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Whitecaps Wednesday

California Drought

After back-to-back, less-than-stellar outings in the City of Angels, questions abound regarding the Vancouver Whitecaps’ futility in the great state of California. Too much Disneyland? Too much Rodeo Drive shopping? Whatever it may be, Cap struggles in the golden state have become familiar, and farcically legendary.

Landon Donovan's LA Galaxy team has caused fits for the Whitecaps at the StubHub Center. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Landon Donovan’s LA Galaxy team has caused fits for the Whitecaps at the StubHub Center.  Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

With the loss this past weekend, they’ve now compiled a 0-7-0 (W-L-T) record versus the Galaxy in LA since joining MLS in 2011. That’s not entirely surprising considering the various assemblies of talent that the Galaxy has been able to trot out year after year, but to be unable to muster a single point in seven games may be considered, ehrm, disheartening.

Unfortunately for the boys from Vancouver, the point drought in California extends beyond the Galaxy.

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Will there be another moment like this for Seattle Mariners fans?

Are the 2014 Mariners the 1995 Mariners All Over Again?

Yes, boys and girls, this is what we call a ‘clickbait’ headline. You’ll get over it.

Manager Lou Pinella became the eighth member of the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame this month. Photo cribbed from the interweb.
Manager Lou Piniella became the eighth member of the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame this month. Photo cribbed from the interweb.

After watching the one and only Lou Piniella get inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame, in a ceremony that brought tears to the eyes of even grizzled Mariners fans like yours truly, it’s hard not to get all nostalgic for the ’95 Mariners.

After playing all summer without star outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. (aka “Junior”), who had been badly injured in late May, the Ms didn’t inspire much hope for post-season play. The rest of the team fought through the adversity and kept things interesting, but as August began, they were just another bunch of boys of summer playing out the string. Then, somehow, some way, they started winning. The “Refuse to Lose” Mariners had arrived, and suddenly everyone in Seattle and around the Northwest remembered that we had a baseball team.

The ’95 team started August thirteen games back of the Angels. After two of the most amazing months in recent memory — you could not walk down a street in Seattle during a Mariners game without finding someone listening to Dave Niehaus calling the game on the radio — the team finished tied for the division lead with the Angels. That led to a one-game playoff: the Angels had not made the playoffs since ’86, and the Mariners had never been (before 1995 Seattle had only two seasons with a winning record in their 18-year history).

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515km

Halfway there

Back in March, nearly 300km ago, I wrote that my goal of running a thousand kilometres this calendar was going more smoothly than expected. I also admitted that I’d probably just doomed myself to suffer some serious physical ailment — which turned out to be completely true. Just as the weather started to warm up this spring, I stepped awkwardly in a divot while walking to work, and gave myself a grade three ankle sprain.

It meant nearly 10 weeks of a somewhat sedentary lifestyle. Crutches and a plaster cast, then a walking boot, then a tensor bandage. Very little motion for the left foot. Loads of elevation, icing and compression translated into loads of television, reading and — well, I can’t in all honesty say ‘depression’, but ask my wife, I was mopey and difficult more days than I care to admit.

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Matías Laba blocks a clearing attempt during a 2-2 draw between the Whitecaps and LA Galaxy. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Whitecaps Look Lost In Space Against Galaxy

If there remained any doubt about who the Vancouver Whitecaps’ most valuable player is in 2014, tonight’s match removed it. The Caps returned to the Stubhub Center on Saturday evening without standout defensive midfielder Matias Laba, who served his one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation. The difference was stunning.

Matías Laba was forced to wear his training gear, as he served a one-game suspension for accumulation of yellow cards. Sadly, the Caps didn't seem to get out of practice mode themselves, dropping a 2-0 decision to the far superior LA Galaxy. Photo courtesy of Christopher Vose at the Vancouver Herald.
Matías Laba was forced to wear his training gear as he served a one-game suspension for accumulation of yellow cards. Sadly, the Caps didn’t seem to get out of practice mode themselves, dropping a 2-0 decision to the far superior LA Galaxy. Photo of early season training at UBC courtesy of Christopher Vose at the Vancouver Herald.

Without Laba, and with Gershon Koffie still nursing an ankle injury, the Whitecaps resorted to a defensive midfield pairing of Russell Teibert and Mehdi Ballouchy. The result was an underwhelming, listless performance in a 2-0 defeat to the LA Galaxy. It was arguably Vancouver’s worst performance of the 2014 campaign.

Laba’s absence seemed to affect the Whitecaps in a way no other player’s absence has so far this year. They missed his timely interventions, and the way he so casually turns the ball up field without immediately conceding possession.

