As Benito Floro begins the onerous task of hauling the Canadian Men’s National Team — kicking and flailing like Doneil Henry playing fullback — out of the year-long nadir that began with 8-1 and saw Les Rouges fail to score even once in 2013, there is a feeling of wrongness about even trying to hold this discussion. “A World Cup qualification,” we all cry, channeling the timeless incredulity of Jim Mora, “I just hope we can win a game!” But time marches on, and the abysmal 2013 plunged Canada far enough down the CONCACAF rankings that we find ourselves just half a year away from participating in the minnow round of yet another World Cup qualifying cycle. Is there hope this time?
The Whitecaps handed out their club-sanctioned end of season awards on October 22, and it was pretty much what you’d expect. The suspense of just who exactly would go home with the Domenic Mobilio Golden Boot award (presented to the club’s leading goal-scorer) was undoubtedly the highlight of the afternoon. The anticipation was palpable until everyone realized that numerous stats pages across the internet had been keeping track of that information all season long. Buncha wet blankets.
Anyways, as I’m sure you have heard, we here at Pucked in the Head have our own end of season awards. Many deem these to in fact be the most prestigious of all awards available to professional soccer players annually based in Vancouver, BC from March until November.
Now that you’re all on the edge of your seats, I present to you the 2014 Whitecaps End of Season Awards Presented By A Blog With a Hockey-centric Title Yet Unabashedly Contains Content On a Wide Variety Of Sporting Endeavours. We’re still working on the name and hoping to have a slightly less verbose title for 2015.
You’re sitting back in your moderately comfy computer chair right now, smug as can be. You think you’ve been let off the hook. Everything is good in your world – the Whitecaps are in the playoffs. The B.C. Lions also clinched a berth in the postseason over the weekend. The Canucks have won their last two contests. Your significant other made you dinner last night and Halloween is fast approaching. And let’s be honest, only the curmudgeoniest of the curmudgeons dislike Halloween. So you’ve got that going for you as well.
Most importantly, however, is that an entire MLS season has passed without a sniff of poetry on Pucked in the Head.
“Thank goodness,” all four of you proclaim, “another week down without being subjected to that amateur writer’s boorish attempt at creating literary culture!”
But be warned: it’s all about to come crashing down. The Whitecaps are heading to Dallas (or Frisco, if you want to be argumentative), playing for the MLS Cup. And there are a couple of things that are fantastic about the scenario.
We at Pucked in the Head are fortunate enough to run into thoughtful, passionate sports fans the world over. Case in point: the always-entertaining fanatical hockey/soccer/football border-crosser, Richard Davalos. He maintains a bizarre Tumblr feed, equal parts random gifs, assorted pop culture surfage and kickass Wolverine sideburns.
Richard’s @QuakesFan84 Twitter feed has purposes twofold: 1) plying the Twitterverse with as many clever hockey tweets as any one man has a right to disseminate, and 2) suggesting that there are nearly 100 San Jose Earthquakes fans on this planet. It is in this latter function that he offers his preview of this weekend’s clash between the Vancouver Whitecaps FC and those same woeful Quakes.
Time for four straight
by Richard Davalos
As noted in Jason’s last Whitecaps entry, Vancouver has never earned 12 points in four games in their MLS history. In fact, they haven’t strung together four consecutive wins as a franchise at any level since May of the 2008 USL-1 season. Along comes San Jose, fresh off their first win in more than two months — a midweek friendly against Honduran first division side CDS Vida.
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.
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.
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.