It feels odd to label any game for a team in the Vancouver Whitecaps’ position a “must win,” but this is as close as the Whitecaps are likely to come before the playoffs. Things are good in Rain City, with the club sitting pretty atop the Western Conference, but the Caps face an absolutely brutal run-in, with away matches against the three clubs immediately below them and only one home date after tonight.
Undefeated in six, Vancouver needed to hold serve against the bottom-of-the-West Colorado Rapids to give themselves some margin for error down the stretch. They wasted no time getting down to it. It was only the fourth minute when Yordy Reyna found a little space just outside the left corner of the box and fed an inch-perfect cross between two Colorado defenders and keeper Tim Howard, right onto the head of Fredy Montero who notched his 13th of the season to tie his personal best in MLS.
For five minutes after the goal, nothing happened. For 30 minutes after that, nothing continued to happen.
Well that’s not entirely fair. Tim Parker, wearing the captain’s armband in Kendall Waston’s absence (yellow card accumulation), decided to try a diving hander in the 34th minute and got a caution for an intentional handball.
Five minutes from the half, Vancouver woke up and had several excellent chances, but was unable to convert. They would pay for their earlier sloth in the forty-fifth minute, when Dominique Badji stuck his leg out past Parker, who was in the process of punting clear, and poked the ball through the legs of the unsuspecting David Ousted to tie the game going into the half.
Fortunately, the manager’s half-time speech appeared to have been on point, as Vancouver came out flying and took the lead back in the 54th minute. Tim Howard, who spent most of the game looking like a good example of why you shouldn’t overpay for goaltending in this league, hesitated coming off his line on Montero’s ball over the top to Reyna, and the Peruvian scored his fifth of the season.
The rest of the second half was blessedly more entertaining than the first. Colorado opened the game up after going down, which gave both sides a few chances. Ousted survived his only serious test, tipping a shot over the bar. The Caps, despite having a number of forays into dangerous areas, didn’t force a grade A save from Howard but had a number of near misses.
There would be no further scoring, despite some hopeful headers from the Rapids late, and Vancouver maintained their spot atop the Western Conference.
Goalkeeper: FIVE Pucks in the Head
David Ousted wasn’t called on often, with Colorado managing only four shots on target. He had little chance on the goal he allowed, but he did enough and had one very solid save in the second half.
Defence: FOUR Pucks in the Head
With Andrew Jacobson filling in for the suspended Kendall Waston, the back line was a little less solid than they could have been, but they allowed very few big chances. Good enough, defensively. Offensively, the second half was better than the first. Tim Parker picked up a silly yellow on a first half set piece, and Marcel de Jong was light on a few easy passes that led to turnovers. Much less sloppy after the break.
Midfield: SIX Pucks in the Head
Ghazal and Tchani is turning out to be a pretty solid midfield combo. They don’t have the tackling ability of Matias Laba, but they don’t need it. Ghazal’s positioning is fantastic, and both of them offer something going forward. Yordy Reyna, meanwhile… my goodness. The missing link that Vancouver’s been looking for for years. A goal and an assist tonight, and he’s single-handedly made Fredy Montero look like the goal scorer we knew he was.
Forward: SIX Pucks in the Head
Montero is fantastic. A poacher when he wants to be, a serviceable distributor in his own right. A goal and an assist tonight, and he’ll be licking his chops at a date against his old club on Wednesday night.