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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Try as they might, no victory for Canada in pulsating, maddening clash with USA


Photo courtesy AP

Sometimes you do everything you can and you still lose.

There is no doubt that the Canadian women’s national team that have turned out for these Olympics are better by far than the one that showed up for the Women’s World Cup in 2011. They work hard, they work together and they believed wholeheartedly that they could beat a team that bested them twice this year already, and all but three times in history.

But the number-one-ranked team in the world just had too much to offer. Canada held three separate leads against the United States before conceding on a free kick in the 123rd minute in extra time. There were no penalties and no historic win after all, as Canada fell 4-3 at Old Trafford. They will head back to Coventry for the bronze medal match, and the US will go to Wembley for a rematch of the World Cup final against Japan.

There was no shortage of foreboding before this game for Canadians. Every time these teams have met since 2001, Canada have come in as underdogs and tried to pull off a result, and every time the US came out ahead. No matter how good Canada looked against GB, America have shown no sign of weakness.

That’s why it was so astounding in the 22n minute when Christine Sinclair put Canada ahead. The US looked more dangerous early on, so Sinclair’s goal was the first indication that Canada might have a chance to contend. A product of great build-up play in the midfield, it was a great ball forward by Marie-Eve Nault to Tancredi that gave Sinclair the chance. She pulled right until she had an opening, and she buried it.

For the longest time the goal and the 1-0 scoreline stood. The energy of this game is such that there weren’t a lot of particularly direct chances; Erin McLeod had a lot more to contend with and the US made about 11 more shots than hit the goal, but it was playmaking that tested the most nerves. Canada were strong defensively, depending on a strong performance from Sophie Schmidt, a rock on the backline, and were able to ride it out till halftime.

And then, that goddamn second half. Megan Rapinoe punished poor organization to draw level for the US on a corner kick. An Olimpico (a direct goal from a corner kick) at the Olympics, it was the lack of a defender on the near post that saw the ball slide through Schmidt’s legs and in.

There was nothing like deflation in the response. Canada retained a decent share of possession, although neither team had the ball long without having it torn away by the other. Then on the 67th minute, a clearance attempt bounced back to the Canadian midfield, and after a few tests, Nault was able again to lift the ball down the left wing to Tancredi, who was able to cross in while the US defense was still on the run. Sinclair again was on hand to send a header just past Hope Solo’s glove on the right side.

The US were back to pressure McLeod immediately after conceding. The Americans benefit from solid organization and distribution, and this is how they kept it up in the immediate minutes after dropping it. The movement of the goal started from the midfield, with a long pass from Kelley O’Hara fifty yards down the left sideline finding Rapinoe just outside the right corner of the area. It settled flat at her feet, and she cut all the way across goal to bounce it in off the right goalpost, three minutes after the last goal.

And them, as soon as that happened, it whipsawed back the other way; on a Canada corner kick, somehow the movement flowed away from Sinclair at the same time as the ball came to her head. Two different US defenders tried to jump to head it–one away from her, one towards her–and ran into each other, and just like that the Canadian captain had a hat trick, giving her one more career goal than American talisman Abby Wambach. With 74 minutes left, if Canada could just hold on, they might be actually able to hold on and make it past the United States.

It’s hard to explain what happened next. It looked like McLeod handled outside the area at first, but what really took place was that on a goal kick, the Canadian keeper opted to punt the ball rather than place it and took eight seconds rather than six. Keepers are only allowed to hold for six, and so the referee called an automatic indirect free kick inside the area for delay of game, regardless of the fact that the play didn’t hold any of the usual cynicism of timewasting.

For a second, it looked like Canada had escaped the dangerous free kick, but then terror swept in as it became clear that the ball hit Nault’s arm. It was a penalty, and Wambach drew back even with Sinclair and Canada at 3-3. It’s this that have the Canadian fans the angriest. (We were rude on Twitter to Samuel L. Jackson!) The game’s refereeing was spotty throughout the game, but it was spotty in both directions. Rapinoe alone had two ball-to-arm scenarios that weren’t called, but then again Canada just flattened Wambach in the box a few times with no call.

It will not be the first time a team playing as the away team in Old Trafford will look skyward after conceding a penalty. It will not be the last time people say that the team that stepped up to take have the luck of champions.

But they had more than that. In extra time, both teams played a little surer and a little safer than they did before. But the Americans physically punished the Canadian defense and ground them down throughout the extra periods, and at the end of the day Alex Morgan was too far open and too ready to take the header. It wasn’t a referee that ended it, but a wide play and an open header.

The remaining half-minute was a formality. Unbelievably, frustratingly, undeniably, the US did it. That’s the maddening part of soccer; you could never explain exactly how Canada led three times and yet this game just became another loss on the piles of losses to the Americans except that the US were crazy, deadly good.

