Friday night saw perhaps the most impressive MLS win in Whitecaps history. Vancouver was riding a two-game win streak for the first time this season and sat two points out of the final playoff spot in the West. The Caps had not won three straight since June of last year (and had only done so twice since joining the MLS in 2011); the last away goal of consequence for Vancouver came in mid-July in a 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake. Since then, they’d been shut out in road games against Chivas USA, Chicago Fire, LA Galaxy and the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Portland Timbers. (They scored once in Frisco to spoil a clean sheet for FC Dallas, but lost 2-1 to those scurvy, diving dogs anyway.)
To win Friday would require something special. The Seattle Sounders are among the league’s elite teams, and are currently battling the LA Galaxy for the Supporter’s Shield as regular season champions. Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins have been on a tear; with 31 goals between them, they are just 10 shy of the entire Whitecaps roster combined. The Sounders had scored in 11 straight matches, a remarkable streak in any soccer league.
Even the staunchest of the Southsiders merely hoped for three points — not only would a win keep the Cascadia Cup in Vancouver for another year, but it would draw the Caps back into the fifth and final playoff spot with just two games to play and leave Toronto FC six points back late in the charge for the Canadian entry to 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League play. Oh, and the gravy: Sounders FC had never lost a fixture when more than 50,000 fans packed Century Link Field.
Truly, most Vancouver fans would have been ecstatic with a single point for a draw. All this other stuff was but a pipe dream for idle jawing over yet another pitcher at Doolin’s.
Just a quick tip of the hat to the Whitecaps for honouring the anniversary of Domenic Mobilio’s tragic death ten years ago at the age of 35. Mobilio was perhaps the most prolific, natural goal-scorer this area has ever produced, and certainly one of the best finishers to wear Whitecaps and 86ers colours.
Saturday’s game at BC Place featured a pre-game ceremony, halftime children’s game with every player wearing Mobilio’s number 10, and this classy TIFO unfurled in the 10th minute by the always-thoughtful Curva Collective. Curva chanted the Vancouver-born striker’s name and passed 170 soccer balls through a hole in the signage — one ball for every goal he scored while dressed for a Vancouver team.
Any degree of sports fandom tends to affect things at home. My personal connection to the Seattle Mariners, and to baseball in general, is hopelessly intertwined with my personal life. And so it was that last Sunday, with the Mariners’ playoff chances hanging in the balance, I found myself sitting on the Washington State Ferry Yakima, headed south to Anacortes from Orcas Island, checking and re-checking the MLB app on my phone. Were the A’s winning? How was Felix pitching? Had the Mariners scored any runs? Could Texas come back, and give the Ms a li’l help?
As I learned in the car after we got off the ferry, the Rangers were incapable of mounting a comeback against the A’s (not surprising for a team whose Disabled List outmanned its 25-man roster). Thus ended ended the Mariners’ playoff hopes, despite their final game 4–1 win over the Los Angeles Angels. The win, while gratifying, did not get the team that Wild Card berth we had dared to dream about all summer.
Preamble: Please note that the title of this article has little to do with the actual contents found within. It was simply a title that needed using.
During the Whitecaps pre-game show on TSN1040, analyst Carlo Corazzin threw out a rather remarkable fact: the Whitecaps have not fielded the same starting XI in three consecutive games since entering MLS. That’s nearly four years of players rotating in and out of the lineup every match (or two).
Now, odds are that injuries and international duties have played a small part in this phenomenon, but seriously, not once in four seasons? It just goes to show you the constant state of flux this franchise has been in since joining Major League Soccer. And it extends beyond just the players on the pitch — the club’s well-documented coaching changes are no mystery to anyone that follows Whitecaps soccer with any sort of vigilance.
Perhaps, however, an era of stability is finally upon us, and just maybe it started this weekend versus FC Dallas.
