2014 Voyageurs Cup to feature NASL play-in round

The second division North American Soccer League's (NASL) FC Edmonton take on the Vancouver Whitecaps last Wednesday. Photo courtesy Lewis/Canada Soccer

The second division North American Soccer League’s (NASL) FC Edmonton take on the Vancouver Whitecaps last Wednesday. Photo courtesy Lewis/Canada Soccer

One of the coolest things about cup competitions is the chance for big-league clubs and second-division dreamers to play teams they don’t often get to see and have a chance to fight it out. But when the Ottawa NASL expansion team debuts next year, they’ll be seeing second-div colleagues Edmonton in the Voyageurs Cup before they scrap with Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto.

Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani thinks that, provisionally, a five-team Amway Canadian Championship will retain its current two-semifinal home-and-away format, according to MLSSoccer.com. But Ottawa and Edmonton will have to compete in a play-in round before the first round proper, where it will meet the MLS team with the best record from the previous year.

I don’t know how I feel about this. I know I like to see inter-league play, but there could be benefits: You wouldn’t see NASL teams go home from the competition without even a win to their names less often. A play-in round could also weed out weak teams, ensuring that battle-ready squads make clashes between the tiers more competitive.

Something probably has to be done about the Canadian Championship eventually; attendance numbers were bad last weekend and it’s probably not going to be better in BC Place Wednesday, as the game is head to head against Game 1 of the Canucks’ first round playoff series. The CSA is dreaming of a third tier of regional leagues and Montagliani says that those teams might get a shot in the Cup eventually, which could work.

Do you think it’s a good idea? Let’s hear it in the comments.

Monday Review: Ryan Nelsen and the Infinite Sadness

courtesy toronto fc

He just can’t. He has lost the ability to can, just like TFC has lost the ability to defend in the last ten minutes. Photo courtesy Toronto FC

Well, that was a week about getting by for the Vancouver Whitecaps. Behind 2-1 against Edmonton, they left Edmonton a goal up, and then, down 2-0, they managed a draw against Dallas. An alright haul. What else happened? Let’s review.

Major League Soccer

It’s happened to Toronto again. Despite looking like they were going to reverse a trend of late collapses when Jonathan Osorio scored an equalizer on 83 minutes, New York scored just afterwards to seal a defeat for TFC. Tim Cahill’s bruising header flattened poor Ashtone Morgan, but Morgan was really at fault for flipping the clearance right to New York’s Peguy Luyindula moments earlier, who served Henry on the wing like an expert barman. The loss makes five goals in the last fifteen minutes for TFC, and extends an 11-game home winless streak in MLS.

At Saputo Stadium, the Montreal Impact ran up a confident-looking 2-0 win against the Chicago Fire thanks to a lovely piece of work by on-loan Argentinian Andres Romero, an excellent turn-and-shot by Marco Di Vaio, and a red card for Chicago’s Jeff Larentowicz on what he likely feels was incidental contact on Andrea Pisanu, streaking right into the box. It puts the Impact up first in the east. New England leapt past Chicago and 9th-place Toronto to 7th in the standings with a 2-0 win against Philadelphia, while sorry DC United (1-1-6) stay where they are at the bottom of the league after a 3-0 thumping from Columbus.

In the slimmer, fitter Western conference, draws between Chivas (4th) and San Jose (6th) as well as Houston and Colorado (8th) mean most stay where they are. Whitecaps in 7th. Ahead of Vancouver’s visit next weekend, the LA Galaxy defense flummoxed Real Salt Lake 2-0 at Rio Tinto and Portland pulled out a 3-2 win after a shootout of a first half. The MLS recap’s lede says it spoiled both the first two goals of a promising young player’s career and SKC’s “roll-out of its new black third kit with blue argyle trim.” Good. Argyle is our thing, as is having a dumb-looking third jersey. Back off, KC.

National Women’s Soccer League

The Seattle Reign are having a tough time without U.S. national women’s team stars Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe, and they stuttered to a 2-0 loss away in Kansas City Friday. The best moment from the Blues win was a defensive clearance from Lauren Cheney, who got the ball facing the goal in her own final third and managed to get it on the carpet at centre for Renee Cuellar. Cuellar broke past her two defenders and ran right into the box for an easy one-on-one to seal the points.

