Category Archives: Soccer

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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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

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.

Darren Mattocks celebrates setting an MLS record for missing the net from less than six yards out. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The Summertime Slide

The Whitecaps AD (After DeMerit) found themselves in familiar territory prior to their game versus FC Dallas. Some strong performances in the first half of the season had led to all sorts of good feels and warm and fuzzy insides for the team and its supporters.

But as the temperature rises outside, it seems as though this club cools down and the results have been calamitous.

Darren Mattocks managed to score versus Dallas FC but couldn't finish on numerous quality opportunities. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Darren Mattocks managed to score versus Dallas FC but couldn’t finish on numerous quality opportunities. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

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CFL-CSL

A League Of Our Own?

It’s been twenty-two years since Canadians have had a domestic soccer league to call their own. In 1992, the semi-professional Canadian Soccer League folded after only six seasons. Since then, the Canadian soccer landscape has been dotted with mostly short-lived teams trying to make their way as part of dodgy American leagues. Yesterday, news broke on Canadian Soccer News that the long winter of domestic soccer in this country may finally be drawing to a close.

The report, somewhat limited in details, says that the Canadian Soccer Association is in talks with the Canadian Football League and the North American Soccer League (current home of FC Edmonton and the Ottawa Fury) to bring domestic soccer to Canada as early as 2016.

If accurate, this could be the most important moment in Canadian soccer since the men’s national team qualified for the ’86 World Cup. Canada is one of an incredibly small number of countries to have qualified for a World Cup without a domestic league, and a Canadian league is seen by many as an important step towards getting back to that stage. The establishment of a stable league would be a massive coup for the oft-maligned CSA.

The viability of a Canadian league is certainly not a given. Historically low soccer attendance figures in many major markets, combined with the huge distances teams necessarily need to travel in this country, make the financial prospects far from rosy. That’s why it’s encouraging to hear that the CSA may be enlisting the aid of the CFL.

The report says that the league will initially comprise seven teams, each associated to a CFL team. A CFL partnership makes sense for a few reasons. First, if anyone knows how to run a nationwide league without going broke, it’s these guys. Second, having respected institutions like CFL teams (well, CFL teams not nicknamed Argonauts) using their marketing muscle to support a fledgling league would be just what the doctor ordered. Third, there is the very real possibility that they can bring TSN — a network that almost single-handedly saved the CFL in the not-too-distant past — along for the ride.

TSN is in an odd place right now, having recently announced that they’re expanding their channel lineup while also being outbid for National Hockey League rights by Rogers Sportsnet. They already have easily the best soccer production crew in the country, so it makes some sense that they might look to the most popular game on the planet to give their subscribers something to watch.

If I have one major concern about the report, it’s the tidbit that teams will be playing in CFL venues. This seems like an awful idea at first glance. Even the smaller stadia like Ottawa’s TD Place Stadium and Hamilton’s not-yet-completed Tim Horton’s Field seat upwards of 20,000 people, when division two soccer in this country has always hovered around 3,000-5,000. The biggest task for the league will be to find a way to get attendance high enough that the atmosphere doesn’t suffer.

Erik Hurtado dances and deals prior to Darren Mattocks' goal during a 2-2 draw between the Whitecaps and LA Galaxy. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Ups & Downs & Smiles & Frowns

A 1-0 result over the Seattle Sounders this weekend was just what the good doctor ordered for the Whitecaps. Perhaps more importantly, the game had moments that were actually entertaining. It remains to be seen if this was simply a byproduct of the Cascadia rivalry or an authentic outcome.

Nigel Reo-Coker battles for the ball versus the Seattle Sounders.
Nigel Reo-Coker battles for the ball versus the Seattle Sounders. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked In The Head.

It has been a bit of struggle for the Whitecaps since returning from their World Cup break. An uninspired effort versus a sub-par Montreal Impact squad, followed by a horrific performance at Colorado, raised some concern surrounding the club’s ability to develop and maintain an attack.

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Fans at Commercial Drive's Caffé Roma were thrilled by their opening game win over England. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

World Cup Power Rankings: Volume 1

Now that we’ve had a look at all 32 teams competing in Brazil, let’s take a look at where they stand. Please note: like all power rankings ever created, these are complete bullshit. These particular rankings do not necessarily reflect how good the teams actually are, or how they are playing. Rather, these rankings give us a chance to crack jokes and make snide comments.
CW — Chris Withers; JK — Jason Kurylo

32) Uruguay
New rule: lose to a CONCACAF team, and you get dropped to the bottom of the rankings. I’m not sure why I’m surprised. This is a team that managed a scoreless draw against Jordan at home in their final qualification game. Jordan. CW

31) Ghana
Sorry guys, but rules are rules. Look, you outplayed the USA and deserved better than a 2-1 loss, but you’ve got all the polish and finish of (somewhat ironically) a 400 lb American redneck in a barbecue sauce-stained tank top cruising up to the McDonald’s drive through in an 84 Dodge pickup at 3 in the morning. CW

Never Ghana give you up.
Never Ghana give you up.

30) Honduras
Fuck these guys and the bullet-ridden, thrice-carjacked bus they rode in on. The slaughter at the hands of the French is the first step in what’s sure to be an early exit for these assholes. You’d think they’d be more motivated to stay, given that the alternative is returning to Honduras where the largest export is stray bullets. (PS: CBC, I’m sure you must have footage of Honduras scoring goals against countries other than Canada. Please use some of it.) Spend a few weeks watching international football with fans of Canada’s men’s squad, and you’ll understand my unvarnished rage. CW

29) Australia
Australia is a terrifying place. Poisonous jellyfish, Vegemite, giant poisonous centipedes, Vegemite, and something called the Australian Paralysis Tick (!!?). The fates didn’t really need to add yet another way to go, yet here they are in a group with Chile, the Netherlands and Spain. Still, I can’t feel too bad for them. If you’re going to walk around with a name like the Socceroos, trouble will follow. CW

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Javier Hernandez chases a loose ball in monsoon rains during their opening game win over Cameroon. Photo stolen indiscriminately after a lazy Google search.

Ref, You Suck

Two days into the 2014 World Cup, and we’ve already been treated to some outstanding two-goal performances — most noticeably from Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie in a 5–1 thrashing of the defending champion Spaniards. (Not to take anything away from the star player on the host team, but Neymar’s pair on opening day came on a mediocre grasscutter from distance and an awful penalty call.) But no matter how many acrobatic headers RVP knocked in, or how many impressive runs Robben put together, the most impressive brace came from Mexican youngster Giovani dos Santos — and neither goal was allowed.

Giovanni dos Santos (circled) was called offside twice to negate two goals in the first half against Cameroon. Image cribbed from ESPN.
Giovanni dos Santos (circled) was called offside twice to negate two goals in the first half against Cameroon. The Cameroonian defender is clearly back when the ball is struck; the linesman is visible at the bottom of the screen, in perfect position to… miss the call? Image cribbed from ESPN.

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