Tag Archives: the beautiful game

Whitecaps Leap Into Third – Vancouver 3-2 Real Salt Lake

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.

Fredy Montero goes for the bicycle kick.
Fredy Montero and the Goal of the Year That Wasn’t. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

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.

Kendall Waston chases down Yura Movsisyan.
Kendall Waston shut down RSL’s danger man, Yura Movsisyan, and scored once at the other end during a Whitecaps 3-2 win. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

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.

Grades

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.

Sounders Somehow Lose To Whitecaps: Vancouver 2-1 Seattle

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

Whitecaps Don’t Disappoint Despite Loss – Vancouver 1-2 Tigres UANL (1-4 agg.)

Brek Shea scored early for Vancouver in the second leg of the CCL semi-final against Tigres, before coming off with an injury five minutes later. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head

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.)

Caps Make April Fools Out Of Galaxy: Vancouver 4-2 Los Angeles

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

Caps Completely Fail To Catch Tigres By The Tail – Tigres UANL 0-2 Vancouver

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

Robinson Lets Caps Be Toppled By Earthquakes – San Jose 3-2 Vancouver

Saturday in San Jose was the type of game in which a manager can earn his salary. As the Whitecaps rolled into Avaya Stadium, Carl Robinson faced a tough decision: to focus on the league, with a daunting challenge against one of the top teams in North America only three days away, or to play some reserves against the Earthquakes in hopes of taking his shot against Tigres. Robinson opted for the latter, and looked brilliant for twenty-two minutes. Then he faced his second challenge: how to react to an in-game disaster, and abruptly his managerial aptitude was once again being questioned by the Vancouver faithful as Vancouver coughed up a 2-0 lead to fall 3-2 to the San Jose Earthquakes. Continue reading Robinson Lets Caps Be Toppled By Earthquakes – San Jose 3-2 Vancouver

The Vancouver Whitecaps Confused Me, volume I

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.

Me, waking up for a night shift and being greeted by the news of the Barnes-Shea swap.

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.

Super Rat is now a super Cap

Say what you will, but you can’t complain that the Whitecaps have been idle this off-season. After acquiring Japanese striker Masato Kudo and Costa Rican midfielder Christian Bolaños, the Caps went out and landed… Blas Pérez?!?!?

The man people love to hate is on his way to Tuscon to suit up for the blue and white in some early pre-season matches. In case you don’t remember, this is the guy who elbowed Jordan Harvey in the head, drew fouls on Kendall Waston with blatant dives, and got under the skin of Pa Madou Kah. Still not convinced? His twitter handle is @superraton7, for crying out loud — that’s just Spanish for, you guessed it, Super Rat 7.

Blas Perez, now a member of Whitecaps FC, fires a left footer past Steven Beitashour, who is not. Outdated photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Blas Pérez, now a member of Whitecaps FC, fires a left footer past Steven Beitashour, who is not. Outdated photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Pérez inspires, shall we say, extreme reactions:

For

Against

The fact is, Blas Pérez has scored at a respectable clip during his MLS tenure, netting 37 goals in 103 appearances for FC Dallas. Yes, he is renowned for diving, and for no shortage of dirty play in tight against defenders, but advantages threefold exist in having him in Whitecaps colours:

1) If he’s not scoring against the Whitecaps, which he has been known to do, maybe, just maybe he’ll be scoring for them. David Ousted, for one, will be mighty happy to hear that.

2) Carl Robinson doesn’t go in for simulation, and no doubt will do his best to limit the bullshit.

3) Who’s to say the Whitecaps might just need a little side of nasty on the roster now and again. Waston can’t get all the yellow cards, can he?

Love him or hate him — and there are plenty of people who do the latter round these parts — the addition of Blas Pérez makes the Whitecaps a better team. Who knows, if we see the goat horns ten or fifteen times this season, maybe even the Southsiders might come around and like Super Rat.

In closing, let me quote soccer poet Russell Arbuthnot:

“If nothing else, [the addition of] Pérez signifies the end of the Darren Mattocks experiment, which is a good enough return for me.”

“Seattle Princesses” win Cascadia Cup

It was a disappointing day by many standards. The Vancouver Whitecaps, sitting atop the MLS standings, hosted the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Seattle Sounders. A win would mean a third straight Cascadia Cup for the Caps, and put a dagger in Seattle’s  attempt to revive a lacklustre season.

Capo Warren Bowden. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Warren Bowden shows his Cascadia pride prior to a Whitecaps FC loss to Seattle Sounders FC. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Instead, the boys in green and blue beat the Whitecaps at their own game: they sat back and let Vancouver come at them, and waited patiently for opportunities to come on the counterattack. At the end of the day, the Whitecaps are still the class of the Western Conference and sit tied for top spot in MLS — thank you, woeful Real Salt Lake for pummelling the LA Galaxy when we least expected it.

Classy move by the Sounders, honouring injured Román Torres with a banner in front of the starting XI. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Classy move by the Sounders, honouring injured Román Torres with a banner in front of the starting XI. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The season series between Seattle and Vancouver has seen home teams struggle. The Sounders won 2-0 here back in May, and the Caps put in one of their most complete games at Century Link with a 3-0 victory on August 1. The latter was a low point in the Sounders season, with coaches and players sniping at each other after the fact for poor preparation and effort levels, respectively.

