As the Fall Equinox arrives, the Seattle Mariners are…well, they’re not quite done yet. And that, my friends, is maddening.
As I sat here contemplating the passing of baseball great Yogi Berra, and noodling on something I could put together to appease my impatient editor (what, you expected content more frequently than every 3 months?), the phrase that kept running through my head was the title of this piece.
A team that lost its General Manager (and rightly so, based on performance), whose onetime great hope Dustin Ackley left, finally, because there was just no there there anymore, and whose offense seemed destined to become nothing but Nelson Cruz home runs (welcome as they are, not really quite enough)…suddenly finds itself only 5 games back in the wild card race, with 11 still to play. And three of those are against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who are ahead of the Ms in the wild card race.
It’s maddening, I tell you. Not because it’s not exciting that the team still has a…well, a small chance. That’s great. But I am not embarrassed to admit that I had just about written this team off in early August. And while I am thrilled that, as Yogi said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”, for crying out loud could the real Seattle Mariners please stand up? Who is this team?
I’m not about to predict any kind of Mariner comeback here. But. This team has gone 13-6 so far in September. Took 2 of 3 from both the Rangers and Angels. Still has that Cruz fellow, who has now hit 42 home runs. Still has that Felix Hernandez guy. And finds itself only 3 games under .500.
So maybe next time I’ll talk about next year…or maybe next time I’ll talk about a miraculous Mariner comeback. Stay tuned.
Back on November 16, 2013, Tyler Benson made his WHL debut. He wore a full face cage, as rules stipulate Bantam-aged prospects must. He also stood 5’11” and weighed 185 pounds at the time, which should probably be against the rules when you’re 15 years old. Here’s a picture I took at that game, as Benson tried a shifty backdoor play. He didn’t get on the scoresheet that night, but he’s figured prominently in Vancouver ever since.
It was a disappointing day by many standards. The Vancouver Whitecaps, sitting atop the MLS standings, hosted the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Seattle Sounders. A win would mean a third straight Cascadia Cup for the Caps, and put a dagger in Seattle’s attempt to revive a lacklustre season.
Instead, the boys in green and blue beat the Whitecaps at their own game: they sat back and let Vancouver come at them, and waited patiently for opportunities to come on the counterattack. At the end of the day, the Whitecaps are still the class of the Western Conference and sit tied for top spot in MLS — thank you, woeful Real Salt Lake for pummelling the LA Galaxy when we least expected it.
The season series between Seattle and Vancouver has seen home teams struggle. The Sounders won 2-0 here back in May, and the Caps put in one of their most complete games at Century Link with a 3-0 victory on August 1. The latter was a low point in the Sounders season, with coaches and players sniping at each other after the fact for poor preparation and effort levels, respectively.
Saturday offered a much more balanced game, but it was Seattle who took advantage of their chances. Octavio Rivero had several opportunities early in the first half, including a glorious clean shot at goal from ten metres, but put the ball high and wide every time. Every other shot toward Stefan Frei was pretty much a gift to the Swiss-born keeper. (I can think of perhaps two saves that required him to actually move.)
Then, seconds before the halftime whistle, Obafemi Martins dribbled away from four white jerseys and put a perfect aerial pass on the foot of striker Andreas Ivanschitz, who had snuck in behind rookie defender Jordan Smith. The German with rather predictable sophomoric nicknames slotted the ball neatly behind David Ousted to open the Sounders account on the evening.
The Caps pushed for the equalizer throughout the second half, but that opened them up to yet more fast breaks the other way. The Sounders waited for their chances, then buried them. Love him or hate him, Clint Dempsey is one hell of a player when he keeps his head about him. Yes, he spends an inordinate amount of time whining to referees — more on these antics below — but he also spent this entire game feathering one-touch balls and delicate passes to his mates, giving the Whitecaps midfield fits at times and directly resulting in two of the Sounders goals. He fed Gonzalo Pineda with a lovely pass at the lip of the box, and Pineda put a perfect shot off the post and in to double the lead in the 71st minute. Sixteen minutes later, Dempsey outhustled Cristian Techera — yes, you read that right, he outran the Bug — before sliding a gimme to Martins for the 3-nil scoreline.
For many, however, the biggest disappointment didn’t happen on the field of play at all. Longtime season ticket holder Christy Clark created quite a stir on our local corner of the interweb, as she tried to poke fun at the Flounders’ proclivity for lying on the BC Place turf nursing non-existent injuries. Sadly, her old-timey insistence upon using girly references to insult male athletes kinda backfired.
Did the Sounders spend a lot of time with their butts glued to the turf? Yeah, sure they did. Were fans rankled and riled about it? You bet your Southsiders scarf they were. Does that make it okay to throw sexist jabs around in a public forum, when you’re an elected official, and to boot a role model to women interested in entering politics? Absolutely fricking not.