The Battle of the Canadian Keepers (as I’m sure everyone referred to it) went Karina Leblanc’s way as the Portland Thorns defeated the Chicago Red Stars 2-0. Erin McCloud had a lot more to deal with in the Chicago goal, though, putting up a lot of solid saves and only conceding the first after the Red Star defense left her all alone with Alex Morgan and Danielle Foxhoven. The second goal was national team comrade Christine Sinclair paying her a visit with a stunner from the top of the box on an individual effort. The Boston Breakers beat the Western New York Flash 2-1, and Sky Blue FC got the same score on the road against the Washington Spirit. Portland still sit on top with a 2-1-0 record.

North American Soccer League

Edmonton had a nicer day than they’d been having! Shawn Seiko scored a penalty against the San Antonio Scorpions to win 1-0 in their home opener, their first win in a season that has started sour (1-1-4). It was like a Whitecaps alumni game, as the Rabbits and the Scorpions shared five or six players with ‘Caps connections, including Greg Janicki, Kevin Harmse, Blake Wagner, and loanee Carlyle Mitchell. Too bad Wes Knight popped his foot.

Amway Canadian Championship

Cup competitions are always a good time for lower division clubs (and Toronto) to try and get a plucky result against superior opposition, aren’t they? Toronto beat Montreal 2-0 and look to go through unless the Impact can produce, uh, the same result they did against Chicago on the weekend. We’ll see how far their good luck in this competition can carry them.

B.C. Provincial Cup

The Thunderbirds couldn’t make it past Surrey, sadly, going a man down and then conceding to lose 1-0. They will face West Van FC at the final in Langford, B.C., who beat Cowichan 3-1. At the Surrey game, a yell of “West Van’s going to beat you!” floated through the stands, almost certainly from the clump of West Van players at the top. Take that as you may. Surrey United FC face Castaways FC in the women’s A final.

Whitecaps comeback shows only place to get revenge is the back of the net

Much attention was pored on the antics of Dallas' David Ferreira. Photo Mafue/flickr

Much attention was pored on the antics of Dallas’ David Ferreira (centre). Photo Mafue/flickr

By the end of the first half, the air in BC Place was nasty with hate.

It wasn’t just anger or a regular expression of rivalry, it was a fermented mix of helplessness and outrage. The score was 1-0 to the visitors, Dallas were playing like sneering villains and Vancouver were playing awfully. Vancouver manager Martin Rennie argued that his players weren’t mad, but the rest of the stadium might have been.

You could feel it in the rueful head shakes of two ground staff waiting for the elevator at half-time. In the the social media staffer who accused Dallas of playing like Bambi from the Whitecaps main account while the match was in play. In the short, staccato four rounds of “FUCK YOU DALLAS” from the Southsiders late in the first, fully aware they weren’t supposed to sing it but too furious to stop.

It’s the sort of hate that isn’t productive, not in soccer. Joe Cannon looked up and waved frantically after the second goal went in on 47 minutes in disbelief. Even though there probably wasn’t contact, something had to be wrong with it. Could he have closed in any more without mashing his face into Matt Hedges’ boot? There had to be something wrong. I wanted there to be something wrong, because that would explain how Vancouver was down 2-0; how they had 57 per cent of possession but only two shots on target.

But that can poison you in soccer. Search for their foul or their dive and you never find the through ball that’s coming for you. No amount of roaring or taunting Dallas can change the fact that you’re down 2-0 in the second half.

And then the game turned. Passes started connecting. Jun Marques Davidson and Daigo Kobayashi, both having tough seasons, came out, replaced by youngsters Kekuta Manneh and Tommy Heinemann. Camilo, who had not taken a shot, lit up.

The first goal was a combination of those three forces. When Camilo’s shot riocheted off Raul Fernandez, Heinemann used a crazy diving header to try and keep the ball in play; it ended up being an assist when Kekuta Manneh, who had showed promise with no result, slid the ball inside the near post and brought the spark of life to the Whitecaps.

Three minutes later, it was Manneh again, sliding the ball through the box and finding Camilo, whose first touch slipped coolly into the goal. Just a week after a FC Dallas video mocked the Whitecaps for players lying on the ground, head in hands, in sorrow over missed chances or botched goals, three of their players collapsed in disbelief.

