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.
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.
After finishing dead last with a dismal 44 points just a year ago, the Vancouver Giants made massive strides, improved by 31 points and nabbed the seventh seed in the WHL Western Conference. The season featured a brutal 1-9 start, a remarkable run through the middle of the schedule that saw the G-Men threaten the top four for home ice advantage in the first round, and a home stretch full of injuries and inconsistent play.
Such is the way of the world in junior hockey during a rebuilding phase.
So what does a seventh place finish get you? A dance card full of scoring leaders, defensive stalwarts and Team Canada representatives, that’s what. The Portland Winterhawks are the defending WHL champions, and despite losing stud blueliner Seth Jones to the Nashville Predators, they’re an absolute juggernaut when they’re firing on all cylinders.
There hasn’t been much to cheer for when it comes to NHL hockey this year, so it was a treat to see more than six thousand people make some noise for Brendan Gallagher at the Pacific Coliseum tonight. The Montreal Canadiens forward of course spent four seasons with the Vancouver Giants, and finished his junior career as the franchise’s leading scorer (with 136 goals) and point getter (280).
He played for the G-Men from 2008-09 until the 2011-12 season, then spent a year in Hamilton of the AHL before being nominated for the Calder Trophy as the Rookie of the Year with the Montreal Canadiens last year. He is currently the Habs’ fourth-leading scorer, with 32 points in 58 games.
All this while being frickin’ wee. He’s listed at 5’9″ on the NHL website, but if this guy is five-nine, I’m Zdeno Chara. I just stood beside the guy, and I could clearly see the top of his head — and I’m barely 5’8″ my bad self.
The Vancouver Giants came within a hair of beating the Portland Winterhawks for the first time since February 2012, but settled for a single point in a 5–4 shootout loss on Sunday night. It was a hollow victory for the Giants, who led 4–3 late in the third period but gave up a shorthanded goal to take the game into extra time.
Vancouver held the edge in the first period, punishing a tired Winterhawks team playing their third game in three nights. After 20 minutes, the G-Men led 3–2 and looked in pretty good shape.
As the night wore on, however, Portland’s snipers seemed to gain their legs. Leading scorer Nicolas Petan started cutting in and out of traffic, giving nifty short passes to linemates and trailing defenders alike. The also dangerous Oliver Bjorkstrand dominated on the boards, making Vancouver goaltender look over his shoulder several times in the third period. And in the final ten minutes, Portland generated a seemingly endless string of breakaways and odd-man rushes.
More, including pics and highlights, after the jump.
The Vancouver Giants are #7 in the West. The Portland Winterhawks sit in second place. So fire up the what if cannon and get ready for a playoff preview as these two teams face off at the Coliseum at 5pm tonight. Surprisingly, tonight marks the first time these two teams have squared off this season. Vancouver will no doubt be champing at the bit for this one, as the Hawks decimated the Giants by a combined score of 24–11 over their four games last year.
After splitting games in Victoria this weekend, the Winterhawks have just four wins in their last ten games — they were demoralized by back-to-back 7–2 losses to the Kelowna Rockets over the holidays. That said, in Nicolas Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand, they’ve got two of the top five scorers in the WHL, and are daaaaaaangerous when they get the engine running. Despite the recent slide, they’re tops in the US division, and fifth overall in the WHL.
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.
Entering the playoffs this season, many thought it a foregone conclusion that the Portland Winterhawks were a lock to represent the west in the Memorial Cup. They had racked up a ridiculous .812 winning percentage during the regular season and featured the top three scorers in the Western Hockey League. To make matters worse for opposing teams, their defense was led by World Junior Gold Medallist and possible #1 NHL Draft pick Seth Jones, and their crease was manned by Mac Carruth, who only put together the second-best collection of GAA and SV% stats of any goaltender in the WHL this season.
So it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that the Hawks picked up their sixth win in a row to open the Western Conference Final series, a 4-1 win over the Kamloops Blazers on Saturday. It seems they have corrected the feeling of overconfidence that saw them lose twice to the lowly Everett Silvertips, who by all rights shouldn’t have made the post-season at all. Next to the massive 117-point campaign of the Hawks, the Silvertips’ 57 points in 72 games was downright cute in comparison.
The good news: the offensively-challenged Vancouver Giants scored five times against the stingiest defense in the WHL. The bad news: the Portland Winterhawks scored nine goals themselves, catapulting Vancouver into the league’s worst goals-against position and embarrassing the G-men in front of 7,318 fans who packed the Pacific Coliseum on Friday night.
It’s not an altogether surprising result: the Winterhawks have lost just three games in regulation this year, and sit tied for second in the W with the Eastern Conference-leading Calgary Hitmen. They came into the game riding a nine-game win streak, where the Giants were considering a 3-3 split in their last six games a moral victory. On paper, then, Portland should win this game.