The Vancouver Whitecaps are in Tucson, Arizona as they continue their preparations for the 2016 MLS regular season. I, on the other hand, have decided to keep my mind firmly static in 2015 – the days when I had a job, a robust hairline and a life with purpose. You, dear reader, will have to drag me, whining and defecating, into the present. Or, just wait another week when I’m forced to produce a Whitecaps Wednesday piece not beginning with “The Top 5 of 2015”, as the following represents the final entry into said endeavour.
That’s right, we have officially reached the gold medal winner on this completely arbitrary list composed by myself in conjunction with nothing and no one. I recognize that this may not be the best method in which to compose a list, but somehow, I always manage to justify my writing and I’ll be damned if I don’t. So then, with that out of the way, I hereby present to you the top game of 2015 for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
There was a time when I wrote articles on this website that garnered reaction from the public (I still remember you 2014!), and most often of the negative variety. Perfect. In particular, I have authored two pieces that seemingly turned people off more than a pants-optional wet t-shirt competition featuring all three male Pucked In The Head contributors. And if you know us, you know that “pants optional” is just a politer way of saying “nudity mandatory.”
Anyhoo, the two pieces I’m referencing both kind of centre around the same subject – none other than the Whitecaps’ previous man in charge: Martin Rennie. The first was a scathing review of the Scotsman’s insistence on including Jun Marques Davidson in the Whitecaps lineup. The guy was horrible and I stand by that.
The second, which now seems slightly contradictory, was a show of support to the former manager. In “A Rennie Saved is a Rennie Earned,” I extolled the virtues of the coach and attempted to coax the Whitecaps front office that the man was in a growing phase, much like the team itself. The Caps had improved under him each year and had some good pieces in place despite missing the MLS playoffs in 2013.
At that point in time, after going through coaches like weekdays, I felt the team’s best move was no move at all. Stable leadership had been elusive through their earliest MLS years and perhaps it was time to allow those in charge the opportunity to work and learn their way through the struggle. I suppose, with the promotion of Rennie’s assistant Carl Robinson, the Whitecaps did just that, albeit in a roundabout way.
After years of finding new and shocking ways to lose the Canadian Championship, the Vancouver Whitecaps played a statement game in the second leg of the 2015 final, and — finally — won the damned thing.
No penalty kicks, no extra time, no aggregate gaffes, no games halted for bad weather. Just solid play from first and second squad players alike.
Octavio Rivero opened the scoring midway through the first half when he got his foot on a ball that Cristian Techera had already rolled to the very goal line. It was his first goal from the run of play since Middle Earth was a relevant pop culture reference, and turned out to be the tournament-winning goal. It seems only fair; if Techera hadn’t back heeled that wonderful ball from Kekuta Manneh against FC Dallas just four days ago, it would have landed at Rivero’s feet in that exact same spot. Tit for tat, I always say.
Rivero owes Techera a steak dinner after nicking his goal. #VWFC take a 1-nil lead in the 41st min. #CanChamp
Tim Parker headed home a Pedro Morales corner in the second half to double the lead. Given the team’s collapse in Montreal a fortnight earlier — when a late 2-nil scoreline became a 2-2 draw in mere minutes — many of the 19,000-plus fans at BC Place were more nervous up by a brace than they had been when the lead was just one. However, between Parker and Kendall Waston, backed up by a committed David Ousted, two goals was more than enough to seal the deal this time round.
The fact is, the Whitecaps have now shrugged off just about every minor monkey that’s been riding their shoulders since joining MLS. First it was earning points against stronger teams — the LA Galaxy, Sporting KC, DC United. Then it was getting some individual hardware, like a Golden Boot and a Newcomer of the Year award. Then it was winning against those powerhouses on the road. They’ve won back-to-back Cascadia Cups, and are a win away from making it a threepeat. With the Canadian Championship in their pocket, this year’s somewhat backwards entry into the CONCACAF Champions League no longer needs an asterisk.
Each of these accomplishments are huge steps for a franchise to take. None of them should be sneezed at, nor belittled. Every single one of these players deserves to cherish that medal, and kiss that Canadian Championship trophy as long as they care to pucker.
But now that these smaller firsts have been taken care of, the Whitecaps can set their sights on bigger fish.
These Whitecaps aren’t just the best in Canada this season. They’re among the best in the league. A Supporters’ Shield is no pipe dream — it’s a distinct possibility. With eight games remaining, the Caps have the number one points-per-game ratio in MLS. Playoff success isn’t just a pipe dream; it’s expected.
David Ousted should win Goalkeeper of the Year, if the June Player of the Month award and four Save of the Week honours mean anything. Kendall Waston ought to be in the conversation for Defender of the Year, if for no other reason than because he’s too big to ignore. And if Carl Robinson isn’t nominated for Coach of the Year, there’s something downright fishy going on.
Dare we say it, even the MLS Cup is a distinct possibility. Okay, that’s perhaps reaching, and the LA Galaxy will make life in the playoffs more difficult than a Silviu Petrescu disciplinary hearing. But hey, the Caps have beaten the Galaxy outright twice this season, once here and once in LA. Handily.
The rest of the season is going to be verrrrrry interesting. Pick your dance partners, folks, because this party is just getting started.
If the Whitecaps have designs on banking a few points at home before heading out on a six-week road trip, it may be wise for them to reengineer their method of doing so. Mind you, for much of the season to date they have been incapable or unwilling to evolve their tactics when the occasion demands it, however now may be a better time than ever to get creative.
In a game that should have been interesting if not intense, the Sounders were far and away the better team in front of the fans at BC Place for the vast majority of the 90+ minutes. The loss comes on the heels of a disappointing draw against Edmonton in Canadian Championship play on Wednesday and did little to alleviate the mounting pressure to perform at home.
Maybe that upcoming lengthy road trip isn’t such a terrible thing after all.