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.

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A run out for rusty legs as Whitecaps reserves lose 3-1 to Chivas USA


Etienne Barbara tries to beat the Chivas USA reserves defense at UBC Thunderbird Stadium. Photo Andrew Bates/Little Rubber Pellets

It was a chance for both Vancouver’s newest striker and an old familiar face to get 45 minutes on the pitch.

New designated player Kenny Miller started and Atiba Harris replaced him at half time as the Vancouver Whitecaps reserves fell 3-1 to the Chivas USA reserves Monday. It was the first reserve team match in a month, and both an attempt to get perennial first team bench-sitters some minutes and give Whitecaps U-23 players something to do after the end of their league’s season.

As a result, the Caps had plenty of effort forward, but unsurprisingly little clicked. Scotland captain Miller, fresh from his rousing 78th minute cameo against San Jose the night before, started the game and ran hard in the misty morning at UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium.

Like against San Jose, he was pacy and had a couple promising runs in on goal, though he was frustrated in his attempts to bag a first goal in a Whitecaps shirt. His last contribution to the half was being hauled down by Chivas keeper Tim Melia in the box for a penalty, after which he needed treatment but picked up no knocks.

The penalty was the highlight of an interesting day for Michael Nanchoff, who played in the centre of midfield rather than in his usual left-wing position. Unlike the rest of his performance, however, which was promising, Nanchoff’s penalty–taken, you remember, with a DP striker on the pitch–ran straight into Melia’s chest.

The penalty miss upended the flow of the game, which to that point was largely in Vancouver’s favour; a Chivas goal before half time further changed the complexion of the affair. Russell Teibert was in his best form in the first half, with a number of strong runs marking the Canaidian midfielder with distinction.

Miller gave way to Atiba Harris at half time, making his first appearance since a muscle tear on May 25. Harris wasn’t poor, but he didn’t shine in a half where the Whitecaps–21 shots on the game, with 11 on goal– were frustrated. The moment belonged to Kianz Froese, who had a solo run to bury in the Chivas net after burning three defenders. It would stand as the Caps’ only goal.

Froese was one of five PDL players to get a look at the reserve level, a reflection of the lack of games for U23 players after the league closes for the summer and lack of development opportunities overall. (Michael McColl of AFTN has a great piece on this, and I wrote about it for the Ubyssey in April.) Overall, of the 15 players who figured in Monday’s game, 10 have played 90 minutes or less in the MLS all season. Of the other four, Atiba Harris has been injured for two months, and Matt Watson hasn’t played in three months.

There are only three reserve games left. That should be enough.


Paul Rennie, Whitecaps FC assistant coach

On whether the playing time benefited Kenny Miller:

“Yeah, he needs minutes. I thought, you see the first half performance from Kenny, his movement and the chances he creates, the space he creates for a lot of players. Kenny Miller will be a fantastic addition to the squad and he’s someone I can’t wait to be working with on a regular basis.”

On the lesson Nanchoff learned in the game:

“Nanchoff played a different position from where he usually does, he was in the middle of the park and he was very, very busy, as he usually is. He missed his penalty, it’s the first penalty he’s missed in 24, 25, he was telling me, but these things happen. I think his reaction after that shows that he’s got the hunger and desire to do well. He was fantastic today.”

On how Harris looked coming back:

“Great. Atiba’s been out for a long time, and he looked a little bit rusty at the start, but as the game went on I think he grew in confidence and had some great touches. It was good to have him back on the field. We need options now and we won’t rush him. He was on the bench yesterday and we’ll use him sparingly at the moment until he’s fully up and running. But I thought he contributed in the second half, he’s a great big target man to have and he’s excellent with his feet and he’s a great lad as well, so I’m delighted with his performance.”


Vancouver Whitecaps FC reserves: Brad Knighton; Jordan Harvey (Bobby Jhutty 63’), James Farenhorst, Carlyle Mitchell, Greg Klazura; Etienne Barbara, Matt Watson (Alex Marrello 78’), Michael Nanchoff, Russell Teibert; Kianz Froese (Gagandeep Dosanjh 72’), Kenny Miller (Atiba Harris 45’)
Unused subs: Brian Sylvestre

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.

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