It feels odd to label any game for a team in the Vancouver Whitecaps’ position a “must win,” but this is as close as the Whitecaps are likely to come before the playoffs. Things are good in Rain City, with the club sitting pretty atop the Western Conference, but the Caps face an absolutely brutal run-in, with away matches against the three clubs immediately below them and only one home date after tonight.
For at least the half-dozenth time this season, the Vancouver Whitecaps debuted a new lineup, and spent a good half hour making one think, “Hey, maybe they’ve got something here,” only to spend the next 15 minutes making one make the “hrmmmm” emoji face. As they returned to MLS action following the international break, it was the if-not-white-hot-at-least-uncomfortably-warm Real Salt Lake providing the opposition. The 3-2 win was perhaps more laboured than it needed to be, but they’ll all look the same at the end, and for now it’s vaulted the club into third place in the Western Conference.
The first thirty minutes of this game was some of the finest football Vancouver has played all season. The punt was an option, but not an overused one. Mostly they kept the ball on the ground and generated a number of high-quality half chances. Cristian Techera was two hairs away from a hat trick, and Fredy Montero nearly had a goal of the year candidate when he barely missed connecting on a scissor kick. When the breakthrough came on 29 minutes it felt like the game was Vancouver’s.
Then, as has been their wont this season, Vancouver regressed to their mean, route one mean. (That makes sense. Read it again.) Long balls. Missed connections. RSL still didn’t look particularly dangerous, but they were at least getting forward. Still, it can’t be said they really deserved the goal they got. A cross, a missed header and an unlucky roll. Some thought it was a poor showing by David Ousted, but I won’t fault him on this occasion. He did well to even get a hand on it.
When the second half came around, things having become a tad stale, it was a set piece that once again got things on track for the Whitecaps. Yordy Reyna delivered a free kick to the reddish noggin of Tim Parker who nearly scored for the umpteenth time this season. The ball ricocheted off the post to a waiting Kendall Waston who made no mistake and brought the 20,783 in attendance back to life.
The eventual game winner came in the 64th minute when Bernie Ibini – largely invisible to that point – arrived with a baffling, fantastic, brilliant pass from inside the six-yard box right to the diving head of Yordy Reyna. How he knew to make that pass I expect never to know. It was shocking. NO forward passes up a shot like that. But it was absolutely the right play, and his unselfishness secured the win.
Down 3-1, throwing everything forward, RSL finally looked like they might score a goal, and they did. It made the final 10 minutes more interesting, but it would be as close as they would get.
Now let’s talk about the big story from this game. Aly Ghazal, Vancouver’s now second-newest midfielder, finally made his debut in the starting lineup. (Side note: is this the first mid-season acquisition to jump straight into the starting lineup in the Robinson era?) Ghazal is the kind of player that the anti-stats crowd will point to when they make their “you can’t count what he does” arguments. Because… well, you don’t appear to be able to count what he does. The man doesn’t tackle; he was 0-2 on the night. He doesn’t pass very well; 21-32 on the night, albeit with six recoveries. He only had a couple of interceptions, a couple of clearances. He’s just kind of… there… but in a good way.
He forced more bad decisions than I can count, letting Waston and Parker rack up the stats. He gets in there and stops the ball without lunging in for the tackle as Matias Laba often does. I’m not entirely convinced yet, but RSL had VERY few chances through the middle of the park, relying instead on balls to the wing, which is exactly what Vancouver wanted them to do. Exciting times, if they continue.
Goaltender: FIVE Pucks in the Head
David Ousted was solid if generally unspectacular. A couple of good reaction saves that looked nice but we probably would have been disappointed by if they’d gone in. One unlucky break on the first goal.
Defence: FIVE Pucks in the Head
Jake Nerwinski has rendered Sheanon Williams obsolete. There, I said it. Get rid of him and sign a cheap backup. Waston and Parker were on their games. Harvey was okay, but could have done better on the second RSL goal.
Midfield: SIX Pucks in the Head
Ghazal was fantastic. Tchani was fine except for that one time he just stopped and got dispossessed. Reyna, Ibini, and Techera all either scored or had primary assists. Tough to ask for much more.
