Whitecaps playoff loss asks you to buy into the grand bargain


The Whitecaps’ season ending graphic.

The storyline heading into last night’s Whitecaps playoffs game tried to reference, in whispers that did not actually invoke it by name, giant-killing in the English FA Cup.

Small teams beat big teams in knockout games all the time, the argument went, using examples from MLS history but calling to mind “the magic of the Cup” used as the selling point in England.

As we know now, that did not happen. Despite a third-minute goal so good it couldn’t be real from Darren Mattocks, the LA Galaxy scored twice in four minutes and took their place in the Western Conference quarterfinal. The Whitecaps were left with the knowledge that they came close, but now only have next year to plan for, and fans now have to wonder what this means in the context of the season.

The self-doubt-defying hope that maybe the ‘Caps could get something out of the fixture was run-of-the mill. But the elation of going up early—and staying ahead ten minutes later, and at half time, and with a half hour left—was glorious. Conceding the lead was like taking a punch, but it didn’t force the same loss of hope that a rout would have done. The reality set in, but the long-term vision seemed promising: maybe we can stop this from happening next year.

That, of course, is the other reality of the FA Cup. In that competition, fortunes vary year to year. One year, you might make a deep run or topple a Champion’s League club or lose in the first game to Cheltenham. Any year you don’t win it, you live with elimination and dive into the challenge next year, feeling the dare that you have a path to the title.

This perspective can be hard for expansion teams. Each year—especially in North America—gets measured in terms of impact or progress; We proved we could make the playoffs, we proved people would come, etcetra. We proved we belonged.

But what this result asks from you is the grand bargain every sports team wants to make with its fans: to get them to stay along for the long haul, not to just come out and see a game, but stick around.

The defeat was a punch in the gut. The whole last end of the season was a punch in the gut. Come back next year, maybe we’ll make the finals, or win the Cup or miss the whole thing altogether. Sometime you’ll get your satisfaction. Come along for the ride.

The match itself was kind of dull, but okay: It’s a shame Jay DeMerit got injured, but Martin Bonjour acquitted himself fine. Darren Mattocks showed his quality. Brad Knighton saved the Whitecaps over and over, and proved the decision to start him was correct. In the climatic miss that broke the Whitecaps’ concentration for just a crucial moment, Barry Robson and Kenny Miller both intensified the scrutiny over their midseason acquisitions.

LA were firmly in command, with 69 per cent of possession and nine corners to Vancouver’s zero, but the Whitecaps didn’t get blown out; they proved both they can make the playoffs and look not too far out of place. So progress as the goal is over; now the franchise is getting into the year-on-year fight. Maybe they can get a little bit farther next year.

I’ll stick around to find out.

Stats after the jump.

Continue reading

Whitecaps hold the lead in emotional win against first-place Earthquakes


Robson prepares to test San Jose’s Jon Busch for the go-ahead penalty. Photo Andrew Bates/Little Rubber Pellets

Love the one you’re with.

By Sunday, Whitecaps fans had not still dealt with the last and hardest departure in the summer transfer window. The announcement that the Caps’ first designated player Eric Hassli had been traded came out Friday at 5 PM, not the traditional time to announce good news.

It came too late for the printers to take Hassli’s name out of the matchday program, but the Southsiders just added his homemade player banner to an already planned tribute to sign the banners of departed Caps Davide Chiumiento, Sebastien Le Toux and Long Tan. The ceremony was incredibly maudlin, like a funeral; banners were set up against walls in the Cellar Nightclub beneath Doolins in an empty booth with a leather couch, fans stepping up to write their goodbyes, taking photos with the banners and trying not to make eye contact with other fans to allow them to have their own moments in privacy.

It’s no surprise that as the Whitecaps prepared to take on the first-place San Jose Earthquakes, it hung heavy on fans’ minds that the miracle last-minute goal that propelled the Caps to a win in the teams’ last meeting was supplied by the man who just got shipped out. But it made it that much sweeter that today’s win was very much powered by the newest Caps.

The Blue and White started out the game at a fiery pace, but with some amount of foreboding. They earned two yellow cards in quick succession, as Bonjour hauled down MLS leading scorer Wondolowski and Robson charged towards the free kick before it was actually taken. But the foreboding disappeared at the 20th minute, Dane Richards recorded his first goal since arriving from New York in the Le Toux trade.

