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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 →
As a new runner, I need all the help I can get. Here, I’ll talk about the songs on my running playlist and what makes them — and me — tick.
Playlist Song #2
Gioacchino Rossini — William Tell Overture; Finale
One of the most recognizable snippets of classical music, the Finale of the William Tell Overture has most famously been used as the theme for the Lone Ranger since its days as a radio serial during the Great Depression.
Despite its official title (March of the Swiss Soldiers), the piece utilizes successive triplets that mimic horses at a full gallop rather than the tromp tromp tromp of a traditional march on foot. Rossini’s original 1829 opera doesn’t include any horseplay, but instead nods to the galoppades, or country folk dances, that were popular in Paris, Vienna in that decade. The footloose melody makes the Finale’s pairing with the famous cowboy lawman a natural fit; it has come to define Rossini’s final overture in the modern era as symbolic of the Wild West.
In truth, the full Overture is 12 minutes long, and includes four movements — that prancing pony part that you know from popular culture is just the last three and a half minutes — so I snipped the Finale in GarageBand for running purposes. My running version starts with a trio of trumpets heralding the galop, and ends with about 90 seconds of increasingly dramatic false endings before the final TA-DA.
Usually when random order hits up this track, I bump up the pace by about 30 seconds a klick. Those false endings are like Rossini coaching from beyond the grave — “keep pushing, you soft git… No, you’re not done yet! There will be no stopping!”
Queue it up, and it’s hi ho silver away, indeed.
Album: Great Rossini Overtures; the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Piero Gamba
Release date: 1988 CD remaster of 1950s recordings Beats per minute: 138 Subject: War / History / Classical Content warning: None Video:
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:
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.
The Vancouver Open got a blast from the past this weekend, as Marcos Baghdatis won his second title at Hollyburn Country Club; the Cyprus native was previously the 2009 VanOpen champion. Currently ranked #105 in the world, Baghdatis came into this week’s play as the top seed and made the most of it, outlasting fourth seed Farrukh Dustov of Uzbekistan to win the 2014 Odlum Brown Vancouver Open, 7-6, 6-3.
Despite being the tournament’s top-ranked player, Baghdatis didn’t make things easy for himself. After needing a late third-set break to get through the first round, he went to tiebreaks in his remaining four matches. Through the first part of Sunday’s final, Baghdatis looked slightly off-balance; he made some remarkable shots under pressure from Dustov’s attack, but during some rallies he seemed lucky just to stay on his feet. He gained momentum once the first-set tiebreak fell his way, jumping out to a 5–2 lead in the second before serving out for the match.
“When you’ve never played the other guy before, he always seems to be more relaxed. He can just come at you, because the pressure’s off,” said Baghdatis after his straight sets victory. “[Dustov] hits the ball very hard, so I just tried to weather the storm, especially at the start.”
Neither man was particularly dominant on serve; each was broken twice in the first set, and Baghdatis offered up just seven aces to Dustov’s five. Coming in at just under two hours, the men’s final finished with most of Centre Court in shadow. It was a welcome relief for the crowd filling the bleachers, as the afternoon had been full of tie-breaks, direct sun and temperatures as high as 30° Celsius.
Baghdatis, whose career best ranking was #8 in the world in 2006, is the second man to win two Vancouver Open singles championships. Dudi Sela of Israel won in 2008 and 2010. On the women’s side, American Ansley Cargill won back-to-back VanOpens in 2005 and 2006.
The Odlum Brown Vancouver Open is an ATP Challenger tournament, offering 100 ranking points to the champion and 60 to the runner-up. For Baghdatis, this probably means jumping back into the top-100 for a while, after several years of injuries and uneven play. For Dustov, it will certainly mean a tick up from his current world ranking of 144.
Earlier on Centre Court, Australian Jarmila Gajdosova overpowered Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine with a come-from-behind women’s final win: 3-6, 6-2, 7-6(3). The pair were fairly close in many statistics by match end; both ladies recorded seven breaks, winning roughly 50% of their service points. Where Tsurenko seemed to — ahem — falter was on her second serve. She double faulted 11 times during the match, compared to just five for the eventual champion Gajdosova.
In the first match of the day, Austin Krajicek (USA) and John-Patrick Smith (Australia) took home the men’s doubles trophy when opponent Marcus Daniell (NZL) double-faulted on match point during the third-set tiebreak, 6-3, 4-6, 10-8.
It was another gorgeous day as qualifying matches wrapped up and the first round began at the 2014 Odlum Brown Vancouver Open. If you have even a passing interest in passing shots, you ought to pony up a few bucks and go enjoy some damned fine tennis at the Hollyburn Country Club in West Vancouver. How fine, you ask? Last year’s men’s singles champ, Vasek Pospisil, went on to win the doubles title at this year’s Wimbledon, for goodness sake.
In first round action on Tuesday, American Asia Muhummad rallied to oust the eighth seed Urszula Radwanska of Poland, 6–7, 6–4, 6–3. Muhammad is ranked #363 in the world, and earned her way into the tournament as a wild card entry, but she used her height advantage and a strong first service game to outlast the heavily favoured Radwanska.
Muhammad now goes on to play the diminutive firebrand from Kazakhstan, Yulia Putintseva, in the second round. Putintseva dispatched Canadian WC Gloria Liang in straight sets on Tuesday, 7-5, 6-3.
North Van’s Filip Peliwo also brought home the boys’ trophy that year, but no one remembers because he’s not a remarkably photogenic blonde woman who has reached the final eight in three consecutive Grand Slam tournaments. This Bouchard gal, on the other hand, is entirely memorable. She may have lost the Wimbledon final, but the Montrealer was by far the biggest story on the women’s side. Her sense of humour is winning as many fans as her rapidly improving on-court arsenal, with everyone from TV nerd Jim Parsons to tennis legend Chris Evert admitting to being a part of Genie’s Army. She can fricking hit the ball, yo.