Forward: FIVE Pucks in the Head
Honestly, Montero was almost playing as a midfielder. His best moments were passes. He had two key passes, which is decent for any distributor. Had he connected on that scissor kick, hooo boy.
I would love nothng more than seeing PK Subban carry the Stanley Cup into Montreal Children’s Hospital. I would totally get behind Pekka Rinne’s name on the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. I’d even sing along if Carrie Underwood twanged her way through a cover of The Good Ol’ Hockey Game by Stompin’ Tom.
Sadly for @PredsOnTheGlass and all the other country-fried hockey fans in Nashville, it’s not meant to be.
Sidney Crosby is going to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to back-to-back championships, the first time a team has repeated since Steve Yzerman captained the Detroit Red Wings to consecutive Cups in 1997 and 1998.
The Pens are just too deep, too good, and they’ve been here before. Nashville are rested, yes, but they’ve also had time to cool off since their wins over the underwhelming Blues and the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Ducks. From Sid and Evgeni Malkin down through rookie Jake Guentzel and beard salesman Nick Bonino, Pittsburgh just gets things done.
Nashville is an impressive unit, and they’ve earned their spot here in the final, but it will take a minor miracle (or some strategic injuries) to unseat the champs. Let’s just hope every single game is good hockey, because thus far this post-season has been damned entertaining. It would be a damned shame if the Preds’ first final appearance — and Sid’s third Cup win — was a dog.
Pens in six.
My calls for the last round were pretty good, actually, all things considered. I tapped the Rangers, Senators, Penguins, Blues, Ducks and Capitals; my only misses came from Edmonton — but the ageing Sharks had injuries across the board, so I give myself a pass on that one — and Nashville — a sweep, seriously? Nobody predicted that.
Record so far: 6-2.
Pekka Rinne played out of his mind for that first round. I mean, did you see this? PK Subban’s energy has to be rousing that locker room just as much as the sea of mustard at Bridgestone Arena, and Peter Laviolette behind the bench has the Preds playing as well as I’ve ever seen them play. Still, the boys from St Loo are just too deep, and it’s Vladimir Tarasenko’s year, methinks. Blues in six.
The addition of Connor McDavid has instilled an actual work ethic in the Edmonton dressing room. For a few years now, they’ve been fun to watch, but half of that was in anticipation of the inevitable self-inflicted immolation. I thought it had happened again when the San Jose Sharks scored a touchdown in Game Four of the first round, but the Oilers impressed with two straight wins directly afterward. All of this points to a Western Conference powerhouse for years to come. However, this year their goaltending is going to let them down. Anaheim can feel the window closing on that core of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Jakob Silfverberg and Cam Fowler. I hate to give those shitty webfooted jerseys another round, but I’ve got to call Ducks in six. I’ll be thrilled if the Oil can prove me wrong.
Erik Karlsson is my second favourite NHL defenceman (after Drew Doughty, natch), and Craig Anderson’s personal situation makes the Sens an easy emotional choice. Hell, they’ve even got Alex Burrows gutting out shift after shift to pull on my heart strings. Karlsson is rumoured to be playing on a wonky foot, however, and Burrows is done as far as slaying dragons is concerned. Across the ice is a squad just one year removed from a Stanley Cup loss to the LA Kings; Henrik Lundqvist has all but said that his window is about shut, and Alain Vigneault knows how to get teams deep in this tournament. Rangers in six.
Aha, the pièce de résistance. Sidney Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin. So far in their careers, Sid the Kid has owned Ovi8; sure, the big Russian has won more Rocket Richard trophies for scoring the most goals in a single season, but Sid has two Olympic gold medals, a couple of Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe, and too many other awards to count. Just last year, the Penguins followed Crosby’s lead to one of the strongest second half / playoff combinations we’ve seen in recent memory. This year, Sid was dominant, winning his second career Richard trophy and finishing second in league scoring. The Pens are as deep as the day is long, and are a serious threat to repeat as Cup champions. All of this aside (not to mention Malkin’s 11 first-round points against the Blue Jackets), this is Ovechkin’s year. Brayden Holtby is just plain better than Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes, and the Caps have TJ Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nicklas Backstrom… and you never, ever bet against Justin Williams in the playoffs. Caps in the most entertaining seven-game series we’ve seen since the ’94 Canucks-Rangers final.