Served off a superb Y.P. Lee pass, Richards burned in on the right-hand side and struck with power, scoring even though San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch got a glove on it. He was rewarded for his pace, and the current 4-3-3 midfield formation, with Rochat back on the left wing and Camilo, Richards, and Mattocks in a three-man attack seems to be serving everyone well.

The buoyant mood caused by being 1-0 up on the league leaders was shattered just before halftime as Alan Gordon swung his shaggy locks and headed in the equalizer for the Earthquakes. The Whitecaps howled that Gordon’s elbow found Alain Rochat behind the play, which should have called it dead before Gordon’s head found the ball. Regardless, the Caps rode into the second half flat after conceding.

The start to the second was strong, though, and Richards did well again in a close shot. Some good pressure paid off for Vancouver as Camilo was pulled down in the box, and there was terror in the moments it looked like referee Jair Marrufo had called it off. But even though he didn’t, his assistant was on it, and from that moment the Whitecaps slipped under frantic pressure with the lead. Robson waved up the crowd before taking the penalty, and for most of the next half hour, the Earthquakes battered the Whitecaps in an attempt to make it back up.

But they were superb in holding, with San Jose outshooting Vancouver 18-9 over the course of the game. And when new designated player Kenny Miller came on, the atmosphere was electric. Miller himself exploded onto the scene, with a great run from nothing right away. Between Miller and the constant defending, everything was wound up and nervous till the final minutes, with Joe Cannon pumping up the crowd for the final corner. But then the whistle blew, and the win was sound, and everything was whole again, with the Whitecaps’ three newest players well on their way to marking out a place for themselves.

In the 29th minute, chants rang out for Eric Hassli, but by the end of the game it was Robson, Richards, and Super Kenny whose names were on the lips of the Whitecaps faithful.

Stats after the jump.

Continue reading

Whitecaps put the optimism back into cautious optimism with 2-2 draw against LA


Photo Mafue/Flickr

After a weird couple of weeks, a breathless night at home against the LA Galaxy restored some faith in the new phase in the Whitecaps season.

Apart from the generally demoralizing 3-0 loss the last time the Caps saw the Gals, there was a long, cagey 1-1-3 road trip. Barry Robson’s debut did not make him appear in the greatest of form. Davide Chiumiento and Sebastien Le Toux got moved, with Dane Richards and Scotland captain Kenny Miller arriving. The Galaxy’s now-permanent star power that ticks up ears wherever they go, for good reasons in bad. All these and more set up worries as to whether or not the Caps would be able to maintain a fairly excellent start to the season.

And then they were up 2-0. It was a stellar first half for the Whitecaps; energy from all of the players. Beckham stepped up for a famous free kick and put it over the bar, building confidence among the home support. Camilo, possibly mindful of the new competition for forward spots, was much better coming back to defend. And it was his work in dispossessing Beckham that lead to Koffie’s first goal, a great piece of trickery to walk it past the defense and put it in the bottom corner. Robson linked up well with Y.P. Lee and directed a pretty beautiful header into the goal, one of many great pieces of work on the evening that showed quality returning where it was marred by rust in earlier matches.

The second half was less bright. LA commanded more possession and got more chances and the Whitecaps squandered a bit. Darren Mattocks reminded everyone that he isn’t all flash, but a perfectly reasonable mix of talent and not-yet-ripened potential. The Galaxy scored twice in the last ten minutes, both quick-acting shots from outside the box that took slight advantage of defensive disorganization. So, should we be disappointed?

Overall, no. The Whitecaps could have done a lot more to hold on to their lead, but the Galaxy showed they were the champions for a reason. It can be seen as a mark of huge improvement from three weeks ago that the Caps were even an influence in the game, Robson showed real class in his home debut, and the team in general showed a lot more promise than they had on a long, grinding away trip.

Stats after the jump.

Continue reading

Defense rescues a goalless draw against Chivas in LA


(Photo courtesy Getty Images)

The Whitecaps offense seems to be trying to figure out who it is, but at least they can rely on Joe Cannon.

The Vancouver Whitecaps made it out of LA on Saturday night with a 0-0 draw against Chivas USA on the third of a five game road trip. The odd defensive formation that worked against Colorado, with Alain Rochat as a defensive midfielder, bore fruit again defensively, managing to hold possession through 60 minutes and keep things from getting too far out of control.

But like against the Rapids, the Whitecaps generated almost nothing offensively. Darren Mattocks, who was able to create a momentary spark on Wednesday, was suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card of the year in the same game. Without Mattocks, Vancouver’s established forwards displayed a continuing inability to play together.

