on two Whitecaps FC goals in their only defeat of the LA Galaxy: a 3-1 win last season at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Preview: Whitecaps at Galaxy

Ah, the home-and-home. Beloved institution of NHL schedule-makers, now being adopted by the demented spider monkeys that determine the Major League Soccer schedule by, one assumes, flinging their faeces at team logos on the wall and seeing what sticks. The Vancouver Whitecaps take to the road this coming Saturday to face the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Stubhub Center before returning home next weekend for a rematch at BC Place.

Gershon Koffie assisted on two Whitecaps FC goals in their only defeat of the LA Galaxy: a 3-1 win last season at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Gershon Koffie assisted on two Whitecaps FC goals in their only defeat of the LA Galaxy: a 3-1 win last season at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The Caps have a tall order this weekend. They have yet to manage a single point against the Galaxy on the road, being outscored by a dismal 12-2 in their five losses. This club, at full strength, could likely compete well with the Galaxy, but alas they will not be at full strength.

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Darren Mattocks celebrates his first goal of the season. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Whitecaps Wednesday – Just A Moment(s)

Whitecaps WednesdayA while ago, Lexus came out with an ad campaign focusing on “moments.” It’s actually rather well done as far as car commercials go. I’m sure you remember it…images of smiling faces, forlorn looks and miraculous events flash by while some guy reads a sweetly written poem about how we all experience these moments.

The Whitecaps happened to experience a few of those this past week versus the Colorado Rapids. High moments, low moments, hopeful moments and desperate moments all made appearances as the Caps saw their unbeaten streak to start the 2014 MLS season come to an end.

Miller: "You know, you got away with one there." Irwin: "Yeah, yeah." Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Kenny Miller and Clint Irwin take a moment to discuss dubious officiating. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

In the interest of delivering the good news first, let’s start with the high moments.

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Jason Kurylo either with his game face on or trying to tell us that his extended health plan doesn't include sufficient dental care.

Song of the Week — Poker Face

As a new runner, I need all the help I can get. Here, I’ll talk about the songs on my running playlist and what makes them — and me — tick.

Song of the Week
Lady Gaga — Poker Face

Look, I’m no fan of Top 40, but when I’m looking to hoof my lard ass from point A to point B, sometimes I need some motivation. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga, happens to put together tunes that get me moving. Comparisons to Madonna are obvious, even trite — Gaga, seemingly a personification of New York ambition, emerged from a Catholic background to manufacture image-based, sexually charged pop music — but even with Born This Way being pretty much a carbon copy of Express Yourself, I find just as much Freddie Mercury in her work as Material Girl.

Poker Face runs at 120 beats per minute, which sites like jog.fm suggests will pull you in at about eight minutes per kilometre, but I find personally that it’s the perfect driving beat for 5:45 klicks.

Album: The Fame
Release date:
2008
Beats per minute: 120
Subject: Cards / gambling
Content warning: Sexual innuendo / repeated use in chorus of profanity (so subtle is Gaga’s insertion of the f-word, however, that the overwhelming majority of radio stations do not use the edited version in their broadcasts)
Video: 

Robinson Cano showing off his sparkling new M's jersey.

Mariner Report – Week 1

Week one of the 2014 MLB season brought some serious bats to the Seattle Mariner organization, and resulted in the kind of giddy, vibrating happy haps that the Emerald City hasn’t felt since… Well, since February. Damn you, Seahawks, for ruining a perfectly good blog lede. M’man John Stewart giddily shakes his way through this Week One Mariners wrap-up. On with the Boys of Summer!

Felix Hernandez walks off the mound after tossing 11 strikeouts in his first start of the 2014 season. Photo ripped unceremoniously from the interweb.

Felix Hernandez walks off the mound after tossing 11 strikeouts in his first start of the 2014 season. Photo ripped unceremoniously from the interweb.

Being a Seattle Mariners fan always includes plenty of angst. One is simultaneously hopeful (Cano! Miller! Seager! Felix!) and terrified (Hart, Morrison, Ackley, Saunders, Smoak…) So many good things could happen! And oh, so many bad things could as well.

Somehow this team not only swept their opening series against Albert Pujols and the Anaheim Angels, but did so in grand style. Production up and down the lineup! C Mike Zunino, he of so much promise yet so much growing to do, came up big multiple times. CF Abe Almonte, similar to Zunino in the promise-but-growing-needed camp, showed off his speed (and inability to properly play balls in centre field, but hey, he’s learning). In each of those three Angels games we saw either six or seven Mariners with at least one hit – exactly the kind of production this lineup needs to deliver. Second baseman Robinson Cano is looking great, but you can’t expect any player (even one making that much money) to carry the team on his back. Baseball is, inevitably, a team sport.

