Phew. That was exciting, wasn’t it? If Saturday was any indication, Carl Robinson’s version of the Whitecaps will be something to keep your eyes on. The team knocked out a 4-1 win over the Henry-less New York Red Bulls in what seemed like somewhat of a cakewalk.
Granted, the Red Bulls were not playing with their full complement of personnel, but I’m not convinced the outcome would have been any different regardless of rosters. Almost everything went right for the Whitecaps, who have now won all four season openers since entering MLS in 2011.
It was a dream start for the new head coach, who watched his squad outplay their opponents in all aspects of the match. The real story though, was how the Whitecaps’ overhauled midfield controlled the game from the opening kick-off. New recruits Matias Laba, Sebastian Fernandez and Pedro Morales (in limited minutes) looked positively brilliant.
Laba, brought in via a trade with Toronto FC, was rarely out of position and looked comfortable with his teammates. He distributed the ball keenly and regained possession on a number of occasions.
Fernandez had a number of brilliant moments. He featured his heavy shot twice – a strike in the 40th minute from 30 yards out forced Red Bulls keeper Luis Robles to make a strong save. His second, driven on net from 20 yards, pushed through Robles’ outstretched hand into the back of the net. The goal extended the Whitecaps lead to 2-nil after Miller capitalized on a PK earlier in the half.
Mr. Morales, for his part, was nothing short of spectacular. In 28 minutes of work, the Chilean impressed with deft touches and incredible vision that has been sorely lacking in the Caps midfield. In the 77th minute, he controlled a cleared ball from Steve Beitashour, slowed the play and drew in three defenders before chipping a perfect ball over the top to a streaking Kenny Miller. With acres of space around him, Miller arced the ball over a prone Robles.
Morales showcased his pure skill just 60 seconds later. Pulling the ball back between his legs, touching it to Nicolas Mezquida who had a chance at goal.
In the 89th minute, Pedro’s sparkling debut came full circle after he capitalized on a brilliant set up from Nigel Reo-Coker. After making a quick move to get around the Red Bulls defender, Reo-Coker cut the ball back to Morales who was hovering just inside the 18. It was a clinical finish to the bottom corner to add to the magic.
“I felt really good…I never thought I’d get off to a start like this where I got a goal in the first match of MLS,” Morales said post-game. “It was just really great to get the MLS campaign off to a great start.” I think the Whitecaps faithful agree, Pedro.
A minor blip in extra time wiped away Ousted’s clean sheet, but did little to dampen the mood at BC Place, both in the stands and on the pitch.
With the complete disintegration of the team playing across the street in the cell phone sarcophagus, the Caps have a real opportunity to win this city over. It remains to be seen if the team can maintain the level of play, but one can’t help but feel encouraged by the Caps’ first kick. And if, at the end of the year the Canucks do finally give in to the rebuild, maybe their buddy Carl Robinson can show Mike Gillis how it’s done.
- Darren Mattocks, much maligned during the off-season for some selfish comments, has seemingly entered Carl Robinson’s attitude rehab. Some excerpts from his post-game comments:
- “Fantastic from the boys tonight”
- “This is the most competitive team I’ve played on. The coaches have done a fantastic job…”
- “The team comes first and to play as a team player, that’s the most important thing for me.”
The early returns on Dr. Robinson’s off-field rebuild appear just as successful as the on-field results.
- A sellout crowd of 21,000 took in the season opener. Sooner or later, the franchise has to seriously consider opening up sections in the upper bowl. A few more performances like Saturday may help to pull back the curtains.
- Thierry Henry was once again missing in Vancouver. Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke made the call to keep the French striker out, leaving Vancouverites unlikely to ever see the star play in BC.
- The Whitecaps’ next two fixtures are on the road, playing Chivas USA on March 16th and the New England Revolution on the 22nd. They return home to face the Houston Dynamo on March 29th and will honour Y-P Lee before the game.
- Both Fernandez’ and Morales’ goals are nominated for the MLS Goal of the Week. Not to take anything away from Pedro’s wonderful finish, but I just can’t bring myself to vote for him this time. Seba’s thunderous strike from 20+ yards earns my nod this time. You can view and vote here.