Without him, Los Angeles roamed through Vancouver’s half with impunity, the Caps utterly unable to dispossess them. Even when the ball miraculously ended up on the foot of a player in blue, the clearances were uninspring. Ballouchy and Teibert often resorted to farting the ball in the general direction of Darren Mattocks, hoping he would be able to win an aerial duel. I am unable to recall him doing so.

The highlight of the game was getting a look at both of the club’s latest acquisitions, with Kendall Waston and Mauro Rosales both making second-half appearances. Though neither was able to make a difference on the scoreboard, both showed glimpses of why Carl Robinson brought them in. Waston set up Vancouver’s best scoring chance of the night, with a nice little touch to Mattocks, while Rosales had some promising possession on the right.

The lowlight was a ridiculously bad tackle from behind late in the game by Johnny Leveron that drew a straight red. Though it certainly didn’t affect the outcome of the game, Vancouver having rolled over long since, the mistake could be exceptionally costly for Leveron, as it opens the door for Waston to start in his natural centre back position next week. It would not surprise in the least if the big Costa Rican took the spot and did not relinquish it.

Up next for the Whitecaps is a potentially Cascadia Cup-clinching derby at home against the Portland Timbers. Fans should keep their fingers crossed that the return of the young Argentine turns around the dreadful form the team was on tonight.

Nigel Reo-Coker played his best game a year ago in a 2-nil win over the San Jose Earthquakes. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Reo-Coker makes way for Rosales

Nigel Reo-Coker is a Whitecap no longer. After an odd injury or two, some uneven play and a whole lot of being stapled to the bench, NRC has been traded to Chivas USA for renowned playmaker Mauro Rosales.

Nigel Reo-Coker played his best game a year ago in a 2-nil win over the San Jose Earthquakes. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Nigel Reo-Coker played his best game a year ago in a 2-nil win over the San Jose Earthquakes. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

A year ago, Reo-Coker was playing his best soccer in a Whitecaps kit, barrelling over defenders, yellow cards bedamned. When he had the ball, he was  saucering up tasty passes at the lip of the 18-yard box for Darren Mattocks, Gershon Koffie and the Golden Boot-wearing traitor-to-be Camilo. When he didn’t have the ball, he was directing traffic in the midfield, at times seemingly for both teams. Continue reading

Greenway

Running Playlist Song #2 — William Tell Overture Finale

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.

Playlist Song #2
Gioacchino Rossini — William Tell Overture; Finale

One of the most recognizable snippets of classical music, the Finale of the William Tell Overture has most famously been used as the theme for the Lone Ranger since its days as a radio serial during the Great Depression.

Despite its official title (March of the Swiss Soldiers), the piece utilizes successive triplets that mimic horses at a full gallop rather than the tromp tromp tromp of a traditional march on foot. Rossini’s original 1829 opera doesn’t include any horseplay, but instead nods to the galoppades, or country folk dances, that were popular in Paris, Vienna in that decade. The footloose melody makes the Finale’s pairing with the famous cowboy lawman a natural fit; it has come to define Rossini’s final overture in the modern era as symbolic of the Wild West.

In truth, the full Overture is 12 minutes long, and includes four movements — that prancing pony part that you know from popular culture is just the last three and a half minutes — so I snipped the Finale in GarageBand for running purposes. My running version starts with a trio of trumpets heralding the galop, and ends with about 90 seconds of increasingly dramatic false endings before the final TA-DA.

Usually when random order hits up this track, I bump up the pace by about 30 seconds a klick. Those false endings are like Rossini coaching from beyond the grave — “keep pushing, you soft git… No, you’re not done yet! There will be no stopping!”

Queue it up, and it’s hi ho silver away, indeed.

Album: Great Rossini Overtures; the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Piero Gamba
Release date:
1988 CD remaster of 1950s recordings
Beats per minute: 138
Subject: War / History / Classical
Content warning: None
Video: 

Whitecaps FC keeper David Ousted looks to move the ball upfield during a 4–1 win over the New York Red Bulls in the 2014 season opener. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Ousted Oh So Steady

Keeper David Ousted played his most confident match as a Vancouver Whitecaps during a 2-0 victory over Sporting KC, the top club in the MLS Eastern Conference. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Keeper David Ousted is playing his best football as a Vancouver Whitecap. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

When David Ousted arrived in Vancouver a little over a year ago, it was difficult to surmise just what exactly the Whitecaps had acquired. Sure, he was a spruce young Dane with golden hair and sharply chiseled features, but would he be the solution in net?

The incumbent was an aging Joe Cannon who, while beloved by fans and teammates alike, was not what he once was. The club’s other option was Brad Knighton – a member of Martin Rennie’s Carolina RailHawks stable. The club questioned Knighton’s long-term viability as a starter and knew that Cannon could no longer provide them with the goaltending required to compete consistently in a tough Western Conference.