It was now Dallas who couldn’t believe how they found themselves level. Trying to shake off Alain Rochat, Brazilian midfielder Jackson whipped back and thwacked him in the previously-broken nose with a right hand. He saw red, and the Dallas attack slowed to a crawl. The goalie, Fernandez, got rattled. The crowd roared with excitement now, instead of rage.

Vancouver couldn’t, unfortunately, turn the comeback into a win. Even though they managed anger well, there’s still an element of fear that has persisted throughout the current streak of six games without an MLS win, especially the away loss last week to Dallas. You can see it nowhere stronger than than Darren Mattocks. Mattocks, who remains athletic and fast, had serious problems being in position for through balls in the first half. And while Joe Cannon saved the game in the 94th minute with a point-blank save, his decision-making is being questioned for his role in the two goals.

But on the night, the good guys won, because they started clicking and they paid attention to what mattered: their own play.

Dallas’ manager, Schellas Hyndman, for their part, was furious. He addressed the reporters like they were the team themselves, blamed the stadium for playing Dallas fouls on the screen and called a journalist embarassing for asking about diving. He hated that his team didn’t win.

But it didn’t win him the three points.

Stats and quotes after the jump.

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Upstart Thunderbirds brought down to earth after red card in Provincial Cup

Vancouver Thunderbird Niall Cousens takes a walk. God my cellphone camera is awful. Photo Andrew Bates/Little Rubber Pellets

Vancouver Thunderbird Niall Cousens takes a walk. God my cellphone camera is awful. Photo Andrew Bates/Little Rubber Pellets

The Thunderbirds hadn’t seen a loss in over eight months until last night, but they hadn’t seen a red card in a year and a half either.

After punching above their weight in the BC Provincial Cup, the Vancouver Thunderbirds lost 1-0 last night to Surrey United Firefighters in the Men’s A semifinal. The Vancouver Thunderbirds, reigning Pacific Coast Soccer League (div 4) champions, are the daylight alter egos of the UBC men’s soccer team, who won the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national championship last year after an undefeated season and even turned away the Whitecaps Reserves without giving them so much as a sniff.

The Thunderbirds have a powerful system based on possession and counterattack that crushed university opposition and has held fairly pat against senior players. They sunk the Reserves 3-0, held FC Edmonton’s first team to a 1-1 draw and shocked Vancouver Metro Soccer League champions Columbus FC in the quarterfinals of the Provincial Cup last weekend. The Thunderbirds are also a comparatively clean team, having gone the whole CIS season without a red card. (You’d have to go back to the 2011 Canada West semifinal to find their last red.)

When T-Bird Niall Cousens picked up a second yellow card just before the end of the first half, the system started to wilt. The Thunderbirds weren’t able to hold the ball quite as well and without counterattacks, they found themselves on the perimeter, trying to squeeze their way in. Gagandeep Dosanjh, wearing the armband, ran himself silly with a number of eyewatering runs around defenders, but never managing a final product that could beat Surrey keeper Andrew Fink.

And on offense, the defending Provincial Cup champions wore down the Thunderbirds with crosses and corners. Former Vancouver Whitecap Jeff Clarke ended up heading past Luke O’Shea early in the second half, which burst the brave faces the ten-men T-Birds were trying to present. O’Shea was excellent for the duration and kept the game close the rest of the way, but no goal came; right up to the last gasp, the Thunderbirds tried to get an equalizer and saw only efforts sail past the football uprights behind the net.

It was the Thunderbirds’ first loss since a 1-0 away defeat to Bellingham FC in the PCSL on August 24th, 2012. Surrey go on to face the winner of tomorrow’s semifinal between Cowichan and West Van.

Bashful Whitecaps make it out of Edmonton with a Voyageurs Cup lead

The Vancouver Whitecaps beat FC Edmonton 3-2 last night in the first leg of their Voyageurs Cup semifinal. I missed the match, but it certainly proved why we play these things, as the Whitecaps reportedly looked poor and trailed the second-division Eddies for much of the night before that weird Camilo PK.

