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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Vancouver Whitecaps made out like they’d been gutted by last week’s 1-nil loss at StubHub Center in Los Angeles, but let’s face it: after snatching a tie from the jaws of defeat this weekend, they were lucky to get a single point out of the possible six. A home-and-home against the most successful team in MLS history, still stacked with names like Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, is a good recipe for an oh-fer.
Storylines begged for moral victories: case in point, the Caps managed to keep Donovan off the scoresheet for two consecutive weeks, and by doing so avoided having David Ousted’s name go down in infamy as the keeper who allowed the 135th and thus record-breaking goal of the diminutive star’s storied MLS career. Largely thanks to the defensive work of Russell Tiebert in LA and Matías Laba in Vancouver, Donovan was rendered inert; the little man had a few shots from distance, but never really threatened Ousted directly.
Also in the plus column: stretches of play in the Galaxy half of the pitch. The Caps were unlucky to score when a Pedro Morales shot ricocheted toward the far corner in the first half; Jaime Penedo made a wonderful reaction save that has rightly been tapped as an MLS Save of the Week nominee. But it was the second half, with subs Kekuta Manneh and Erik Hurtado, that saw extended forays goalward for the (mostly) young Caps squad.
Sadly, with their focus on Landovan, the blue & white were not able to shut Keane down — including the winner in LA and another at BC Place this past Saturday, the Irish forward now has goals in four straight games and “is partially made of magnesium.” (It says so on Wikipedia, so it must be true.)
Phew. That was exciting, wasn’t it? If Saturday was any indication, Carl Robinson’s version of the Whitecaps will be something to keep your eyes on. The team knocked out a 4-1 win over the Henry-less New York Red Bulls in what seemed like somewhat of a cakewalk.
Granted, the Red Bulls were not playing with their full complement of personnel, but I’m not convinced the outcome would have been any different regardless of rosters. Almost everything went right for the Whitecaps, who have now won all four season openers since entering MLS in 2011.
It was a dream start for the new head coach, who watched his squad outplay their opponents in all aspects of the match. The real story though, was how the Whitecaps’ overhauled midfield controlled the game from the opening kick-off. New recruits Matias Laba, Sebastian Fernandez and Pedro Morales (in limited minutes) looked positively brilliant.
I was challenged by Whitecaps FC physiotherapist Graeme Poole to Take a Bite out of the Big Apple in a #CapsNomination earlier this week. Needless to say, instead of putting together a half-arsed, iPhone filmed response tout de suite, I took four days to mine the interweb for cheesy sound effects and put together a half-arsed, iPhone-filmed response. FX make all the difference, don’t you think?
Remember, Whitecaps FC go into the 2014 season with a substantially retooled roster — gone are the underperforming Daigo Kobayashi and the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ traitor Camilo, and in are promising attacking midfielders Matías Laba and Pedro Morales. There are numerous young players looking to stamp their cleats upon this team, and it’s new bench boss Carl Robinson‘s job to get them on the pitch a little more often than his predecessor did.
All the while, this team is looking to defend its fourth Cascadia Cup (more on that here from the ever-eloquent Chris Withers), and challenge for its first-ever Canadian Championship trophy against a massively restocked Toronto FC side (soccer poet Russell Arbuthnot is on tap for some of this action).
You may remember me as that guy who used to write things on this site from time to time before inexplicably going away for several months!
I’m back now, having dusted off the ol’ keyboard, and I have opinions about the Whitecaps that I will be relaying to you presently.
(Note: Mr Withers is not only a snazzy dresser and the co-founder of PitH — he’s also pretty active as the Director of External Communications of the single largest Whitecaps FC supporter group there is. So much so, in fact, that he appeared on a recent episode of From the Backline podcast to discuss the Southside experience.)Continue reading Whitecaps Preseason Roundup→