David Ousted arrived in Vancouver poised to take over starting duties in July, 2013 Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
David Ousted arrived in Vancouver poised to take over starting duties in July, 2013. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

After Ousted’s successful stint in the Danish Superliga, and at the urging of goaltending coach Marius Rovde, management signed him to a two-year contract, with a club option for a third. The hope was he would solidify the team’s goalkeeping, help keep the club earn a playoff berth and compete with the top teams in MLS.

It wasn’t meant to be.

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He didn't score, but Erik Hurtado gave defender Seth Sinovic fits all game during a 2-0 Vancouver Whitecaps victory over Sporting KC, the top club in the MLS Eastern Conference. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Photo Gallery: Whitecaps vs Sporting KC

The Vancouver Whitecaps posted an impressive 2-0 victory over the best team in the Eastern Conference last weekend. No matter what the official stat lines say, the Whitecaps dominated both sides of the ball and severely limited the visitors to a handful of threatening moments in nearly 97 minutes of action. It marks the first time Vancouver has defeated Sporting KC in MLS play — the Caps have now beaten every team in this man’s league. (Bring on those expansion teams next season, I say! NYCFC and Orlando City FC, beware: this young team is out for blood.)

Here’s our Pucked in the Head photo gallery for your viewing pleasure:

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Pedro Morales was once again the lynchpin of the Whitecaps attack. He controlled the field when the Caps had the ball, and numerous times forced KC to give up possession when they didn’t. His long ball forward turned a Sporting miscommunication into an own goal in the 17th minute, as defender Igor Juliao headed the cross over Gruenebaum’s outstretched arms. Just over 20 minutes later, Morales gifted Darren Mattocks a one-timer for the Jamaican’s sixth goal this year.  Remarkably, with nine assists so far this season, Morales now shares the franchise record for MLS assists in a single season.

The Whitecaps were unlucky not to lead by three or four in the first half; there were two separate non-calls by referee David Gantar that could have sent Pedro to the penalty spot — whether it was travel,  some sort of turf-related disorientation, or just plain speed on the the part of the home side, Sporting KC looked discombobulated for most of the match, and played a chippy, pull-that-jersey-at-all-costs kind of game.

It wasn’t until the 84th minute, however (and seemingly the gazillionth clear foul by a visitor), that Gantar pointed for a PK. By then, however, Morales had sat down in favour of Canadian Russell Teibert, and Mattocks stroked a lazy, stoppable shot at replacement keeper Jon Kempin instead of slamming home his seventh goal.

But let’s give young Mattocks a break, shall we? He may be overly proud, but he has scored in four of the last five games, and tends to pick himself up after tackles faster than in past years. And rather than sulk after an early missed chance in the first half, he kept up the pace and scored that counterattack beauty to make it 2-0 instead.

Want highlights? You got ‘em.

Dustin Ackley has been knocking the ball out of the park for the Mariners since the All-Star Break.

Offense? What’s That?

Dustin Ackley has been knocking the ball out of the park for the Mariners since the All-Star Break.
Dustin Ackley has been knocking the ball out of the park for the Mariners since the All-Star Break.

A resurgent Dustin Ackley is suddenly knocking balls over the fence with some regularity. Thursday the Mariners scored 13 runs.  No, this is not a misprint. THIRTEEN RUNS! It really happened, I swear.

It’s been pretty obvious since early in the season that while the defense is good, and the bullpen is good, and the starting rotation is even better than we thought (Chris Young! Who knew?) the Mariner offense is… not good. Yes, Robinson Cano is a great player, and Kyle Seager is underrated, and man can Mike Zunino pound the ball when he gets a piece of one, but…

OK, you say, so the Mariners picked up Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia, and didn’t you write about that already? Why, yes, yes I did – but those two weren’t going to be enough. Kendrys Morales (yeah, I wrote about him too) wasn’t going to be enough, either. We really needed some other guys already on the roster to heat up at the plate for this playoff stretch run. Lo and behold, Dustin Ackley appears to be reading Pucked in the Head.

If you’ve been watching the Mariners for the last few years, you’re familiar with the seemingly endless string of players (Justin Smoak! Nick Franklin!) who were going to be the next big thing. Ackley came near the top of that list as a first-round draft pick in the 2009 amateur draft. The Mariners wanted Ackley at second base… and that didn’t work out real well. Then the Mariners put Ackley in the outfield… and while his defense has been improving, again not so much with the bats.

Until… well, until July, really. Dustin Ackley had a great July. Here are his slash lines before and after the All-Star Break:

Pre-All-Star-Break: .225/.282./335.
Post-All-StarBreak: .360/.368/.587.