The call looked so sketchy that Edmonton manager Colin Miller got himself ejected for complaining about it. When it comes to the foul, I think there was contact but he certainly made a meal of it. He appeared to be savvy, snagging a lovely goal inside the first ten minutes. It’s easy to do that against an inexperienced defense, but it’s nice to see him get results. It’s also good that Tommy Heinemann got a goal; I haven’t really liked what I’ve seen of him ever since a brief moment of insanity that got him sent off against UBC, and perhaps this will pick up his spirits.

The Whitecaps have been criticized for their focus on this competition, the thinking being that it might distract from their league play. This result proves that you can’t sleepwalk through the Cup, but the ‘Caps suffered up until the 83rd minute. Oh well. At least it’s a road win.

Stats after the jump.

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All you need to know about the 2013 Amway Canadian Championship

The winner of the Canadian Championship is awarded the Voyageurs Cup. Photo courtesy Jason Gemnich/CSA

The winner of the Canadian Championship is awarded the Voyageurs Cup. Photo courtesy Jason Gemnich/CSA

It’s a special time for Vancouver Whitecaps fans: the Canadian Championship. Every year, it’s an opportunity to see old friends from the second division, dream of Central America and ugly cry after the final.

Vancouver will visit FC Edmonton tomorrow in the first leg of a two-match semifinal, with Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact in the other side of the bracket. The Championship, also known as the Voyageurs Cup, is how I got into following the Whitecaps, and it’s always been the source of some lovely memories. And some really, really awful memories.

What’s at stake?

The winners of the Canadian Championship are awarded the Voyageurs Cup, named for the national team supporter’s group that bought the trophy. They are also granted a spot in the CONCACAF Champion’s League, which is like the European version except with less money and more trips to crazy loud Mexican and Central American stadiums. (MLS teams usually compete for that through the league or the U.S. Open Cup, but we are special Canadian flowers and we get our own route. It works out.)

How did it start?

It started life in 2002 as the Voyageurs Cup, a trophy founded on donations by the national team supporter’s group and completely organized by the fans. At the time, all the Canadian professional teams played in the North American second division. From 2002 to 2007, it was awarded to the team with the best results in the regular season against the other Canadian teams in the league, which was invariably the Montreal Impact. Montreal competed yearly with the Whitecaps, TFC’s predecessors the Toronto Lynx, and, for a time, a Calgary team.

But things were changing rapidly by 2008. Toronto got an MLS expansion team and CONCACAF was rearranging its eight-team knockout cup into a 24-team format more like Europe, with group stages. Since American teams had always been awarded to the top two MLS teams, Canada needed to find a way to pick their own champion. Enter the Canadian Championship, a four-game round-robin between Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Eventually, Edmonton joined the second division, and in 2011 it changed to its current form, home-and-away semifinals followed by a two-legged final.

Has it been fun?

Oh yes. Back before Vancouver and Montreal got their MLS spots, it was a fun chance to take swipes at big-league Toronto. To those who had schlepped it in the second division for years, Toronto fans seemed like plastic jerks with no sense of history, who thought they were important just because they had games on TV. (Now, of course, we’re all that way.) A 1-0 win at BMO Field in 2008 was an underdog’s triumph, and though the ‘Caps lost, taking five points off Toronto kept them from seizing the first Cup of the new era.

Vancouver really wants to win one of these, largely because it keeps evading them. Last year’s 1-0 wet-fish loss against a TFC team that had been dire in almost every other match it played was brutal. In 2011, Vancouver were leading 1-0 in the 60th minute of the final’s second leg at BMO Field before rain and lightning caused the game to be called off. It was restarted a month later from 0-0, and TFC maddeningly won 2-1.

And then there’s 2009.

What happened in 2009?

Oh, 2009.

It was an exciting time! A young nerd from the B.C. Interior who’d been watching Tottenham since 2005, I started following the exploits of the second-division Vancouver team, who’d recently been awarded an MLS franchise for 2011. On a vacation to the Lower Mainland, I poked my head in the door for my first ever pro game live, a Voyageurs Cup game against Montreal. It was wonderful, although I missed Ethan Gage’s 60th-minute goal because I was making an emergency run to the portable washrooms behind the bleachers that held the Southsiders in Swangard Stadium.