As I write this, the Mariners have recovered from their single loss so far this season by beating the Athletics 3-1…and lead the American League West, with a 4-1 record. It has been difficult to keep both feet on the ground this week, to be honest.

All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano brings great expectations (and a whole lot of greenbacks) to Seattle this season. Photo cribbed from a random website

All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano brings great expectations (and a whole lot of greenbacks) to Seattle this season. Photo cribbed from a random website

That loss to the Athletics could be chalked up to some of the worst umpiring I have ever seen. Sean Barber made his Major League umpiring debut behind the plate, and after this outing, the hope is that he goes back to AAA for some more work. The game also featured (thankfully) the last appearance by pitcher Hector Noesi in a Mariners uniform, as he was designated for assignment yesterday.

Another thing going well for the team is the starting pitching, despite the absence of Hisashi Iwakuma and Tai Walker. Erasmo Ramirez came up big in his first start, a welcome development given last season, and Felix Hernandex is the King for a reason (he had a shutout going into the 9th inning in today’s win over the A’s).

This Mariner team is long on promise and short on proven track record. But the American League West is a very different division from a year ago. The Rangers are hampered by injuries, the Angels’ expensive lineup is far from a sure thing, and as everyone who follows the division knows, the Athletics cannot be counted out – but also can not be counted on before the second half.

So for Mariners fans, this first week has been about as good as we dared hope. The offense has done exactly what it needed to do, the starting pitching has been frankly better than anticipated, and the bullpen has not completely imploded. A solid outing from Fernando Rodney in today’s victory over the A’s certainly did not hurt; while I don’t expect Rodney to be as good as he was last season, a productive year from him in the closer role will go a long way toward keeping the Mariners competitive.

The Mariners need to make it through April and at least keep it close. With Iwakuma and Walker coming back (hopefully some time in May) the rotation will only get better. And if the offense can continue to produce at anything close to the rate they did against the
Angels… well, it’s going to be a fun year.

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19km is a long way

It was my longest run yet. 19.34km. And holy hell, is it ever a long way.

About 17km into the run, I said hello to Mr Oppenheimer at the entrance to Stanley Park. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

About 17km into the run, I said hello to Mr Oppenheimer at the entrance to Stanley Park. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

I went out early Sunday morning in order to get my body used to pre-breakfast activity. Normally I hit the trail in the middle of the day — teaching classes that either start at 8am or end after 10pm doesn’t lend itself to morning runs — but with the half marathon in May I’ll be out the door before sunrise and through the starting line at 7am. If I haven’t done at least a handful of runs at that time of the morning, it’ll be hard to motivate on race day.

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Gershon Koffie dribbling against a Colorado Rapids defender. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Photo Gallery: Whitecaps 1, Colorado Rapids 2

The Vancouver Whitecaps looked to continue their string of unbeaten play in the 2014 season, up 1-0 in the 77th minute and coming hard at the injury-depleted back line of the Colorado Rapids. Then Matías Laba, pushed roughly to the turf by Rapids midfielder Nick LaBrocca, corralled the ball with his right hand as he appealed to the referee for a foul. Unfortunately for the Caps, the man in yellow whistled at Laba, not LaBrocca, and the intentional handball garnered the Whitecaps midfielder an automatic yellow card. Double alas, it was Laba’s second yellow of the match, meaning that card had to be traded in for a red card.

Miller: "You know, you got away with one there." Irwin: "Yeah, yeah." Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Miller: “You know, you got away with one there.” Irwin: “Yeah, yeah.” Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Within three minutes of Laba’s ejection, the Rapids had not only erased the Whitecaps goal advantage, but scored a second time to take a 2-1 lead themselves.

“If you miss the first call, you don’t penalise the second player with a yellow,” said Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson after the loss, lamenting the official’s role in deciding the outcome. “Unfortunately the 20,000 fans leaving here today won’t be talking about the football that was played here today — and it was a good, tough game played between two very good teams.”

While it’s true LaBrocca could easily have been called for his takedown of Laba, it’s a fact that the Whitecaps haven’t capitalized on long stretches of 11-on-10 play — most notably against Chivas USA in their second game of the year. That Vancouver so quickly capsized after going down a man to Colorado doesn’t speak well to their ability to adapt to unpredictable situations.