Russell Teibert keeps a close eye on Obafemi Martins during MLS action at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Russell Teibert keeps a close eye on Obafemi Martins during MLS action at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Saturday offered a much more balanced game, but it was Seattle who took advantage of their chances. Octavio Rivero had several opportunities early in the first half, including a glorious clean shot at goal from ten metres, but put the ball high and wide every time. Every other shot toward Stefan Frei was pretty much a gift to the Swiss-born keeper. (I can think of perhaps two saves that required him to actually move.)

Andreas Ivanschitz and Jordan Smith battle for a ball. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Psssst, Ivanschitz… I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to punch dudes on the pitch. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Then, seconds before the halftime whistle, Obafemi Martins dribbled away from four white jerseys and put a perfect aerial pass on the foot of striker Andreas Ivanschitz, who had snuck in behind rookie defender Jordan Smith. The  German with rather predictable sophomoric nicknames slotted the ball neatly behind David Ousted to open the Sounders account on the evening.

Kekuta Manneh was kept remarkably quiet during a 3-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Kekuta Manneh was kept remarkably quiet during a 3-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The Caps pushed for the equalizer throughout the second half, but that opened them up to yet more fast breaks the other way. The Sounders waited for their chances, then buried them. Love him or hate him, Clint Dempsey is one hell of a player when he keeps his head about him. Yes, he spends an inordinate amount of time whining to referees — more on these antics below — but he also spent this entire game feathering one-touch balls and delicate passes to his mates, giving the Whitecaps midfield fits at times and directly resulting in two of the Sounders goals. He fed Gonzalo Pineda with a lovely pass at the lip of the box, and Pineda put a perfect shot off the post and in to double the lead in the 71st minute. Sixteen minutes later, Dempsey outhustled Cristian Techera — yes, you read that right, he outran the Bug — before sliding a gimme to Martins for the 3-nil scoreline.

Andreas Ivanschitz pushed at Jordan Smith all game, and wound up opening the scoring. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Andreas Ivanschitz pushed at Jordan Smith all game, and wound up opening the scoring. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

For many, however, the biggest disappointment didn’t happen on the field of play at all. Longtime season ticket holder Christy Clark created quite a stir on our local corner of the interweb, as she tried to poke fun at the Flounders’ proclivity for lying on the BC Place turf nursing non-existent injuries. Sadly, her old-timey insistence upon using girly references to insult male athletes kinda backfired.

Tweet from @christyclarkbc.
Anti-bullying crusader and BC premier Christy Clark tries to insult the Seattle Sounders by calling them princesses. Quality humour there.

Did the Sounders spend a lot of time with their butts glued to the turf? Yeah, sure they did. Were fans rankled and riled about it? You bet your Southsiders scarf they were. Does that make it okay to throw sexist jabs around in a public forum, when you’re an elected official, and to boot a role model to women interested in entering politics? Absolutely fricking not.

The Seattle Sounders clinched their fourth Cascadia Cup with a 3-0 win at BC Place. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Clint Dempsey spent as much time on his keister as he did on his feet, but he still managed to set up two goals for the Sounders. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

The BC Premier is no stranger to social media firestorms. She has nearly 51,000 followers on Twitter, and she upsets a great number of them with even the blandest of posts. In this case, however, folks really ought to get their hackles up. Clark is a self-professed champion of the anti-bullying movement — she helped to spearhead BC’s involvement in Pink Shirt Day a few years ago, and continues to make public comments that pooh-pooh language, actions and systems that belittle or exclude portions of the populace.

Members of the Southsiders, Rain City Brigade and Curva Collective supporters groups all actively dissuade neanderthal members of their groups who denigrate women. Even five years ago, chants of “SHE FELL OVER” were commonplace when an opposing player hit the pitch. These days, references to gender and/or sexual orientation just aren’t accepted any longer by BC Place supporter groups. (Note: Sadly, sexism is still rampant in the football world. The comments screamed at Chelsea medical staffer Eva Carneiro by opposing clubs have been atrocious. The Vancouver Canucks, and women’s rights groups for that matter, have put up with dolts calling Henrik and Daniel “the Sedin sisters” from day one. Hell, the NHL even made an ad that featured Hank & Dank showing up for a fan’s stag party as twin Swedish dancers

. Ice girls at men’s games are the embarrassing norm, when teams should be putting resources into setting up a serious women’s pro league. The sad fact is, loads of sports fans turn their noses up at the prospect of watching professional women’s sports — the Women’s World Cup drew fans, but YVR is still without a women’s Whitecaps team. At least in Vancouver, widespread homophobic or misogynistic jeers aren’t the norm. Clark’s tweet is harmless on the face of it, but flies in the face of very anti-bullying campaign she claims to honour.)

Canada into the quarters

Most everyone in the media were calling for the Swiss to upset the Canadian national soccer team at the Women’s World Cup. Kudos, then, to the ladies in red, who gutted out a 1-0 win against two of the most dangerous individual threats in the game.

More to come, but here’s a taste:

Josée Belanger of Canada and Caroline Abbé of Switzerland. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.
Josée Belanger heads the ball past Caroline Abbé in FIFA Women’s World Cup action. Canada advanced to the quarter finals with a 1-0 victory over Switzerland. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.