The Vancouver Giants opened the 2014-15 with a perfect September, taking a pair of wins off the rival Victoria Royals and beating the Portland Winterhawks for the first time in nine tries. Not since 2007 have the Giants gone three-and-oh to start the season — that year, in defense of their Memorial Cup win the previous spring, they won four straight off the hop, and won the BC Division by a country mile before dropping a disappointing second-round series to the Spokane Chiefs.
New coach Troy G Ward, late of the Abbotsford Heat, has the G-men playing a smart, aggressive game. Like most junior teams, Vancouver had a couple of their top players — in this case, leading scorer Jackson Houck and top D-man Mason Geertsen — out of the lineup as they attended NHL training camps. Even so, the Giants have played without panic, coming from behind in all three games for the perfect record.
Rookie Tyler Benson, listed at an even six feet tall, is playing bigger and faster than last season, which saw him skate in seven WHL games as an underage player. He has already made an impact, scoring twice and pressuring opposition defensemen just about every time he’s stepped on the ice. His goal against the Portland Winterhawks was a thing of beauty, as he scampered past blueliner Layne Viveiros off a face-off in the Giants zone, skated the length of the ice alone, and coolly backhanded the puck past Adin Hill. As you watch Benson shred it up this season, keep in mind that this kid is just 16 years old.
Since joining Major League Soccer four years ago, the Vancouver Whitecaps haven’t been much for rising to occasions. Sure, they’ve started strong out of the gate the past few years, and they’ve rarely been run out of the park, especially at home. They even put a scare into the mighty LA Galaxy in the one playoff game they’ve played as an MLS side. But let’s call a spade a bloody shovel: the Whitecaps have stunk down the stretch.
Last year, the Caps tumbled so far, so fast, Bobby Lenarduzzi was forced to send bench boss Martin Rennie packing. This despite scoring a club-record number of goals, stealing attention from a hockey-weary public, and winning the Cascadia Cup for the fourth time. This year, the team opened like gangbusters, but has seen several popular players depart, playoff hopes dwindle and this core of exciting young strikers put together the longest scoreless drought in franchise history.
It was a relief, then, to see David Ousted make several diving saves against Real Salt Lake, a team that scores in bunches — take their 5–1 drubbing of Colorado just last week, for example. It was even more heartening to see Pedro Morales bury a brace of goals in the second half to earn a much-needed three points and keep the playoff dream alive.
It was an uninspiring first half, with RSL seemingly content to play for the single point, as that’s all they need to lock up a playoff spot. The Caps were unable to create much to inspire the crowd until a questionable fall by Kendall Waston drew a PK in stoppage time. Alas, Jeff Attinella guessed correctly; El Capitan drove a hard low ball into the RSL keeper’s hands, and pretty much everyone in the stadium thought, “Here we go again.”
Some of those people actually left the stadium in the 57th minute, when Nat Borchers steered a corner past Ousted with his facial hair. It marked the first goal of the year for Borchers, one assumes because previous balls to come near him had been sucked into the gravitational pull of his beard and were unable to escape. (Can we talk about this hillbilly look for a minute? I overheat if the weave on my t-shirt is too heavy; how the hell can you engage in professional sport with a koala stapled to your jaw? Brett Keisel, Brian Wilson, James Harden, Hugh O’Neill — all y’all — I’m talking to you. Seriously. This dwarves of Middle Earth cosplay thing you’ve got going on is getting old.)
As the Whitecaps lined up for the ensuing kickoff, Mauro Rosales looked into the stands and decided to take action. Morales may be called the Maestro, but it was Rosales who raised his arms and conducted a symphony of encouraging cheers. Four minutes later, Vancouver was swarming. Not one, but two Caps were taken down in the box, and Allen Chapman was forced to award the home side a second penalty kick in minute 62.