Kenny Miller is probably right when he says it should have been 2-0 by the time Laba got his red card anyway. Pedro Morales missed a glorious opportunity just minutes after Mattocks had made it 1-0 in the 65th minute; his shot glanced off Colorado keeper Clint Irwin’s right leg and trickled wide of the far post. Long before that, in the first half, Miller himself was tripped up by Irwin in the box. The referee waved off appeals for a penalty kick, despite clear replays showing the keeper interfering with Miller as he ran for the ball. Let’s not even get into the half-dozen quality scoring chances lost to a poor final touch on this day. Russell Teibert alone wasted four free kicks in dangerous territory and at least two corners by alternately skying the ball well over every attacking Whitecaps player and toeing short passes directly into the shins of Rapids defenders.

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Highlights:
Carl Robinson post-match press conference:

Kenny Miller post-match media scrum:

Martin St. Pierre in action against the Abbotsford Heat.  Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Heat host Ice Hogs; bacon shortage cancelled

After a six-game road swing that saw the Abbotsford Heat play .500 hockey, they return to the AESC in the Valley to host the dirty rotten stinkin’ no-good Rockford Ice Hogs. The games mark the chance for local fans to get their first look at Calgary Flames first-round pick Morgan Klimchuk, who scored 74 points in 57 games with the Regina Pats in junior this year, and Collin Valcourt, an undrafted player who had 72 points as an overaged WHL player with Saskatoon and Prince Albert.

Rockford Ice Hogs Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Captain Martin St Pierre brings his Rockford Ice Hogs to Abbotsford to play the Heat Friday and Saturday. No word on whether he’ll ask Brendan Morrison for an autograph. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Abbotsford won both games in Rockford earlier in the season, winning 4-2 and 4-3 in OT; recently, however, the Ice Hogs have been on something of a tear, moving from non-playoff contention two months ago into seventh place in the West.

The Heat currently sit in fifth in the Western Conference; if the post-season started today they’d match up with the fourth-place Chicago Wolves, AHL affiliate of the St Louis Blues.

Abbotsford has back-to-back games against the Chicago Blackhawks farm team tonight and tomorrow, followed by a Friday/Sunday doubleheader against the baby Edmonton Oilers from Oklahoma City. They’ll finish the season with three games in three nights the following weekend before opening the 2014 AHL playoffs.

I’m totally stealing most of this information from the Abbotsford Heat website, but everything above is at least paraphrased. In honour of some of my writing students grappling with citation and plagiarism, the following sentence is word-for-word ripped from www.abbotsfordheat.com: Max Reinhart (2-5-7), Derek Smith (0-6-6), and Ben Street (4-4-8) are all riding five game point streaks into this weekend.

Go buy tickets, or listen on CIVL Radio.

Jordan Harvey opens the scoring against the Houston Dynamo at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Photo Gallery: Whitecaps 2, Dynamo 1

Vancouver Whitecaps FC is undefeated after four matches, and have played damned entertaining soccer in exactly half of those games. Sure, the draw against Chivas USA on the road was disappointing, but let’s be honest — if we asked you if you’d be happy with eight of a possible twelve points to start the season, you’d have salivated all over us. And while we don’t have a drool fetish, exactly, let’s just say we’re damned happy with the start to the 2014 MLS season.

Jordan Harvey and Kenny Miller scored for the homeside, putting home the first two goals Houston has conceded this season.

Darren Mattocks continued his tradition of coming this close. Methinks he spent too much of the off-season watching Canucks games. He had one glorious chance on a short cross in the first half; he got the ball in perfect position, at the top of the six-yard box just shy of the left post. He one-timed his volley, his eyes on the back of the net, his form perfect as he levelled his foot at the incoming pass. The result? So high over the crossbar the ball hasn’t come down four days later. Mattocks is working hard, at least — goals will come, one assumes — but so far he’s had to settle for close calls and a sweet assist on Kekuta Manneh’s goal against those goats in Los Angeles.

Below, thar be pictures. (I’ll add more as I get round to the editing.)

By the way, David Horst, a Houston defender who features in this photo gallery, at one point during the game, wiped out a Whitecaps forward two metres from the right sideline, then took umbrage when the whistle blew. He stood inches away from the linesman, screaming over and over, “WHAT IS THE FUCKING CALL!” That’s right, ladies. He’s a charmer.

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