I prolonged my vacation enough to make the next V-Cup game against Toronto, and it was delirious. With all the pressure — Toronto would win the Cup on our ground if they beat us — Ansu Toure scored twice, and Vancouver turned aside those big-league jerks. Not only that, but barring an inconceivable four goal win for TFC in their final game against Montreal, Vancouver were going to win the trophy themselves. We were dreaming of Costa Rica. There was a pitch invasion. It was like this:

Two weeks later, Toronto and Montreal lined up at Stade Saputo, with a crew of Whitecaps players watching from the stands. It couldn’t go wrong, right? Montreal wouldn’t ship five. They were too good for that. Even though they’d fielded what looked like a weak side, when they scored the first goal on a penalty, that looked like it was done and dusted.

And then Dwayne DeRosario, that asshole, scored twice before halftime. Then again for a hat trick. Then Amado Guevara scored. And then Chad Barret scored. Guevara’s 90th-minute goal sealed it. Toronto had won 6-1. Each goal was like a punch to the stomach.

Writing for the 24th Minute at the time, I had absolute sorrow. From Whitecaps president Bobby Lenarduzzi down, everyone was furious at Montreal for rolling over. They maintained they were saving their energy for the league game against Vancouver on the weekend, when, to add insult to injury they trounced the Whitecaps on national TV. The Montreal supporters’ group boycotted the first half in protest. There would be no Costa Rica. Toronto lost in the first round of the Champions League.

It was sporting hurt. Vancouver fans fly banners that read Je me souviens to remember it. One of these days, we’re going to win this damn thing. Maybe this is the year.

It’s Monday! Time for the Monday Review.

Christine Sinclair must have done this to Kaylyn Kyle like, eighty times in practice. Photo courtesy Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Thorns FC

Christine Sinclair must have done this to Kaylyn Kyle like, eighty times in practice. Photo courtesy Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Thorns FC

It’s Monday! That mean’s it’s time for the Monday Review. What happened in soccer this week?


It was the historic start of the National Women’s Soccer League’s first season! (That actually started a week ago.) Portland Thorns FC defeated Seattle Reign FC 2-0 in their home opener Sunday. A posted attendance of 16,479 at Jeld-Wen eclipsed all of the games in the previous women’s pro league, WPS, as well as the crowds of all 9 MLS games except LA and New York.

The news will hearten women’s soccer fans, although certainly an MLS stadium in Portland with two of the best attacking players in the game got an attendance that teams like Chicago, satisfied with its 3,000-seating Village of Lisle-Benedictine University Sports Complex, aren’t trying to hit while the game is in its growth period.

But the good news is that the teams are fairly even on the field. Though Portland has heavy talent in Canadian talisman Christine Sinclair and goalkeeper Karina Leblanc as well as the USWNT’s Alex Morgan, the Thorns were bright in attack and okay in defense, but they need to figure out how to get the ball to their attacking pair. Just like Canada! Seattle sported the CANWNT’s Kaylyn Kyle and Emily Zurrer, as well as Welsh star Jessica Fishlock, who was keen to play antagonist to the Portland fans. Should be bright.

Thorns lead the table with 4 points and a 1-1-0 record. In the other NWSL game of the weekend, Canada’s Diane Matheson scored an 86th minute penalty kick to draw the Washington Spirit even 1-1 with the Western New York Flash.


Despite really really looking like they could pull out a win against Houston, Toronto conceded at 93:30 of a 94-minute match on one of those last gasp corner attempts. TFC had a man on the far post and a man on the near post, but nobody on Houston D-Mid Warren Crevalle, who stood right in front of GK John Bendik and flicked it backwards with a seal-poke of his forehead. It erased a lead the team had been carrying since a Jeremy Hall goal in the 58th minute for a 1-1 draw.

Elsewhere, Seattle got a 1-0 away win at Colorado, Portland drew 1-1 at San Jose, the Union beat United, LA Galaxy turned away Kansas City, Salt Lake defeated Chivas, Chicago got Columbus, and New York trounced New England 4-1 at home.

Montreal, sitting third in the East, didn’t play this weekend. TFC is sitting four points out in seventh, while Vancouver is seventh in the west, because oh yeah.


FC Edmonton, whom Vancouver will visit in the Voyageurs Cup on Wednesday, lost 2-0 to Minnesota United, struggling to find space despite having lots of possession. Former Whitecaps Wes Knight left the game with a serious foot injury in the 17th minute and they conceded a penalty in the 29th. It was a bad day for Colin Miller. The winless Eddies sit joint bottom with a point after three games.