It’s amazing what having a proven goal scorer can do for your side. When you don’t have one, sometimes you get games like last year’s tilt between Vancouver and New York Red Bulls, where Erik Hurtado couldn’t hit the ocean from a boat. When you do have one, you get games like last night, where a Fredy Montero brace earned the Whitecaps a win in 2017’s Cascadia Cup opener despite them being outplayed and outchanced. I was not in the building on Friday evening due to work, so this post is based on a viewing of the game two days later, with the result already known. My conclusion is this: some of your perceptions are clouded by what looked like a great derby atmosphere and a win. Continue reading Sounders Somehow Lose To Whitecaps: Vancouver 2-1 Seattle
Playoff predictions are a fine art. You can put dozens of hours into statistical analysis and go oh-fer, and another year ignore the standings altogether and win your bracket based on jersey colours alone.
Me, I’m going somewhere in-between. Stirring a wee bit of gut instinct in with hardcore hockey knowhow, I’m pretty sure I’ll bat roughly .500 in my ROUND ONE PREDICTIONS:
It’s hard to bet against Carey Price, but the New York Rangers have a stronger roster and better coaching. Give it to the blueshirts: Rangers in six.
Despite his imressive World Cup of Hockey tourney earlier this year (and a hat trick here against the Canucks a few weeks back), Brad Marchand will never get my vote. The Senators, on the other hand, have Craig Anderson and Erik Karlsson. Sens in seven.
John Tortorella may have scared Columbus into contention through the season, but it’s hard to believe he can conjure serious playoff mojo — especially when Crosby & Co. are skating the other way. Make it five series in a row for Pittsburgh. Pens in five.
Minnesota Wild fans have some wonderful things to cheer for this year, and may just get some playoff payoff sometime soon, but the Blues are just too dangerous to ignore. Tarasenko scores six goals and threatens many, many more times than that. Blues in six.
There`s been little more exciting this year than Connor McDavid`s emergence as the league`s premier scoring threat. Edmonton, after so many years of pathetic play, is finally more than just happy to be here. Still, San Jose has too much to work with at both ends of the ice; their goaltending is the difference. Sharks in seven.
Like McDavid, Auston Matthews is fantastic. However, Leaf Nation will need another couple of years before they can turn playoff towels into playoff wins. Alex Ovechkin, on the other hand, might just win his Cup this year. (Can`t you just taste that White House visit, you Big Russian?) Caps in five.
Nashville always plays Chicago hard, and Pekka Rinne can steal a few games for the Predators at any moment. I would love to see PK Subban go a few rounds just to snub the idiot Habs for trading him away. That said, the Blackhawks are still the class of the league on paper, and they`ve got enough Cup pedigree on the roster to preclude any bets for those ugly yellow shirts across the hall. Hawks in six.
Calgary should just stay home. Ducks in five.
I walked into BC Place Stadium last night with a curious sense of optimism and excitement. For one thing, there are almost no paths to disappointment when you enter the second leg of a series against one of the best teams in North America down 2-0. For another, I’m not cut out for big games. Even routine Cascadian derbies turn me into a bit of a wreck. I was basically useless at being a human for 48 hours before the Canucks’ 2011 game seven. And finally, these are sensations that six plus years of Whitecaps FC fandom has mostly beaten out of me. Like most Whitecaps fans, I can’t help but imagine what fresh hell the team will concoct in their never ending quest to find creative new ways to lose cup competitions. So… I was puzzled at my optimism. Then Brek Shea engineered the dream start with a goal in the third minute, and suddenly, against my better judgement, I thought perhaps the optimism was warranted. Continue reading Whitecaps Don’t Disappoint Despite Loss – Vancouver 1-2 Tigres UANL (1-4 agg.)