The BC Premier is no stranger to social media firestorms. She has nearly 51,000 followers on Twitter, and she upsets a great number of them with even the blandest of posts. In this case, however, folks really ought to get their hackles up. Clark is a self-professed champion of the anti-bullying movement — she helped to spearhead BC’s involvement in Pink Shirt Day a few years ago, and continues to make public comments that pooh-pooh language, actions and systems that belittle or exclude portions of the populace.
Members of the Southsiders, Rain City Brigade and Curva Collective supporters groups all actively dissuade neanderthal members of their groups who denigrate women. Even five years ago, chants of “SHE FELL OVER” were commonplace when an opposing player hit the pitch. These days, references to gender and/or sexual orientation just aren’t accepted any longer by BC Place supporter groups. (Note: Sadly, sexism is still rampant in the football world. The comments screamed at Chelsea medical staffer Eva Carneiro by opposing clubs have been atrocious. The Vancouver Canucks, and women’s rights groups for that matter, have put up with dolts calling Henrik and Daniel “the Sedin sisters” from day one. Hell, the NHL even made an ad that featured Hank & Dank showing up for a fan’s stag party as twin Swedish dancers
. Ice girls at men’s games are the embarrassing norm, when teams should be putting resources into setting up a serious women’s pro league. The sad fact is, loads of sports fans turn their noses up at the prospect of watching professional women’s sports — the Women’s World Cup drew fans, but YVR is still without a women’s Whitecaps team. At least in Vancouver, widespread homophobic or misogynistic jeers aren’t the norm. Clark’s tweet is harmless on the face of it, but flies in the face of very anti-bullying campaign she claims to honour.)
There was a time when I wrote articles on this website that garnered reaction from the public (I still remember you 2014!), and most often of the negative variety. Perfect. In particular, I have authored two pieces that seemingly turned people off more than a pants-optional wet t-shirt competition featuring all three male Pucked In The Head contributors. And if you know us, you know that “pants optional” is just a politer way of saying “nudity mandatory.”
Anyhoo, the two pieces I’m referencing both kind of centre around the same subject – none other than the Whitecaps’ previous man in charge: Martin Rennie. The first was a scathing review of the Scotsman’s insistence on including Jun Marques Davidson in the Whitecaps lineup. The guy was horrible and I stand by that.
The second, which now seems slightly contradictory, was a show of support to the former manager. In “A Rennie Saved is a Rennie Earned,” I extolled the virtues of the coach and attempted to coax the Whitecaps front office that the man was in a growing phase, much like the team itself. The Caps had improved under him each year and had some good pieces in place despite missing the MLS playoffs in 2013.
At that point in time, after going through coaches like weekdays, I felt the team’s best move was no move at all. Stable leadership had been elusive through their earliest MLS years and perhaps it was time to allow those in charge the opportunity to work and learn their way through the struggle. I suppose, with the promotion of Rennie’s assistant Carl Robinson, the Whitecaps did just that, albeit in a roundabout way.
The ads for the 2015 Odlum Brown Vancouver Open boldly touted the STRONGEST, FIELD, like, EVAR, but the winner’s circle was full of familiar faces on Sunday. British right-hander Johanna Konta won her second singles title in three years with a straight sets victory over the top seed, Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, 6-2, 6-4. It was a productive week for the 96th-ranked Konta, who also won the women’s doubles title with American partner Maria Sanchez.
Dudi Sela won his fourth Van Open championship in straight sets over Australian John-Patrick Smith. Sela broke once in each set for a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Smith, who came into the tournament as defending men’s doubles champion with American Austin Krajicek.
Sela accepted the inaugural Vancouver Open men’s trophy in 2005, then repeated in 2008 and 2010. The only other repeat winner on the men’s side is Marcos Baghdatis, who took the title twice, in 2009 and 2014.
Six players on the women’s side were ranked in the top 100 in the world, with quite a few offering impressive resumés. Most notably, Francesca Schiavone came in having won the 2007 French Open, as well as three Fed Cup titles playing for Italy. She lost in the first round, however, to 20-year-old Tunisian Ons Jabeur. A number of other high-profile players bowed out early, such as former number 4 in the world Kimiko Date-Krumm, who stepped aside in first-round qualifying with injury.
Canadians Sharon Fichman and Carol Zhao made the women’s doubles semi-finals, when they lost to eventual champions Konta and Sanchez, 7-6(2), 6-2.
After years of finding new and shocking ways to lose the Canadian Championship, the Vancouver Whitecaps played a statement game in the second leg of the 2015 final, and — finally — won the damned thing.
No penalty kicks, no extra time, no aggregate gaffes, no games halted for bad weather. Just solid play from first and second squad players alike.