CONCACAF Men’s Under-17 Championship

The agony. The ecstasy. Terrified high-schoolers playing away in Panama City. Already qualified for the U17 World Cup after pushing past Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Jamaica, the Canadian men’s U17s tried to push for gold but lost out to Panama in the semis. They beat Honduras on penalties in the bronze medal game, so they’ll go home happy. And they should! They got some good games against international opposition, and now they have a trip to the United Arab Emirates in October to look forward to. Hopefully nobody threw urine at them.


With five players away with the Canada U17 men’s team, the Whitecaps U18 residency team managed to beat San Juan SC 2-1 despite having to haul in some younger players. The U16s, however, had all their players hauled in by the U18s, and lost 1-0. With five games left each, the U18s and U16s sit first and sixth respectively in their West Conference standings.


The Pacific Coast Soccer League schedules are out! They’re, uh, all in Excel. Working on it. Sadly missing Kelowna club Okanagan Challenge FC after it closed its doors this winter, the men’s season will kick off next weekend with the Victoria Highlanders and Victoria United both hosting and conclude July 21st before the Challenge Cup on the 27th and 28th.

The Whitecaps’ women’s team (is the PCSL squad now the senior team? Oh, woe) will get the ball rolling for the women’s Premier division May 1st at SFU. It will conclude the same time.

BC Provincial Cup

Semifinals have been set for BC Soccer’s adult cup competition. On the men’s side, Surrey United Firefighters beat Estrella de Chile and will face the PCSL champion Vancouver Thunderbirds, UBC’s summer team, who offed VMSL champs Columbus FC 3-1. West Van FC and Cowichan won their quarterfinals, and will meet on the other side of the bracket.

On the women’s side, Surrey United and Castaways FC picked up wins, as did Prospect Lake SC and the NSGSC Renegades. All semifinals will take place next weekend.

To break a road slump, the Whitecaps must be ready to get results

Joe Cannon, frustrated after Rusin's own goal.

Joe Cannon, frustrated after Rusin’s own goal, the first in a 2-0 loss away to FC Dallas.

What causes a road slump?

We keep talking about it, because the numbers make it easy to do that. The Whitecaps were 0-15-2 (W-L-D) in their first season, 3-10-4 last year. The road record so far, with three losses and a draw, is the albatross that turns a respectable home record of 2-0-1 to a pretty mediocre 2-3-2.

But how does it actually happen? Teams and players slump because they stop clicking and they can’t figure out how to pull off the things they’re good at. Clubs build up slumps against specific opponents because of an intimidation factor that comes from specific players and memories of bad losses.

But how does a team perform consistently for two weeks and then drop it the next? How can you turn it around? Teams with good away form buy hotels in their home city to inspire focus, but there is no such quick fix for Vancouver’s issues.

In the aftermath of the Vancouver Whitecaps’ 2-0 pasting at FC Dallas last night, they didn’t seem ready for the challenge of playing in the league leaders’ ground. There are a bunch of factors.

Vancouver’s young players like Erik Hurtado and Tommy Heinemann deserve minutes, but they can’t be counted on to create yet. The Whitecaps’ front four was Hurtado, Heinemann, Russell Teibert and Matt Watson, who bring only 43 games of experience (34 games in an MLS season) between them, with no goals. Not that those players aren’t worthy, but why would you rely on them to deliver you a result against the team with the best form in the league? Placing even one player, like Darren Mattocks, who has experience pulling results in this situation, in the mix could have worked.

Poor Joe Cannon was also let down, with two goals against on 13 total shots and six shots on target. Part of that was because Dallas was, as mentioned earlier, very good. Part of that is just lapses. What exactly is happening on the own goal?


Somehow, Brad Rusin is getting shoved all the way through the penalty area by George John. I can’t explain that. Rusin has been okay in the absence of Jay DeMerit, but he wasn’t on it last night, and nobody really was. Look at the backline on the second goal.


Rusin, Andy O’Brien and Y.P. Lee are all standing still within ten feet of each other staring at Kenny Cooper, and nobody is marking anybody. O’Brien has just turned around and the line is keeping David Ferreria offside, but by this point in the game the defense just wasn’t reacting fast enough to stop Blas Perez from breaking through the gap I’ve marked with the red arrow.

