Unexpected wonders lift Whitecaps to break slump, beat LA 3-1

Players exhale after the Vancouver Whitecaps' 3-1 win over the LA Galaxy at BC Place. Photo courtesy frostcake

Players exhale after the Vancouver Whitecaps’ 3-1 win over the LA Galaxy at BC Place. Photo courtesy frostcake/pic.twitter.com

Sometimes you spend forever planning, and then something entirely different and wonderful happens instead.

The Whitecaps were in a rut of seven league games where everything should have worked and little did. So many chances, but not enough finish, not enough runs on. No combination of players or formations — go back to the diamond! Switch to 4-3-3! Koffie! Davidson! Koffie and Davidson! — seemed to produce the desired result.

The starting XI against the LA Galaxy felt like that: 1. Run out players who have had issues like Rochat, Davidson, Kobayashi and, most notably, Darren Mattocks. 2. Hope they turn it around. 3. ??? 4. Profit?

And yet, the player who did the most to change the game didn’t even start on the pitch. Injuries are always unfortunate, especially because Daigo Kobayashi’s 14th minute exit came as he tried to stay stuck in after being brought down by a tackle, keeping in mind recent criticism around soft play in the team. However, Kobayashi had been having trouble as of late and his early substitution created an opportunity that Russell Teibert seized with both hands.

Teibert, whose parents had come from Ontario to watch him play, stuck with the starters instead of peeling away with the subs in the pre-match warm up, and seemed determined and not a step behind upon his introduction.

His first goal was the most impressive. It was the kind of play the Whitecaps have been flubbing repeatedly of late: Teibert got himself on the end of a ball, weaved in and out of the box looking for an opportunity and was able to create something dangerous. It immediately changed the complexion of a game that had been thoroughly tentative to that point.

Though out-possessed, the Whitecaps had looked like they could still, with luck, get something from the game at half-time. But oblivion loomed. Thanks to out-of-town results, even a draw in this game would leave the Whitecaps back on the foot of the Western Conference table. Mattocks was, regrettably, still looking out of ideas on the ball.

LA defender Omar Gonzalez had a header that, though it was just past the far post, cut through the Whitecaps defence like hot butter two minutes before the goal. Had it gone in, these would all have been different conversations.

But it was Teibert’s confidence that put a different stamp on the game. Watch his second goal again to see how thoroughly he masterminds the opportunity. First, he calls for the pass. Not recieving it, he buzzes around Y.P. Lee until the ‘Caps defender decides to leave it for him anyways. He sends a ball through to Gershon Koffie, who holds the ball up and turns to see Teibert blazing into the box. Koffie’s pass is simple, like the shooting drill the team ran just before kickoff. Teibert, who that morning had never scored a professional goal, blasts in his second to give the Whitecaps, whose stalemate looked so tenuous just fifteen minutes earlier, not just a lead but a cushion.

These elements of the game are hard to describe or quantify, because they’re so immaterial. Why does one chance go in and another spill just wide? How can you turn around a team having such trouble with finishing when it seems so often to come down to circumstance? Teibert managed to do it.

And speaking of confidence, let’s return one last time to the issue of Darren Mattocks’ luck. It is impossible to overstate how mystifying his lack of success has been in front of goal has been week-in, week-out. He brought a portable raincloud to the attack in the first half against Edmonton, and nothing seemed to be working. Management was pleading for ideas, and supporters were anxious to know how long Mattocks needed to sputter before he could produce.

When I saw Mattocks pounce on a turnover and break in one-on-one with a defender only to put it right on LA goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, I thought his confidence may have broken for good. He collapsed onto his knees and stayed down for moments. When he got up again to contest the resulting corner, he hung his head and A.J. DeLaGarza, the defender marking him, gave him a consolation pat on the back. I thought I had seen a low from which it would be nearly impossible to recover.

And yet.

It is, like I said, hard to quantify confidence or belief. But Mattocks, who has been so often out of position or ideas or plain unable to find and complete opportunities, saw a ball get away from Jordan Harvey and float tantalizingly in front of him for just a moment. He broke away from DeLaGarza easily and whacked it in off of Cudicini’s insole. The relief for Mattocks but also his whole team on seeing that goal go in is palpable. What makes this different than all the other attempts of late? Can’t say. But he was in the right place. He went for it. He made it count.

It remains, regardless, Teibert’s night. And perhaps it’s better that way; now Mattocks and the ‘Caps can put this long, dim run of three points from a possible 21 behind them. They managed to neutralize the defending champions in front of a (as far as the club claims) sell-out crowd. Nobody could have laid out, prior to the game, the road map to this victory. But it happened. Onwards.

Stats after the jump.

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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 note on tickets, and what the LA match meant for the club


When the Galaxy come to town, people worry which team fans are there to see. Photo Andrew Bates/Little Rubber Pellets

A match with a team like the MLS champions Galaxy (and their Beckham-fueled celebrity bubble) draws attention and provokes emotion. A strong market should be able to draw a crowd for a game of this stature, but fans are always worried of being overtaken by the rush, of being betrayed by Vancouver casuals there to see the other guy, not the team supporters want them to love.

It was announced two days before the game that all 21,000 tickets had sold out, only the third such match this season. (The other two were the home opener against Montreal and the Seattle match in May.) The controversial point was that, of course, B.C. Place holds much more than 21,000 people. With the upper bowl open, it holds 58,941 people. With just the tarps in the lower bowl pulled, it holds 27,000 for soccer. 48,172 showed up at the old B.C. Place to gawk when LA played the Div 2 Whitecaps in 2007. So why stop the tickets?

One argument, made by the Whitecaps and many fans, goes that it needed to be done for marketing reasons–that Vancouver casuals needed to know that if they really wanted to get in, they had to buy seasons tickets. Another argument, made eloquently by Ben Massey, goes that taxpayer dollars funded the damn stadium, and it’s dirty pool for the Whitecaps to put tarps over seats, keep fans out and still call it a sellout.

I’m no Vancouver casual! But I am too broke for season’s tickets, and I got caught in the wilderness. Roughly $20-$50 were being added onto the face value of tickets on gameday, with some tickets going for as much as $400 for a pair in the purple sections. After days fervently refreshing Craigslist and a frankly pitiful “tickets wanted” post, I managed to nick one at face value, getting the actual ticket minutes before kickoff. Much love to the guy that let me stand by his seat in the Southside, rather than forcing me to take mine in the north end.

So, how did the experience make me feel? Clearly, this was a hot ticket to get. And though people were still in to gawk at Beckham, Galaxy jerseys were rare. Vancouverites were in the Whitecaps’ corner.

It is good that people, myself included, thought of this experience as special. But the Whitecaps should do something to ensure that people with money can fill seats. If they operated a centralized reselling system that moved tickets at face value with a nominal fee, they could retain that feeling of demand while picking fans over scalpers.

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.

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