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.
Friday night saw perhaps the most impressive MLS win in Whitecaps history. Vancouver was riding a two-game win streak for the first time this season and sat two points out of the final playoff spot in the West. The Caps had not won three straight since June of last year (and had only done so twice since joining the MLS in 2011); the last away goal of consequence for Vancouver came in mid-July in a 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake. Since then, they’d been shut out in road games against Chivas USA, Chicago Fire, LA Galaxy and the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Portland Timbers. (They scored once in Frisco to spoil a clean sheet for FC Dallas, but lost 2-1 to those scurvy, diving dogs anyway.)
To win Friday would require something special. The Seattle Sounders are among the league’s elite teams, and are currently battling the LA Galaxy for the Supporter’s Shield as regular season champions. Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins have been on a tear; with 31 goals between them, they are just 10 shy of the entire Whitecaps roster combined. The Sounders had scored in 11 straight matches, a remarkable streak in any soccer league.
Even the staunchest of the Southsiders merely hoped for three points — not only would a win keep the Cascadia Cup in Vancouver for another year, but it would draw the Caps back into the fifth and final playoff spot with just two games to play and leave Toronto FC six points back late in the charge for the Canadian entry to 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League play. Oh, and the gravy: Sounders FC had never lost a fixture when more than 50,000 fans packed Century Link Field.
Truly, most Vancouver fans would have been ecstatic with a single point for a draw. All this other stuff was but a pipe dream for idle jawing over yet another pitcher at Doolin’s.
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.
Sebastian Fernandez kicked a soccer ball into Victor Bernardez’ nuts to earn a corner kick, and the Vancouver Whitecaps proceeded to score off that corner kick en route to a 2-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes.
Now, there’s a whole lot of awesome going on in that lede, so let’s break it down, shall we?
“…the Vancouver Whitecaps proceeded to score…”
Mired in the longest goal-scoring drought of their MLS existence, forced to listen to boos, heckles and songs declaiming their utter lack of prowess in front of goal from their own supporters, the Whitecaps did the recently unthinkable and potted not one, but TWO GOALS! They even scored both of them themselves.
“Sebastian Fernandez kicked a soccer ball into Victor Bernardez’ nuts…”
It was not a good day for the Honduran defender, whose aged testicles received two solid blows — one literal, one figurative — both of which led to goals. Referee Jose Carlos Rivero delivered the first in the 39th minute, when he figuratively kicked the seasoned defender in the nuts by awarding a dubious penalty kick to the Whitecaps. Bernardez’ contact with Kendall Waston on a Morales free kick seemed minimal, and I’m not entirely convinced Waston could have got anything on the header even if he’d been unimpeded. (Hey, it bumped the slump, we’ll take it.) The second was a literal shot to the cojones from Fernandez, who broke down the left wing, cut to the inside, and attempted to deliver a cross that was intercepted by the Bernardez family jewels.
“…proceeded to score off a corner kick…”
Well. That was refreshing.
(Editor’s note: it was just the second Whitecaps goal off a corner kick this season, and Carl Robinson looked positively teary-eyed when he saw his dream of Kendall Waston heading home this set piece.)
“…a 2-0 win…”
For only the second time in their last 11 games, the Whitecaps won! The win puts the blue and white two points clear of Portland for the final playoff spot, with seven games each to play, and gives them a four-point cushion over Toronto FC for a place in the 2015 CONCACAF Champions League.
“…a 2-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes.”
As much fun as it was to get a win and see some goals for, we should probably not get too high. Erik Hurtado and Sebastian Fernandez couldn’t score on gilt-edged chances, making it more than five games since the Caps got a goal from a forward. The Earthquakes — let’s face it — are also pretty terrible: sub-par in every category but the little-known stat, Ugly-ass Black Capris Owned By Goalkeepers, San Jose look like a team playing out the string. Or possibly a team playing their second game in four days, a fate that awaits the Whitecaps as they travel to Dallas on Saturday for what should be a much sterner test.
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.
If there remained any doubt about who the Vancouver Whitecaps’ most valuable player is in 2014, tonight’s match removed it. The Caps returned to the Stubhub Center on Saturday evening without standout defensive midfielder Matias Laba, who served his one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation. The difference was stunning.
Without Laba, and with Gershon Koffie still nursing an ankle injury, the Whitecaps resorted to a defensive midfield pairing of Russell Teibert and Mehdi Ballouchy. The result was an underwhelming, listless performance in a 2-0 defeat to the LA Galaxy. It was arguably Vancouver’s worst performance of the 2014 campaign.
Laba’s absence seemed to affect the Whitecaps in a way no other player’s absence has so far this year. They missed his timely interventions, and the way he so casually turns the ball up field without immediately conceding possession.
Without him, Los Angeles roamed through Vancouver’s half with impunity, the Caps utterly unable to dispossess them. Even when the ball miraculously ended up on the foot of a player in blue, the clearances were uninspring. Ballouchy and Teibert often resorted to farting the ball in the general direction of Darren Mattocks, hoping he would be able to win an aerial duel. I am unable to recall him doing so.
The highlight of the game was getting a look at both of the club’s latest acquisitions, with Kendall Waston and Mauro Rosales both making second-half appearances. Though neither was able to make a difference on the scoreboard, both showed glimpses of why Carl Robinson brought them in. Waston set up Vancouver’s best scoring chance of the night, with a nice little touch to Mattocks, while Rosales had some promising possession on the right.
The lowlight was a ridiculously bad tackle from behind late in the game by Johnny Leveron that drew a straight red. Though it certainly didn’t affect the outcome of the game, Vancouver having rolled over long since, the mistake could be exceptionally costly for Leveron, as it opens the door for Waston to start in his natural centre back position next week. It would not surprise in the least if the big Costa Rican took the spot and did not relinquish it.
Up next for the Whitecaps is a potentially Cascadia Cup-clinching derby at home against the Portland Timbers. Fans should keep their fingers crossed that the return of the young Argentine turns around the dreadful form the team was on tonight.