But Canada is too, and they aren’t done quite yet. The country is watching now (they won’t be watching-watching, though, as the game is at 5 AM on Thursday morning) and a bronze medal would be a way to tell them that Canada belonged here, that this is a sport we can win things in.

The match is in Coventry, a new home-away-from-home for Canada, against the French. It’s terrifying because of the nightmare that was the 4-0 loss in the group stages of the World Cup last year.

But Canada has come far since then.

Stats after the jump.

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Canada refuses to lose against Sweden and earns its place in the quarterfinal


Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi connected on both of Canada’s goals in a 2-2 draw with Sweden. Photo courtesy AP

Canada did not break in impossible circumstances.

The Canadian national women’s team came back from an early, traumatic deficit to draw 2-2 against Sweden and in the process define the team’s resilient character. It’s a quality they will need if they are to provide a victory against the elite nations in Olympic women’s soccer.

Canada started with pace and threatened with three fine chances, but the game whipsawed from a blank slate to a desperate attempt to get something from nothing in the space of three minutes.

Sweden’s two goals were astounding in that they came so quickly, they came against the run of play and they were so simple: both balls from wide areas, both in the same weak spot that Japan took advantage of, weaker with the absence of the injured defender Emily Zurrer.

The rapid change in fortunes could have been devastating, and I’ve seen teams knocked flat by conceding twice before. But Canada stuck to their game, which focused on ball movement up the pitch, delivering to the area and hoping something happens. This is how Canada had 13 shots, but only 2 on the net. Olympic leading scorer Melissa Tancredi’s goal just before halftime was Canada’s first shot on target.

Sweden’s approach was to apply more of a physical game than Japan did, trying to frustrate the Canadians. And as you might expect from a team defending, they were comprehensively outposessed by Canada, who had them 60-30. But they didn’t close down les Rouges (and Christine Sinclair, specifically) the same way Japan did, and Canada simply created too many chances to be denied.

Sinclair, as well, was sublime. The prolific striker has turned to a provider, using her vision and poise on the ball to create many of Canada’s best chances. This has created the secondary scoring Canada has long desired, but the captain remains crucial.

Her teammates work hard, but create little alone; this was the root of striker Jonelle Filigno’s frustration, who was limited by offside and foul calls until she was replaced by Kaylyn Kyle. Sinclair has been the one to turn sparks into goals, and it was again her cross on Tancredi’s head that earned Canada the valuable point.

The reason why it was valuable is because Canada’s greatest asset is their inexhaustible confidence. Canada could have qualified for the quarterfinals with a loss, depending on other results, but if they were to shamble through to the knockout rounds with only a win against South Africa to their names they would not have anything to bring to the incredible challenge ahead.

Because try as they might, this draw did not break the glass ceiling in women’s soccer that has separated Canada from the elite teams in major tournaments. Qualifying as a third-place team will mean they cannot escape group-winners like the US, GB or Brazil, all three of which pose a sterner test than anything they found here.

But this too seemed impossible, and Canada were able to pull out a result, just to prove that they could. It would be unwise to count them out a second time.

Stats after the jump.

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Canada WNT couldn’t solve the world champions in 2-1 loss to Japan


Photo courtesy Ryan Remiorz/AP

They couldn’t quite find a satisfactory answer.

The Canadian women’s national team did not look outmatched in their Olympics debut against Japan, but couldn’t overcome the 2011 Women’s World Cup winners where it counted: possession and control.

The match started well, with the Japanese team looking uncomfortable and not incredibly confident. While they are the world champions, scuttlebutt had been that they came into this tournament feeling more vulnerable; a 2-0 shellacking in a friendly against the US did nothing to dispel that notion.

Canada replied to this by using a very physical defensive style, with more bruising tackles. (Kaylyn Kyle really should have picked up a penalty.) And it worked, for a time, in terms of putting them off their game offensively. But Canada were playing an incredibly cautious style when Japan didn’t have much going, and so found it a challenge to create anything.

That’s not to say that Japan didn’t have it together on the defensive side of the ball. They spent the match essentially marking Christine Sinclair out of existence, and what really made their game rock-solid was their midfielders’ ability to defend high up the pitch.

Japan’s second goal, just before half-time, is what put the game out of reach in terms of a group-stage win. (This was Canada’s true low-point, as it served as punishment for blowing a defensive assignment.) But Canada, through Melissa Tancredi, did well to score a goal in the second half; because only the best two of the three groups’ third-placed finishers advanced, Canada has got to keep games tight against higher-seeded Japan and Sweden.

And just pummel South Africa on Saturday.

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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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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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.

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