At the heart of it, these are the decisions you have to make. To beat a team on the kind of form that FC Dallas is enjoying, you need to move fast, stand strong, and be on it all the time. The Whitecaps know this, because in the last year they’ve willed these results into existence, winning not once but twice against San Jose last season.

After the game today, Watson pointed to confidence issues and Cannon pointed to the Voyageurs Cup match against Edmonton on Wednesday. At the end of the day, it’s not that they weren’t in front of the fans, it’s that they didn’t play like they thought this is a thing they could have pulled of.

You can roll out all the cumulative stats you like tying this current streak to the Whitecaps’ historical away woes or the drop in form that ended last season. What are we going to do? Fire Tommy Soehn? Cut John Thorrington? But the fact is that the only way to turn things around is come into every game ready to overcome challenges and win.

They didn’t.

Stats after the jump.

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Effort isn’t enough to get goals as Whitecaps draw with RSL

Camilo lines up for his penalty kick against RSL's Nick Rimando. Photo Andrew Bates/Little Rubber Pellets

Camilo lines up for his penalty kick against RSL’s Nick Rimando. Photo Andrew Bates/Little Rubber Pellets

Enthusiasm can get you places, but not the whole way.

Ahead of Saturday’s game against Real Salt Lake, the Whitecaps pushed hard on the notion of the advantage it has at home. That is because they want you to believe this will be like last year, when strong home performances pulled out low-percentage wins against challenging opposition, and not like 2011, where the season fell apart after a strong start and they couldn’t defend for the life of them on the road.

From the first half, it seemed to be working. Outside of Joao Plata’s goal, called off for offside, Real Salt Lake got precisely zero shots on target, despite outpossessing the Caps 59 per cent to 41 per cent. It is, to be honest, astounding that the ‘Caps did not pick something up in the first frame. But while the midfield was strong and moved with purpose, the attack seemed a bit more improvisational. The first half’s finest move came from Y.P. Lee, curving it in but just tipped over by RSL’s Nick Rimando, who played well.

The group of talented speedsters that made up the Whitecaps attack — Camilo, Corey Hertzog, Darren Mattocks — are bright at making the run, generating chances and creating. But in the box, the passes in the box weren’t crisp and Vancouver wasn’t quite fast enough at the crucial process of making decisions and then executing them. The contested play where Y.P. Lee was brought down in the penalty area with no call might have been contact, but the fact was that Lee was off-balance from pivoting two, three times looking for an option.

It seemed they were going to be punished for it on 66 minutes when Olmes Garcia pulled off the opposite: firing a beautiful, floating ball into the top corner off a Javier Morales cutback. It was the same ball Lee had been trying at all night, and mainly worked because Garcia had acres of space, and it was one of the only great things Salt Lake did all night. The Whitecaps looked deflated.

Darren Mattocks, subbed on for an impressive-and-improving Corey Hertzog minutes earlier, helped improve things. He fits into a spray-and-pray offense a lot better, and there were a couple of heartbreaking headers he just couldn’t get high enough for, including an attempt to recreate the famous Toronto goal that redirected straight down.

It’s not surprising that the workman-like approach is what ended up working. Mattocks’ penalty kick eventually came when he tried to ping it through and Nat Borchers fell on the ball with his hand. Camilo, who took the kick successfully, was rewarded with a goal for his five shots on target, but it came through working the ball towards the goal, not crisp execution.

Watching the confidence coming from outside of the area in the form of armband-sporting Nigel Reo-Coker and Y.P. Lee, it’s possible that this is what the attack misses without Miller. Not that he’s any better with improvisation, but a veteran presence could have helped Hertzog, Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh (who also served a great ball) from as much stress and guesswork.

The ‘Caps worked hard with a generous five minutes of added time to try and pull something off, and despite a late scare on the game’s last move where Joe Cannon saved the point, they held deservedly.

With the attack like it was today, an energy-based system that runs on effort and gumption, running the ball in and creating terror, is it any wonder that this works better at home? Comfortable and in front of lively fans, it’s a lot easier to pull off high energy. But they need to have some better answers and better finish to be able to turn chances into goals, and draws into wins.

Stats and quotes after the jump.

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