The great April Fools Joke is an art form. Perhaps a lost one. It strikes a neat balance between the believable and the absurd, or else it is Onion-esque in its humourous ridiculousness. Recent years have seen some truly terrible attempts. No, you can’t just say “we’re pregnant,” or “we’re getting married,” and expect people to chortle when you reveal that you were only toying with their emotions. Too believable, not absurd enough. Similarly, you can’t just throw anything out there. David Beckham, to cite one example, is not coming out of retirement, least of all to play for the Galaxy again. Too absurd, not believable enough. The Caps, it must be said, were leaning towards the latter when, shortly before 9pm, they tried to convince the 25,083 BC Place faithful that they had just beaten the LA Galaxy 4-2 on the strength of a Matías Laba brace. Continue reading Caps Make April Fools Out Of Galaxy: Vancouver 4-2 Los Angeles
I recently reread William Gibson’s seminal 1984 cyberpunk novel Neuromancer. The book tells the tale of Case, a drug-addled hacker who succeeds in bringing down an artificial intelligence of vastly superior capability owned by a company of vastly superior wealth. Needless to say, that plot is unlikely to compare to our heroes in blue and white as they trail 2-0 to Tigres after the first leg of CONCACAF Champions League semifinal action. Rather, I’m reminded of a line from the foreword of my copy, penned by Jack Womack. Womack, an accomplished sci-fi author in his own right, relates the time he first read Gibson’s work. “It quickly became apparent that, while we were kicking the same groin, we were shod in variant footwear.” That’s more like it. Continue reading Caps Completely Fail To Catch Tigres By The Tail – Tigres UANL 0-2 Vancouver
The Vancouver Whitecaps, as you may have gathered from the title of this article, confused me today, when out of nowhere they traded Giles Barnes, a member of their injury-depleted attacking corps, to Orlando City SC for Brek Shea, a player who the traditional wisdom says the Whitecaps don’t have a current need for.
Lest you doubt my sincerity when I say this move confused me, I attach this reaction shot documenting my reaction to waking up for a night shift to the news of the swap. My level of puzzlement has varied somewhat in the subsequent hours, but I remain not entirely sure what the hell is going on here.
My initial thought when I saw the news was that Shea wasn’t a fit for the Whitecaps at all. Isn’t he some left back/left wing hybrid with a gun fetish and the fashion sense of a Sounders fan, I asked myself, brows afurrow. Surely Robinson doesn’t intend to use him there. With Manneh, Techera, de Jong, Harvey, and, when they return from injury and loan, Levis and Adekugbe all competing for minutes on the left side of the park, why add to the glut? And why isn’t the crime against clothing here pictured sufficient to disqualify him from the fashion-conscious gaffer’s plans?
The next thought was if Vancouver wanted to bring in another designated player from abroad – Atiba Hutchinson perhaps – they’d need to buy down one of their lower-paid DPs using allocation money. People on social media astutely pointed out that If Shea were on less money than Barnes, that might save the club some bucks when – if – they pull the trigger on that hypothetical deal. This sent me into another land of confusion that’s an article in itself regarding how the heck Matias Laba came to be paid so much more money than I remember him making. Anyways, good shout, people on social media. Perhaps this is a precursor to a larger move.
But that still leaves the question of what exactly to do with Shea now that he’s here. A player comfortable anywhere up and down the left side is really about the last thing the Whitecaps need this season after a true attacking midfielder, a box-to-box partner for Laba, all the Tiger Balm, discipline, and a kit that doesn’t look like a cheap tablecloth. Fortunately, Shea appears to be versatile enough to play elsewhere. A glance at the heat maps from the last half of Orlando City’s 2016 campaign shows that Shea was used and had success primarily on the right side of the park, but appeared to get quite a few touches in the left and middle. In other words, it looks as though Robinson may have found at least a stop-gap solution to the absence of Yordy Reyna, Christian Bolanos, and Nicolas Mezquida. A front four of Montero in front of the combination du jour of Manneh, Shea, Davies and Techera shouldn’t lack for speed and will hopefully be creative enough to see Vancouver through to the summer when, soccer gods and Tiger Balm willing, they’ll be fully healthy again.