Wow.

(Editor’s note: that slugging percentage is in-freaking-sane.)

Now, Ackley’s had good months before, and baseball is nothing if not a game of adjustments. It’s possible the pitchers figure him out over the rest of August and September and he falls apart. It’s also possible he continues hitting at something close to his current clip. Obviously Mariners fans would prefer the latter option.

With the White Sox at Safeco over the weekend and Felix starting on Monday, and the good guys coming off taking two from the Braves earlier in the week, now would be a great time for Ackley (and the rest of the Mariners offense) to keep hitting. As crazy as it sounds in these glorious Northwest summer days, we’re only 48 games from the end of the season. A few more baker’s dozens will go a long way to providing Seattle baseball this October.

Go Mariners.

Top seed Marcos Baghdatis took home the men's singles title with a 7-6, 6-3 win over #4 Farrukh Dustov. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Back to Baghdatis

The Vancouver Open got a blast from the past this weekend, as Marcos Baghdatis won his second title at Hollyburn Country Club; the Cyprus native was previously the 2009 VanOpen champion. Currently ranked #105 in the world, Baghdatis came into this week’s play as the top seed and made the most of it, outlasting fourth seed Farrukh Dustov of Uzbekistan to win the 2014 Odlum Brown Vancouver Open, 7-6, 6-3.

Top seed Marcos Baghdatis took home the men's singles title with a 7-6, 6-3 win over #4 Farrukh Dustov. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Top seed Marcos Baghdatis took home the men’s singles title with a 7-6, 6-3 win over #4 Farrukh Dustov. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Despite being the tournament’s top-ranked player, Baghdatis didn’t make things easy for himself. After needing a late third-set break to get through the first round, he went to tiebreaks in his remaining four matches. Through the first part of Sunday’s final, Baghdatis looked slightly off-balance; he made some remarkable shots under pressure from Dustov’s attack, but during some rallies he seemed lucky just to stay on his feet. He gained momentum once the first-set tiebreak fell his way, jumping out to a 5–2 lead in the second before serving out for the match.

Fourth seed Farrukh Dustov  moves well for a big man, but he just couldn't quite keep up with the top dog Marcos Baghdatis in the 2014  Vancouver Open final. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Fourth seed Farrukh Dustov moves well for a big man, but he just couldn’t quite keep up with the top dog Marcos Baghdatis in the 2014 Vancouver Open final. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

“When you’ve never played the other guy before, he always seems to be more relaxed. He can just come at you, because the pressure’s off,” said Baghdatis after his straight sets victory. “[Dustov] hits the ball very hard, so I just tried to weather the storm, especially at the start.”

Neither man was particularly dominant on serve; each was broken twice in the first set, and Baghdatis offered up just seven aces to Dustov’s five. Coming in at just under two hours, the men’s final finished with most of Centre Court in shadow. It was a welcome relief for the crowd filling the bleachers, as the afternoon had been full of tie-breaks, direct sun and temperatures as high as 30° Celsius.

Baghdatis, whose career best ranking was #8 in the world in 2006, is the second man to win two Vancouver Open singles championships. Dudi Sela of Israel won in 2008 and 2010. On the women’s side, American Ansley Cargill won back-to-back VanOpens in 2005 and 2006.

The Odlum Brown Vancouver Open is an ATP Challenger tournament, offering 100 ranking points to the champion and 60 to the runner-up. For Baghdatis, this probably means jumping back into the top-100 for a while, after several years of injuries and uneven play. For Dustov, it will certainly mean a tick up from his current world ranking of 144.

Earlier on Centre Court, Australian Jarmila Gajdosova overpowered Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine with a come-from-behind women’s final win: 3-6, 6-2, 7-6(3). The pair were fairly close in many statistics by match end; both ladies recorded seven breaks, winning roughly 50% of their service points. Where Tsurenko seemed to — ahem — falter was on her second serve. She double faulted 11 times during the match, compared to just five for the eventual champion Gajdosova.

Larmila Gajdosova won the women's final in a thrilling third set tie break. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Larmila Gajdosova won the women’s final in a thrilling third set tie break. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

In the first match of the day, Austin Krajicek (USA) and John-Patrick Smith (Australia) took home the men’s doubles trophy when opponent Marcus Daniell (NZL) double-faulted on match point during the third-set tiebreak, 6-3, 4-6, 10-8.

Austin Krajicek (left) and John-Patrick Smith won the men's doubles trophy over Marcus Daniell and Artem Sitak, 6-3, 4-6, 10-8. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Austin Krajicek (left) and John-Patrick Smith won the men’s doubles trophy over Marcus Daniell and Artem Sitak, 6-3, 4-6, 10-8. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.