Until tonight, this year’s Vancouver Canucks have been fairly predictable. They won three straight against the barrels of tar sands waste that are the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, then lost in dramatic fashion to legitimate NHL franchises from Tampa Bay and Dallas.
So what could we expect in St Louis against a Blues franchise many are picking to challenge for the Central Division this year? Could the Canucks, unanimously christened a one-line team by pundits and fans alike, leapfrog the Blues stifling defense to take two points out of Mound City?
It turns out that the Canucks have a surprisingly good record against the Blues over the past couple of seasons. Last year, in a schedule full of lowlights and reddened bottoms, Vancouver somehow swept the season series against St Louis — this despite the Blues garnering 111 points, a full 28 more than the Canucks. Given those three wins last year, Thursday’s 4-1 win under the Arch perhaps shouldn’t come as the biggest surprise of the night. (That honour I’d give to the Flames racking up their fifth win already.)
We at Pucked in the Head go through all five goals in game six of this young season.
We at Pucked in the Head are fortunate enough to run into thoughtful, passionate sports fans the world over. Case in point: the always-entertaining fanatical hockey/soccer/football border-crosser, Richard Davalos. He maintains a bizarre Tumblr feed, equal parts random gifs, assorted pop culture surfage and kickass Wolverine sideburns.
Richard’s @QuakesFan84 Twitter feed has purposes twofold: 1) plying the Twitterverse with as many clever hockey tweets as any one man has a right to disseminate, and 2) suggesting that there are nearly 100 San Jose Earthquakes fans on this planet. It is in this latter function that he offers his preview of this weekend’s clash between the Vancouver Whitecaps FC and those same woeful Quakes.
Time for four straight
by Richard Davalos
As noted in Jason’s last Whitecaps entry, Vancouver has never earned 12 points in four games in their MLS history. In fact, they haven’t strung together four consecutive wins as a franchise at any level since May of the 2008 USL-1 season. Along comes San Jose, fresh off their first win in more than two months — a midweek friendly against Honduran first division side CDS Vida.
Just a quick tip of the hat to the Whitecaps for honouring the anniversary of Domenic Mobilio’s tragic death ten years ago at the age of 35. Mobilio was perhaps the most prolific, natural goal-scorer this area has ever produced, and certainly one of the best finishers to wear Whitecaps and 86ers colours.
Saturday’s game at BC Place featured a pre-game ceremony, halftime children’s game with every player wearing Mobilio’s number 10, and this classy TIFO unfurled in the 10th minute by the always-thoughtful Curva Collective. Curva chanted the Vancouver-born striker’s name and passed 170 soccer balls through a hole in the signage — one ball for every goal he scored while dressed for a Vancouver team.
Preamble: Please note that the title of this article has little to do with the actual contents found within. It was simply a title that needed using.
During the Whitecaps pre-game show on TSN1040, analyst Carlo Corazzin threw out a rather remarkable fact: the Whitecaps have not fielded the same starting XI in three consecutive games since entering MLS. That’s nearly four years of players rotating in and out of the lineup every match (or two).
Now, odds are that injuries and international duties have played a small part in this phenomenon, but seriously, not once in four seasons? It just goes to show you the constant state of flux this franchise has been in since joining Major League Soccer. And it extends beyond just the players on the pitch — the club’s well-documented coaching changes are no mystery to anyone that follows Whitecaps soccer with any sort of vigilance.
Perhaps, however, an era of stability is finally upon us, and just maybe it started this weekend versus FC Dallas.
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.
On most other nights, the effort put forth on Saturday evening at BC Place by the Vancouver Whitecaps would have been viewed as positive. But with their current run of form, it was enough to ignite a spattering of boos as the referee blew the final whistle.
The Caps, currently mired in a streak that sees them with just two wins in their last fourteen matches, aren’t used to such a reaction from their hometown faithful. As much as it may hurt, a little tough love could be just the cure for this dismal stretch of games.
Despite what management is saying in public in regards to looking for a striker, one has to believe that the urgency is mounting. And now, with their paying customers starting to voice their dissatisfaction with the current assembly of players, there can be no denying what the supporters want to see.
They want to see the playoffs, and they want to see success, and they want to see it now.
The consecutive losses push the Caps out of a playoff spot and leave the team and its supporters asking questions regarding the club’s resolve when it comes to performing during critical phases in the season.
But we here at PITH see no reason to dwell on the pessimism (we’ll let the other media outlets take care of that). So, instead, we simply look into the past to a moment in time where one savoured being a Whitecaps fan.
In this, our initial post of an on-going series, we take our first glimpse back at the history of the Whitecaps’ Goal of the Week winners.
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 back-to-back, less-than-stellar outings in the City of Angels, questions abound regarding the Vancouver Whitecaps’ futility in the great state of California. Too much Disneyland? Too much Rodeo Drive shopping? Whatever it may be, Cap struggles in the golden state have become familiar, and farcically legendary.
With the loss this past weekend, they’ve now compiled a 0-7-0 (W-L-T) record versus the Galaxy in LA since joining MLS in 2011. That’s not entirely surprising considering the various assemblies of talent that the Galaxy has been able to trot out year after year, but to be unable to muster a single point in seven games may be considered, ehrm, disheartening.
Unfortunately for the boys from Vancouver, the point drought in California extends beyond the Galaxy.
When David Ousted arrived in Vancouver a little over a year ago, it was difficult to surmise just what exactly the Whitecaps had acquired. Sure, he was a spruce young Dane with golden hair and sharply chiseled features, but would he be the solution in net?
The incumbent was an aging Joe Cannon who, while beloved by fans and teammates alike, was not what he once was. The club’s other option was Brad Knighton – a member of Martin Rennie’s Carolina RailHawks stable. The club questioned Knighton’s long-term viability as a starter and knew that Cannon could no longer provide them with the goaltending required to compete consistently in a tough Western Conference.
After Ousted’s successful stint in the Danish Superliga, and at the urging of goaltending coach Marius Rovde, management signed him to a two-year contract, with a club option for a third. The hope was he would solidify the team’s goalkeeping, help keep the club earn a playoff berth and compete with the top teams in MLS.