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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Six thoughts on the Whitecaps’ Year Without Canadians


This match on against Chicago a year ago was the last time Teibert–or any other Canadian–has been seen in a Whitecaps uniform on an MLS pitch. Photo courtesy Vancouver Whitecaps FC/flickr

It has been a year since the Vancouver Whitecaps have played a Canadian.

On August 7, 2011, Russell Teibert was subbed on in the 56th minute for Alain Rochat in a 4-2 win over Chicago. Since then, in 38 first team games, not even a single minute has gone to a Canadian international player. This year, the only players, other than the mandatory three Canadians on the Whitecaps roster, that received zero minutes are the third-string goalkeeper and Greg Klazura.

This has been a sensitive subject with Whitecaps fans, who are often sick of hearing about the topic and irascible about the charge that the franchise doesn’t develop Canadians, which, clearly, it does, with strong players at the youth and women’s level and alum on the men’s team. (The argument that Alain Rochat, Canadian-born but capped for the Swiss national team, should count is invalid. If Jacob Lensky signs, that too will be weak. I mean, even Joe Cannon’s eligible for a Canada cap if both sides wanted it. But it’s probably not happening.)

There was a strong connection between the national program and the Whitecaps when the team was in NASL, and it’s mainly gone missing in MLS despite promises that a franchise for the Caps would help transform the program. It’s the elephant in the room. But it’s a little bit more complex than just Canadian teams ought to play Canadians (although that’s not necessarily false), so let’s work through it. I’ll give three reasons why it’s something that’s okay to live with at the moment, and then three why it’s awful.

Why it’s okay

1. They’re trying

The argument for the lack of Canadians from the Whitecaps as a club is perennially that they are working to develop suitable subjects. Pioneering the Residence academy structure has helped, and the strong showing of the club in this year’s USSDA Academy playoffs has proven that there are great prospects like Bryce Alderson and Ben Fisk on their way up. This is a long and painful process, so it’s important not to expect instant results.

2. Can you think of any?

With the exception of any past-or-present Vancouver Whitecaps, which great Canadian players the club can go and get that can make an immediate positive impact in the squad? There are a bunch of sort of okay players bouncing around North America that can’t really make the first-team any more (the Kevin Harmses of the world), the great Canadians in MLS are securely with teams and the ones in Europe are mostly getting better opportunities. Toronto’s experiment with hauling in Julian de Guzman and Dwayne de Rosario ended in tears, so why would it work any better for the Caps?

3. It’s working right now

This is the guiltiest reason of all, of course, but the Whitecaps are playing well right now. There was good squad composition through the beginning of the year, and then after the roster shakeup there is still a great first XI. Nobody else will sympathise with Whitecaps fans on this, especially not Toronto fans that sat through the years starting 2007 when only Canadians counted as domestics. Which brings us to

Why it’s not okay

1. They changed the rules for this

The point of MLS as a league initially was to develop players for the US national team program; the product would be iffy at first, as the demands for players were much larger than the player pool, but it would get better. This is what Toronto was in for. Until the Whitecaps came in to the league, all but 13 of Toronto’s 30 players had to be Canadian. Part of the negotiation necessary to accommodate Vancouver’s club-based academy structure included making US players count as domestics in Canada, and requiring Canadian teams to only carry three truly domestic players.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the Caps weren’t using all three spots on players that haven’t got even a whiff of playing time in the first team. The idea that Caleb Clarke or Bryce Alderson are first-team players (or that Phillipe Davies was) is a farce, because Martin Rennie wouldn’t ever consider putting them on the field. The Whitecaps, in part, helped negotiate the Canadian quota down to a number where they would never have to play them if they don’t want to; and on current evidence, it seems they would rather work with a shorter bench than find players for those spots they would be able to use.

2. Terry Dunfield

I won’t tarry too long here, but it bears saying. Dunfield wasn’t great. But he wasn’t awful, and he was a Canadian, and Tommy Soehn sent him away for nothing. He just beat Julian de Guzman in a competition for places in Toronto. The next time the Whitecaps say they can’t find any good Canadians right now, think of the one they tossed out on a whim.

3. Do they think they’re not good enough?

The Whitecaps first team right now is a lovely cornucopia of nationalities that bends both the mind and the international player rule. There are a lot of great players there! There are a lot of okay players. In substitution situations, they are preferred to Russell Teibert every single time. Andy O’Brian, who is Irish, and Brazilian Tiago Ulisses were just brought in to be okay players. And it seems like the team prefers them not to be Canadian.

This isn’t like, some weird accusation of racism or something! The fact is that what you battle in the growth of a program is stereotypes and prejudice. Players like Paul Pechisolido and Paul Stalteri were evidence that Canadians could do well in England. Canadians need to prove they can earn their keep in a top flight. When the Whitecaps say “we want Canadians, we just want to develop them ourselves”, that might translate to an opinion that Canada has not produced any MLS players worth getting, and we have to make them ourselves to trust them. That’s the problem.

There are clubs where the coaching staff believe that Canadians aren’t up to snuff and can’t compete, and the battle is convincing them that they are wrong. It’s just bitter that the Whitecaps are one of those clubs.

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