After a disappointing loss to Toronto in their season opener, the Whitecaps have reeled off three straight wins and find themselves in good shape through the first month of play. Sure, they’ve had a flair for the dramatic, earning two of the three victories in stoppage time and the other just shortly before, but it’s tough to argue with nine points in four games – a win is a win after all.
And while the results have been by and large positive (more positive than I had predicted), the process certainly hasn’t been what Carl Robinson was expecting of his squad, which is both a testament to the talent he has brought in and an indictment on their efforts thus far. Yet, over the last three weeks, a rotating cast of players has provided just enough magic to allow the Whitecaps to come out victorious. Which is a far cry from where this team was last year.
Last season we saw a team that won and lost largely due to the performance of one man. As Pedro went, the Whitecaps went. And to start the 2015 campaign, it appears that perhaps Pedro has indeed went.
Robert Earnshaw was on the pitch at BC Place for less than four minutes before he found himself on the receiving end of a brilliant touch pass from El Capitán Pedro Morales. Keeper Adam Kwarasey charged out to challenge, and Earnshaw used his first touch as a Vancouver Whitecap to chip the ball over him into the back of the net. He celebrated thusly:
It wasn’t the first time he’d scored in his first appearance with a team. Earnshaw scored in his first game with the Chicago Fire last year, and potted a pair of goals in his home debut with dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Toronto FC two seasons ago. (It should be noted that Saturday’s game-winner was Earnshaw’s first-ever at BC Place — he was held scoreless in his MLS debut two seasons ago when the Caps blanked Toronto 1-0, a game in which he started and played 85 minutes.)
At 5’8″ and just 160 pounds, he’s not likely to overpower defenders like Nat Borchers or that bloody ginger beard of his. But holy hamhocks, can this guy boot a ball into a soccer net. Earnshaw now has a dozen goals in 32 MLS appearances. That’d be a fair clip for a hockey player, but in soccer, them’s all-star numbers. Don’t just take my word for it; the MLS website, for all its warts and biases, usually gives us stats pretty straight up, and it tells us, “[Earnshaw has recorded] a hat-trick in every professional division in England, including the FA Cup and League Cup competitions as well as internationally for Wales.”
“I knew he’d get one chance,” said Coach Carl Robinson after the match, happy to steal three points in a game where his squad was badly outplayed by the opposition. “I know what Ernie can do, what kind of touch he has with the ball, so I just told him to take the chance when it came. I’m glad he did.”
Chances are the Welshman will do it again. Earnshaw now has 217 goals for clubs in England, Scotland, Israel, the US, and Canada, as well as the Welsh international side.
“It’s always exciting, especially in a debut,” Earnshaw said after the match, saying that even after 18 years of playing professionally, he’s still overwhelmed with emotion when he scores. “The feeling of when the ball hits the net, oh my God, it’s the best. The best.”
Here’s a video for your highlight-watchin’ pleasure:
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.
If it seems the Whitecaps have been playing must-win games for pretty much the entire 2013 season, it’s only because it’s true. The MLS Western Conference is, to quote Roger Waters, as tight as a funeral drum. Sadly for Vancouver soccer fans, that’s exactly what the Southsiders might as well be beating after the club has taken just six points out of a possible 24 since mid-August.
Sunday’s 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers offered wonderful entertainment — not least of which was Camilo’s world-class scissor kick strike in the 78th minute to draw the homeside even — but leaves Vancouver six points below the playoff bar with just three games remaining in the regular season.
Major League Soccer refereeing is infuriating. The well-officiated game in this league is notable for its rarity, and today’s Cascadia Cup clash between the Whitecaps and the Portland Timbers was not one of those rarities.