Morales made no mistake this time, tying the game with a confident strike just inside the left post. A couple Ousted saves and two substitutions later, Kekuta Manneh made a blistering run down the left flank. He cut a pass behind Matias Laba, but it found Steven Beitashour just outside the 18-yard line. With a 20-yard run-up, Beitashour could have gone for goal, but instead he rifled a pass to Morales, who was standing onside about four yards out. El Capitan tapped the ball into the mesh, securing Vancouver their first win over Real Salt Lake since 27 October 2012.
With the win, the Whitecaps move a point up on the Portland Timbers, who collapsed in the second half Saturday against a miserable Toronto FC team. The Timbers lost All-Star midfielder Will Johnson to a season-ending leg injury, and despite being up 2–0 at half time, lost the game 3–2. No one wants to see a guy break his tibia and fibula, but let’s be selfish for a minute: despite losing consecutive, uninspired 3–0 games to this very same Portland team — both of which were billed as must-win games prior to kickoff — the Whitecaps still control their own destiny with four games remaining in the 2014 season.
Their MLS history hasn’t contained many happy endings, but with Portland battling injuries, who knows? Perhaps between Rosales the Conductor and Morales the Maestro, the Caps will give Carl Robinson something to take away from his first year behind the bench after all.
The next must-win game goes at 4pm next Saturday, October 4 as the Whitecaps host the notorious divers of FC Dallas.
Sebastian Fernandez kicked a soccer ball into Victor Bernardez’ nuts to earn a corner kick, and the Vancouver Whitecaps proceeded to score off that corner kick en route to a 2-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes.
Now, there’s a whole lot of awesome going on in that lede, so let’s break it down, shall we?
“…the Vancouver Whitecaps proceeded to score…”
Mired in the longest goal-scoring drought of their MLS existence, forced to listen to boos, heckles and songs declaiming their utter lack of prowess in front of goal from their own supporters, the Whitecaps did the recently unthinkable and potted not one, but TWO GOALS! They even scored both of them themselves.
“Sebastian Fernandez kicked a soccer ball into Victor Bernardez’ nuts…”
It was not a good day for the Honduran defender, whose aged testicles received two solid blows — one literal, one figurative — both of which led to goals. Referee Jose Carlos Rivero delivered the first in the 39th minute, when he figuratively kicked the seasoned defender in the nuts by awarding a dubious penalty kick to the Whitecaps. Bernardez’ contact with Kendall Waston on a Morales free kick seemed minimal, and I’m not entirely convinced Waston could have got anything on the header even if he’d been unimpeded. (Hey, it bumped the slump, we’ll take it.) The second was a literal shot to the cojones from Fernandez, who broke down the left wing, cut to the inside, and attempted to deliver a cross that was intercepted by the Bernardez family jewels.
“…proceeded to score off a corner kick…”
Well. That was refreshing.
(Editor’s note: it was just the second Whitecaps goal off a corner kick this season, and Carl Robinson looked positively teary-eyed when he saw his dream of Kendall Waston heading home this set piece.)
“…a 2-0 win…”
For only the second time in their last 11 games, the Whitecaps won! The win puts the blue and white two points clear of Portland for the final playoff spot, with seven games each to play, and gives them a four-point cushion over Toronto FC for a place in the 2015 CONCACAF Champions League.
“…a 2-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes.”
As much fun as it was to get a win and see some goals for, we should probably not get too high. Erik Hurtado and Sebastian Fernandez couldn’t score on gilt-edged chances, making it more than five games since the Caps got a goal from a forward. The Earthquakes — let’s face it — are also pretty terrible: sub-par in every category but the little-known stat, Ugly-ass Black Capris Owned By Goalkeepers, San Jose look like a team playing out the string. Or possibly a team playing their second game in four days, a fate that awaits the Whitecaps as they travel to Dallas on Saturday for what should be a much sterner test.
On most other nights, the effort put forth on Saturday evening at BC Place by the Vancouver Whitecaps would have been viewed as positive. But with their current run of form, it was enough to ignite a spattering of boos as the referee blew the final whistle.