For the second game, Jun Marques Davidson didn’t start, which the commentators suggested was a mark of manager Martin Rennie’s pleasure with the team’s performance at midweek. Without his linking play, the offense had nothing to contribute as the defense held its shape in the first half and was largely the result of whichever player was trying the hardest at any given moment; Eric Hassli gave his all in the ten minutes before he was substituted as though he was fighting against it.

New Designated Player Barry Robson also looked poor for the second game in the row. The issue doesn’t seem to be as much familiarity with the team as match fitness; he’s linking up fine with players but is unable to carry out the attacking moves he wants to when he has the ball. Early in the game, Robson was served a long ball and was one-on-one with the keeper down the wing. But his first touch was like a brick, and when he had the ball he stood thinking for a bit before having his pass blocked and losing the ball.

Back in 2007, one of the biggest complaints I heard about the onset of DPs was players joining midseason, because of the gulf they miss when they don’t catch preseason training. This is certainly the case, as these games really seem like Robson isn’t near fitness. He joked when he arrived that it would be hard to get in the team, but if Thorrington wasn’t injured, I’m not sure I would pick Robson over Thorrington and Davidson, to be honest. He just doesn’t seem that ready.

The defense had a perfectly reasonable game for the first 60, 70 minutes. Rochat isn’t awful in a defensive midfield role, and the Whitecaps held mainly to the midfield without creating much. In the later part of the game, though, Chivas got a lot more possession, and the longer the game went on the more dangerous they seemed. Cannon had to spring into form when the Goats got a sequence of two corners and two free kicks, eliciting one of his worst moments of the season and also one of his finest saves. When the Whitecaps finally did get attacking movements going in the game’s last five minutes, they seemed quite vulnerable on the counterattack.

But in the end, nothing awful happened, I guess. Every point is valuable in the Western Conference, and they’ll at least stay tied for third. Whitecaps have got Toronto FC on the other side of the continent in four days, and Eric Hassli will be unavailable for accumulation of yellow cards after picking up a caution for Being Eric Hassli.

Hopefully, they’ll be able to get something together. If the offense can figure itself out, maybe the Whitecaps can reward their defense, now leading the league with nine clean sheets, by scoring a goal.

Stats after the jump.

Continue reading

Feels just like the first time: Retooling Caps scrap to away win against Rapids


Courtesy Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

From the ashes rises an okay team.

It made sense to think of the last twelve days between games as a checkpoint for the Whitecaps this season. The Caps ushered out a number of familiar but ill-used squad players and finally saw much-talked-about recruit Barry Robson available for selection. They were also shattered in their last match against the LA Galaxy: they shipped four goals in sorry fashion, lost midfielders John Thorrington to injury and Jun Marques Davidson to suspension.

So how did the Caps do with a changed squad, stretched legs and something to prove? They were alright, in the end. They were a bit shaky when on even terms in the first half and a bit too error-prone, but a piece of individual brilliance from striker Darren Mattocks helped them nose ahead before halftime.

A sneaky play from Mattocks, the goal was a bit of surprise after Jordan Harvey thought his looping ball in from the left had been caught by the Colorado defense. But Drew Moor’s first touch dribbled towards the keeper, and Mattocks saw an opportunity to slip in and slot true against the run of play.

How did new old boy Robson do? Also okay, making way for Sebastian Le Toux early in the second half on 57 minutes. He took a blistering shot from distance early on that just went over the crossbar, but didn’t seem especially comfortable on the ball, giving away a few near-costly turnovers. In his post-match interview, he said he needed to do more work to get sharp, and it shows.

The second half was a defensive masterclass, and disco legend Joe Cannon showed again how good he is in keeping the Caps’ sheet clean. The Rapids are winless this season when down a goal at half-time, so the Whitecaps weren’t punished when they were mostly content to let them fruitlessly try–17 shots, six on target–to break that streak.

But the Whitecaps’ goal was also their only shot on target in the game. If a few chances had went the other way–and they were very, very close–I’m not convinced they had an answer that would have helped them retain the three points.

But in the meantime, all is well. As the Sportsnet graphic gaudily proclaimed, BOUNCE BACK SUCCESSFUL!!!! The Whitecaps did much to put the 4-0 disaster behind them, proved their narrative-defining win against Colorado in June was not a fluke and moved into third in the West.

When the lineup–and its new expensive jewel in midfield–starts clicking or at least getting more than one shot on goal, maybe those deeper doubts about change can be answered, as well.

Stats after the jump.

Continue reading