Octavio Rivero opened the scoring midway through the first half when he got his foot on a ball that Cristian Techera had already rolled to the very goal line. It was his first goal from the run of play since Middle Earth was a relevant pop culture reference, and turned out to be the tournament-winning goal. It seems only fair; if Techera hadn’t back heeled that wonderful ball from Kekuta Manneh against FC Dallas just four days ago, it would have landed at Rivero’s feet in that exact same spot. Tit for tat, I always say.
Rivero owes Techera a steak dinner after nicking his goal. #VWFC take a 1-nil lead in the 41st min. #CanChamp
Tim Parker headed home a Pedro Morales corner in the second half to double the lead. Given the team’s collapse in Montreal a fortnight earlier — when a late 2-nil scoreline became a 2-2 draw in mere minutes — many of the 19,000-plus fans at BC Place were more nervous up by a brace than they had been when the lead was just one. However, between Parker and Kendall Waston, backed up by a committed David Ousted, two goals was more than enough to seal the deal this time round.
The fact is, the Whitecaps have now shrugged off just about every minor monkey that’s been riding their shoulders since joining MLS. First it was earning points against stronger teams — the LA Galaxy, Sporting KC, DC United. Then it was getting some individual hardware, like a Golden Boot and a Newcomer of the Year award. Then it was winning against those powerhouses on the road. They’ve won back-to-back Cascadia Cups, and are a win away from making it a threepeat. With the Canadian Championship in their pocket, this year’s somewhat backwards entry into the CONCACAF Champions League no longer needs an asterisk.
Each of these accomplishments are huge steps for a franchise to take. None of them should be sneezed at, nor belittled. Every single one of these players deserves to cherish that medal, and kiss that Canadian Championship trophy as long as they care to pucker.
But now that these smaller firsts have been taken care of, the Whitecaps can set their sights on bigger fish.
These Whitecaps aren’t just the best in Canada this season. They’re among the best in the league. A Supporters’ Shield is no pipe dream — it’s a distinct possibility. With eight games remaining, the Caps have the number one points-per-game ratio in MLS. Playoff success isn’t just a pipe dream; it’s expected.
David Ousted should win Goalkeeper of the Year, if the June Player of the Month award and four Save of the Week honours mean anything. Kendall Waston ought to be in the conversation for Defender of the Year, if for no other reason than because he’s too big to ignore. And if Carl Robinson isn’t nominated for Coach of the Year, there’s something downright fishy going on.
Dare we say it, even the MLS Cup is a distinct possibility. Okay, that’s perhaps reaching, and the LA Galaxy will make life in the playoffs more difficult than a Silviu Petrescu disciplinary hearing. But hey, the Caps have beaten the Galaxy outright twice this season, once here and once in LA. Handily.
The rest of the season is going to be verrrrrry interesting. Pick your dance partners, folks, because this party is just getting started.
Well, here we go again. The clock has ticked over to August 26th, and the Vancouver Whitecaps will play the Montreal Impact tonight at BC Place in the final match of the Canadian Championship. The forums, message boards and social media outlets have all filled up with the prognostications of the supporters. Most are dire, a Pavlovian response to the words “Voyageurs Cup Final” borne of 13 years of failure. Yet there is a feeling of hope, too. A dangerous feeling, that. The hope exists because — for at least the fifth consecutive year — the Whitecaps have their best-ever chance to finally capture this trophy. Continue reading Voyageurs Cup 2015 – Final Leg Preview→
I wanted to be up in North Vancouver this morning, checking out the view from Hollyburn Country Club and shooting media day pictures for the Odlum Brown Vancouver Open Tennis Tournament. Alas, I’m at home nursing a later summer cold and flicking my way through a variety of on demand movie listings.
So here’s my list of Ten sports films you should watch again. I invite your commentary, your judgement and your suggestions. I obviously haven’t given a definitive list here, but let’s be clear: I’ll be damned if anyone makes me sit through Slap Shot ever again. Why so many people like that load of unadulterated shite is just beyond me.
In an age of hyper marketing, intense competition and tightly controlled PR, it’s amazing that truly horrible ideas can still make it past the brainstorming stage. Whether it’s the nightmare of design by committee or just a conflagration of mediocre talents pulling the wool over the eyes of out of touch rich CEOs, we occasionally see awful designs rolled out in an underwhelming explosion of anticlimax. We analyze the Canucks’ latest trip to the cash trough with today’s edition of Somebody Approved This.
The act of going retro is, like, so yesterday.
Still, the Vancouver Canucks will break out the ol’ spaghetti jerseys on February 13 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of no longer wearing these black and orange abominations the opening of Rogers Arena. It’s a great excuse to laugh at the Toronto Maple Leafs, who lost a five-game Conference Finals to those awfully dressed Vancouver Canucks back in 1994, but then again the Leafs will only have to see these damned things once. We of Lotusland will have to see a renewed population of black-and-gold fashion faux pas for years to freaking come.