Sebastián Fernández played hero on Saturday night, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over FC Dallas. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Fernandez Does Dallas

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).

Sebastián Fernández played hero on Saturday night, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over FC Dallas. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Sebastián Fernández played hero on Saturday night, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over FC Dallas. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

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.

Continue reading

Rookie Tyler Benson has driven the Giants attack, using his size and speed to score twice in the first three games. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Giants smash September with three wins

The Vancouver Giants opened the 2014-15 with a perfect September, taking a pair of wins off the rival Victoria Royals and beating the Portland Winterhawks for the first time in nine tries. Not since 2007 have the Giants gone three-and-oh to start the season — that year, in defense of their Memorial Cup win the previous spring, they won four straight off the hop, and won the BC Division by a country mile before dropping a disappointing second-round series to the Spokane Chiefs.

Rookie Tyler Benson has driven the Giants attack, using his size and speed to score twice in the first three games. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Rookie Tyler Benson has driven the Giants attack, using his size and speed to score twice in the first three games. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

New coach Troy G Ward, late of the Abbotsford Heat, has the G-men playing a smart, aggressive game. Like most junior teams, Vancouver had a couple of their top players — in this case, leading scorer Jackson Houck and top D-man Mason Geertsen — out of the lineup as they attended NHL training camps. Even so, the Giants have played without panic, coming from behind in all three games for the perfect record.

Rookie Tyler Benson, listed at an even six feet tall, is playing bigger and faster than last season, which saw him skate in seven WHL games as an underage player. He has already made an impact, scoring twice and pressuring opposition defensemen just about every time he’s stepped on the ice. His goal against the Portland Winterhawks was a thing of beauty, as he scampered past blueliner Layne Viveiros off a face-off in the Giants zone, skated the length of the ice alone, and coolly backhanded the puck past Adin Hill. As you watch Benson shred it up this season, keep in mind that this kid is just 16 years old.

Continue reading

Pedro Morales scored twice en route to a 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

El Maestro, meet El Conductor

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.

Pedro Morales scored twice en route to a 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Pedro Morales scored twice en route to a 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

As a rule Vancouver has failed to get results in big matches. They’ve come close, even threatened to win the Caandian Championship, only to discover newer, ever more heartbreaking ways to come up short. Fans have found reasons to blame others — referees, opponents, even fictional white-flag waving simians — but this kind of lasting, continued futility suggests that perhaps the blame falls squarely upon the team itself.

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.

The man they call Maestro has played 15 months without a rest; despite this, he scored two clutch second half goals to propel Vancouver back into the playoff hunt. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
The man they call Maestro has played 15 months without a rest; despite this, he scored two clutch second half goals to propel Vancouver back into the playoff hunt. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

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.”

Mauro Rosales raised his arms and conducted the crowd in a rousing come-from-behind cheer. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Mauro Rosales raised his arms and conducted the crowd in a rousing come-from-behind cheer. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

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.)

Nat Borchers, your beard is ridiculous. Ray Taggart image cribbed from a random interweb search.
Nat Borchers, your beard is ridiculous. Ray Taggart image cribbed from a random interweb search.

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.

Whitecaps FC keeper David Ousted played perhaps his strongest game of the season against Real Salt Lake, for the moment easing calls for an upgrade in goal. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Whitecaps FC keeper David Ousted played perhaps his strongest game of the season against Real Salt Lake, for the moment easing calls for an upgrade in goal. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

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. 

Somebody please explain this dwarvish voodoo sh!t for me. Photos collected from Google searches for "stupidly large beards on pro athletes".
Somebody please explain this dwarvish voodoo sh!t for me. Photos collected from Google searches for “stupidly large beards on pro athletes”.

Earthquakes Shake Up Whitecaps Offence

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?

Seba Fernandez buzzed the San Jose Earthquakes defense all night, as the Whitecaps took a 2-nil decision at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Seba Fernandez buzzed the San Jose Earthquakes defense all night, as the Whitecaps took a 2-nil decision at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

“…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.

Pedro Morales was a one-man wrecking crew for the Whitecaps, at times taking on the entire Earthquakes back line to get the ball into position. Later he would score the club's first goal in 450 minutes of MLS play. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Pedro Morales was a one-man wrecking crew for the Whitecaps, at times taking on the entire Earthquakes back line to get the ball into position. Later he would score the club’s first goal in 450 minutes of MLS play. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

“Sebastian Fernandez kicked a soccer ball into Victor Bernardez’ nuts…”

This is what Victor Bernardez looks like when kicked in the junk. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
This is what Victor Bernardez looks like when kicked in the junk. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

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.

Kendall Waston celebrates his first MLS goal, a gloriously aggressive header off a corner kick. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Kendall Waston celebrates his first MLS goal, a gloriously aggressive header off a corner kick. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

(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.

Mauro Rosales was less of a factor this game, but still put a few dangerous-looking crosses into play from the flank. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Mauro Rosales was less of a factor this game, but still put a few dangerous-looking crosses into play from the flank. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

“…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.

The legendary first touch of Erik Hurtado is back in full form, as he managed to fluff several chances in glorious field position. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
The legendary first touch of Erik Hurtado is back in full form, as he managed to fluff several chances in glorious field position. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
WhitecapsLogo

Hold Your Applause, Not Your Breath

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.