The Caps, currently mired in a streak that sees them with just two wins in their last fourteen matches, aren’t used to such a reaction from their hometown faithful. As much as it may hurt, a little tough love could be just the cure for this dismal stretch of games.
Despite what management is saying in public in regards to looking for a striker, one has to believe that the urgency is mounting. And now, with their paying customers starting to voice their dissatisfaction with the current assembly of players, there can be no denying what the supporters want to see.
They want to see the playoffs, and they want to see success, and they want to see it now.
The consecutive losses push the Caps out of a playoff spot and leave the team and its supporters asking questions regarding the club’s resolve when it comes to performing during critical phases in the season.
But we here at PITH see no reason to dwell on the pessimism (we’ll let the other media outlets take care of that). So, instead, we simply look into the past to a moment in time where one savoured being a Whitecaps fan.
In this, our initial post of an on-going series, we take our first glimpse back at the history of the Whitecaps’ Goal of the Week winners.
The Vancouver Whitecaps had an opportunity to solidify their playoff hopes on Saturday, but chose to soil the sheets instead. A middling first half was followed by a disastrous second; the forward corps showed little imagination, the back line stumbled and fell apart, and keeper David Ousted failed to make big saves for the team to rally around.
Coach Carl Robinson keeps talking about the youth of this Whitecaps team. “We’re a young team,” he’s fond of saying. When young teams win, as Vancouver did 4-3 against this same Portland in June, it’s a wonder to behold. When young teams lose, however, it’s also a spectacle.
The Whitecaps generated a total of four legitimate chances in a game against one of the worst defensive teams in the Western Conference this season. Pedro Morales and Kendall Waston put headers over the bar early in the game, and Mauro Rosales sailed a right-footed strike two yards wide from ten yards out. Only Darren Mattocks forced Timbers keeper Donovan Ricketts to make a save of note, in a game that would have put Vancouver four points clear in the playoff race with nine games remaining.
Putting up bagels is getting to be a bit of a habit — they’ve been kept off the score sheet three games running and four games out of five; the Caps have just eight goals for in their last twelve games— but this is the first time in recent memory such a drought has been accompanied by the defensive lapses of a high school rep squad playing two leagues above their age group.
After a spiritless 0-0 draw against the hapless Chivas USA squad, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC have now been outscored by a combined five goals to nil in back-to-back losses against the LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers.
The first Portland goal, a deft whisper of a header by Alvas Powell five minutes into the second half, was made possible by a trio of defensive mixups; Waston made a weak challenge on Fenendo Adi, who calmly moved the ball wide to Diego Valeri. Unchecked, Valeri had a simple task to cross the ball in at chest height. Powell, unmarked as well — see a pattern here? — kissed the ball past a startled Ousted.
The Timbers scored again in the 75th minute when Waston tripped over his own feet in the 18-yard box. (The newcomer hit the deck on a number of occasions in his first start as a Whitecap, calling to question his experience on artificial turf.) He blocked Andy O’Brien from moving forward, allowing Maximilliano Urruti to unload a rocket crossbar down from 15 yards out.
Just four minutes later, Darlington Nagbe shamed Matías Laba before knifing a lovely pass into the area; Rodney Wallace one-timed a left-footed shot under Ousted. The third goal made this the worst home loss since a 4-0 drubbing against the league champion LA Galaxy in 2011.
The Caps keeper might not be at fault for any of the three goals he allowed this night — nay, the defense in front of him was sloppy at best — but David Ousted has rarely come up with the big saves necessary to bind a fragile team together this season. If he gets a finger on Urruti’s high flyer, the Caps sit at 1-0 and still have 15 minutes to gain an equalizing goal. If he goes full starfish to get a shinpad on Wallace’s strike, the team is saved the disgrace of an embarrassing result, and merely suffers a loss.
To paraphrase Coach Robbo, it matters not if you lose 1-0 or 3-0; Ousted can’t be blamed if his team can’t score. If they do start to hit the back of the net once in a while, however, at some point the keeper is going to have to stop the ball.