Jordan Harvey's fiancee Kim Caldwell gained a new fan (shown right) while performing the national anthems at BC Place. Photo for Pucked in the Head by Russell Arbuthnot
Jordan Harvey’s fiancee, Kim Caldwell, gained a new fan (shown right) while performing the national anthems at BC Place. Photo for Pucked in the Head by Russell Arbuthnot

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.

Continue reading

Eric Hassli was an early fan favourite when the Whitecaps joined the MLS. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Goal of the Week #1 – The Cascadia Cracker

Whitecaps Wednesday

Over the last couple of weeks there hasn’t been much to cheer about in Whitecaps-land. Another defeat at the hands of the LA Galaxy, followed by what was simply the worst performance this season at home versus the Portland Timbers.

The consecutive losses push the Caps out of a playoff spot and leave the team and its supporters asking questions regarding the club’s resolve when it comes to performing during critical phases in the season.

But we here at PITH see no reason to dwell on the pessimism (we’ll let the other media outlets take care of that). So, instead, we simply look into the past to a moment in time where one savoured being a Whitecaps fan.

Carl says "Smile," so we do. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Carl says “Smile,” so we do. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

In this, our initial post of an on-going series, we take our first glimpse back at the history of the Whitecaps’ Goal of the Week winners.

Continue reading

Darlington Nagbe shamed Matías Laba before knifing a lovely pass to Rodney Wallace, who embarrassed David Ousted. It was a perfect encapsulation of the second half. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Loads of blues, but not much white

The Vancouver Whitecaps had an opportunity to solidify their playoff hopes on Saturday, but chose to soil the sheets instead. A middling first half was followed by a disastrous second; the forward corps showed little imagination, the back line stumbled and fell apart, and keeper David Ousted failed to make big saves for the team to rally around.

Coach Carl Robinson keeps talking about the youth of this Whitecaps team. “We’re a young team,” he’s fond of saying. When young teams win, as Vancouver did 4-3 against this same Portland in June, it’s a wonder to behold. When young teams lose, however, it’s also a spectacle.

Darlington Nagbe shamed Matías Laba before knifing a lovely pass to Rodney Wallace, who embarrassed David Ousted. It was a perfect encapsulation of the second half. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Darlington Nagbe shamed Matías Laba before knifing a lovely pass to Rodney Wallace, who embarrassed David Ousted. It was a perfect encapsulation of the second half. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The Whitecaps generated a total of four legitimate chances in a game against one of the worst defensive teams in the Western Conference this season. Pedro Morales and Kendall Waston put headers over the bar early in the game, and Mauro Rosales sailed a right-footed strike two yards wide from ten yards out. Only Darren Mattocks forced Timbers keeper Donovan Ricketts to make a save of note, in a game that would have put Vancouver four points clear in the playoff race with nine games remaining.

Putting up bagels is getting to be a bit of a habit — they’ve been kept off the score sheet three games running and four games out of five; the Caps have just eight goals for in their last twelve games— but this is the first time in recent memory such a drought has been accompanied by the defensive lapses of a high school rep squad playing two leagues above their age group.

New Whitecap Mauro Rosales was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing 3-0 loss to the Portland Timbers. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
New Whitecap Mauro Rosales was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing 3-0 loss to the Portland Timbers. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

After a spiritless 0-0 draw against the hapless Chivas USA squad, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC have now been outscored by a combined five goals to nil in back-to-back losses against the LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers.

The loss against the Galaxy was disheartening but expected — Vancouver has never had much success at StubHub. Saturday’s second half collapse against a team below them in the standings, however, was unforgivable.

The first Portland goal, a deft whisper of a header by Alvas Powell five minutes into the second half, was made possible by a trio of defensive mixups; Waston made a weak challenge on Fenendo Adi, who calmly moved the ball wide to Diego Valeri. Unchecked, Valeri had a simple task to cross the ball in at chest height. Powell, unmarked as well — see a pattern here? — kissed the ball past a startled Ousted.

Fanendo Adi kept Matías Laba and Jordan Harvey in fits most of the night. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Fanendo Adi kept Matías Laba and Jordan Harvey in fits most of the night. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The Timbers scored again in the 75th minute when Waston tripped over his own feet in the 18-yard box. (The newcomer hit the deck on a number of occasions in his first start as a Whitecap, calling to question his experience on artificial turf.) He blocked Andy O’Brien from moving forward, allowing Maximilliano Urruti to unload a rocket crossbar down from 15 yards out.

Just four minutes later, Darlington Nagbe shamed Matías Laba before knifing a lovely pass into the area; Rodney Wallace one-timed a left-footed shot under Ousted. The third goal made this the worst home loss since a 4-0 drubbing against the league champion LA Galaxy in 2011.

Whitecaps - David Ousted 1036
David Ousted had a lot of soul searching to do after allowing three against the Portland Timbers. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The Caps keeper might not be at fault for any of the three goals he allowed this night — nay, the defense in front of him was sloppy at best — but David Ousted has rarely come up with the big saves necessary to bind a fragile team together this season. If he gets a finger on Urruti’s high flyer, the Caps sit at 1-0 and still have 15 minutes to gain an equalizing goal. If he goes full starfish to get a shinpad on Wallace’s strike, the team is saved the disgrace of an embarrassing result, and merely suffers a loss.

To paraphrase Coach Robbo, it matters not if you lose 1-0 or 3-0; Ousted can’t be blamed if his team can’t score. If they do start to hit the back of the net once in a while, however, at some point the keeper is going to have to stop the ball.

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.

Continue reading

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).

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading