Whitecaps found legs first in opener, and then Toronto woke up

Captain Pedro Morales takes a corner in the Whitecaps' home opener against Toronto FC. (Photo RosieTulips/Flickr)

Captain Pedro Morales takes a corner in the Whitecaps’ home opener against Toronto FC. (Photo RosieTulips/Flickr)

During the off-season, a soccer team doesn’t exist in any of the important ways, like the way it does during the ebb and flow of a game. The pre-season is used to prepare and predict what the team will be like when it exists again for real; come the opening whistle it blips back into the physical plane. With some new limbs and some limbs missing, it lumbers into motion and begins to walk and pass and try to score a goal, just like it did the last time, but for the first time as a new group.

The Vancouver Whitecaps figured this out early and had a good first half in its opener Saturday against Toronto FC. Then Toronto woke up, and they had a very good second half en route to a 3-1 win.

Two of the biggest new faces introduced to the Caps this year, and the only two new players in the starting lineup, were Pa-Modou Kah, the centre-back picked up from Portland, and Octavio Rivero, the Uruguayan striker brought in to fill the fans’ hunger for a goal-scorer and whose predecessor had not quite managed to satisfy.

Their integration was a success, with Kah picking out the new central striker from almost 30 yards away that released him on a run that culminated in Rivero beating Joseph Bendik on his right side. Rivero basked in the moment, getting a chance to make his mark on his debut early, like Sebastien Le Toux in 2012.

By contrast, Toronto looked nervous, bending under the expectations that come with their wage bill. When a ball from Michael Bradley deflected through the box to their winter signing Sebastien Giovinco, the new man turned at the same rate as everyone around him, a second behind the ball like he was surprised to be alone with it, before putting a blistering shot just wide on the 17th minute.

But even without cohesion, individual players can still shine. Jozy Altidore, fresh from a disappointing term with Sunderland in the English Premier League, was given a gift of a Giovinco ball across the carpet and, as though through muscle memory, deftly turned past the goalkeeper.

The Caps stayed good for the rest of the period and were more aggressive at finding space to exploit, but didn’t convert it to goals. Kekuta Manneh, on 39 minutes, couldn’t work the same magic 1-on-1 with Bendik that Rivero had earlier, and Vancouver went into the tunnel on even terms with a Toronto side that hadn’t figured out how to make all of its expensive pieces snap together.

But you can’t count on your opponent’s ill fortune. The Toronto that came out of the tunnel was more determined and less nervous, converting that with a smooth run from Justin Morrow that bamboozled Vancouver defender Stephen Beitashour and put him in a position to pick out Robbie Findley.

It was now Toronto, not Vancouver, that was striding past back lines and executing smart runs. On 62 minutes, there was a strange crossover that looked almost like a Whitecap stole the ball from another; on 83 minutes Pedro Morales recovered the ball from the defense, but through fatigue couldn’t find an outlet before being overrun in his own half.

The penalty that ended the team’s chances was cruel, although not undeserved. After Gershon Koffie had a foul shout at the other end, Kah, fulfilling jitters from fans that don’t fondly recall his performance in Portland, clattered into Altidore on 89 minutes. If he touched the ball, he launched his frame into the air so clumsily that nobody could really argue.

The 2015 Whitecaps exist now, and the result was promising, if not disappointing. They lacked the ability to control Toronto’s firepower, when it woke up, and with more time for Kah and Kendall Waston to work together and more time for Rivero to earn the confidence of fans in a way past strikers couldn’t, they might be able to assert themselves down the road. It begins now.

Stats after the jump.

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“Lost” goals and off-season blunders aren’t the problem or solution for the Vancouver Whitecaps

Camilo's 22 goals in 2013 didn't help the Whitecaps make the playoffs and now that he's gone, the club must concern with scoring when it counts rather than scoring in his absence. (Photo Vancouver Southsiders/flickr)

Camilo’s 22 goals in 2013 didn’t help the Whitecaps make the playoffs and now that he’s gone, the club must concern itself with scoring when it counts rather than scoring in his absence. (Photo Vancouver Southsiders/flickr)

It’s been a long, dark off-season for the Vancouver Whitecaps, but the good news is that none of the blunders, miscues or departures have made the team’s biggest problems worse.

Nothing has stung as stung as bad as Camilo, the league’s top scorer in 2013, who ducked a club-triggered contract option and appeared in another team’s jersey in a successful attempt to force a move to Mexico. Whether you blamed Camilo for being an amoral mercenary or the front office for not working harder to make sure the man who wore a Golden Boot was happy (or both!) it was an emotional tragedy that seemed impossible to recover from.

It’s not the only time the five-person panel of front-office staff led by Bob Lenarduzzi at the helm has been left looking poor this winter. It was clear the club wanted former U.S. national team manager Bob Bradley for Rennie’s spot. He passed, forcing the Whitecaps to very publicly settle for their second choice, the able and patient assistant manager Carl Robinson. Usually-moribund Toronto FC brought in two stars in the same week while YVR’s international arrivals section was devoid of blue and white. It had appeared, briefly, that first-round draft pick Andre Lewis was, in fact, committed to the New York Cosmos before the league clarified that they had arranged a deal with the NASL club.

I am here to tell you that none of this matters. Camilo’s unreliability is as legendary as his brilliance, the Whitecaps will sign a new designated player or they won’t and Lewis, if desired, will be prised from the Cosmos, unless he isn’t. Carl Robinson is as well positioned as any man to deal with the only problem that matters for the team, which can only be solved in the pre-season: the team’s inability to take and hold games in key situations.

The intensity of despair that surrounds Camilo’s departure is based on two assumptions. The first is that Camilo somehow took his 22 goals with him when he left, and the second is that replacing those goals is an unlikely task that is necessary for the team to succeed.

The reality is that the value of goals is fluid. Camilo and Eric Hassli combined for a talismanic 22 league goals in the Whitecaps’ 2011 last-place finish (next on the scorers list: Alain Rochat with three) and scored seven (five and two, respectively) the next year. The Whitecaps “lost” 15 goals then, but five >3 goal scorers (Sebastien Le Toux, Darren Mattocks, Barry Robson, Gershon Koffie and Dane Richards) scored 20 goals between them in 2012 and the club made the playoffs.

That team scored 35 goals; next year’s edition scored 18 more times and missed the playoffs by two places. They only allowed four more goals. The point I’m making is that none of these numbers matter. They’re a good indicator of individual contribution, and indeed Camilo was important: his boot sealed that 2-2 draw against Portland and kept the Whitecaps on course to win their first Cascadia Cup since 2008.

But goals alone do not deliver a playoff spot. Secondary scoring was fine in 2013, with Koffie, Mattocks, Kenny Miller, Kekuta Manneh and Jordan Harvey (!) contributing 24 goals between them. But the team lacked a cohesiveness and consistency that harmed them at key moments, combining a narrative of early failure with an inability to hold key results. The hypothetical nine points lost from winning and drawing positions in the last 20 minutes would have put them in a tie for first place in the West.

That Camilo’s last game as a Whitecap saw him score a hat trick at home against the Colorado Rapids one game after the Rapids eliminated them from the playoffs on the road with a 77th minute goal tells the whole story of the team’s season. A sorry August 14 road loss to the Rapids when the Whitecaps were in the playoffs by two points and four places was another opportunity lost that typified the club’s troubles.

Intangibles like organization and desire can’t be pinpointed and diagnosed, but instability on the backline started with captain Jay DeMerit’s Achilles rupture injury in the home-opener that kept him out for most of the season. His age and injury history make him a question mark, but he is a leader in the locker room and his return for the new season is a positive omen. Brad Rusin, Andy O’Brien and Jonny Leveron wavered in and out, and the trade of Alain Rochat remains a puzzling question mark that kept the defensive unit in constant flux.

This is why I don’t think there’s a lot of pressure on draftee Andre Lewis, but I have high hopes for Christian Blake. We get a new influx of young, talented attackers that need time to grow into the league every year. But if Blake can come under the wing of DeMerit and O’Brien and can help add energy on defense without getting hurt, that will work wonders. A replacement for Young-Pyo Lee must also be found.

The cohesion of the team makes the pre-season camp vital. Can the well-liked Robinson succeed in forming a indefatigable unit where his boss couldn’t? (First, let him diverge from Rennie’s path by ditching the suit. It didn’t seem to fit him well at the draft.) It remains to be seen, but this is a matter of chemistry that you can’t predict. Let’s see how it works.

Offensively, the only thing that matters is picking people who can deliver when it really counts. Let it sink in that Jordan Harvey scored more goals than Darren Mattocks and the need for a reliable striker who can deliver results is obvious. If the Whitecaps have got $1.5 million for Camilo, that plus the extra breathing room in salary cap helps improve their prospects in the transfer market dramatically. In MLS, this decision can never be taken lightly.

In the end, you could never predict whether Camilo would score 22 goals or 5 or whether he’d end up in training camp when he had a theoretically valid contract. That’s not going to put you in the playoffs, and though it seems a lot of these off-season headlines won’t either, the path back to the MLS Cup hunt starts only one place: on the training pitch next Monday. Let’s hope for greener pastures.

Whitecaps take control of their own destiny with landmark 2-0 win over Seattle

Photo RosieTulips/Flickr

Photo RosieTulips/Flickr

There are few experiences so helpless for a fan as watching a lead slip away.

But on Saturday, the Vancouver Whitecaps did not meekly let a victory slip away or even sheepishly escape with points they did not deserve. They improved at half-time, pushed hard in the attack and scored at the very beginning and the very end to finally pick up a 2-0 victory against the Seattle Sounders.

Seattle, of course, has made Vancouver feel helpless before. Despite a respectable record against the Sounders in the second division — 5 wins, 7 defeats and 9 draws from 2004 to 2010 — Seattle has made Vancouver miserable in MLS, with the Whitecaps losing six times, drawing four and winning precisely never.

This especially hurts because it is Seattle. With the great success Seattle had entering the league, both in terms of results and community engagement, the Whitecaps made noise about copying their approach when they made the same jump. But of course, the 2011 season didn’t go nearly as well. For Vancouver, the results against Seattle (and Portland), coupled with the image of crowds over 40,000 uniformly standing and singing, scarves aloft, is enough to make the Whitecaps fan despair that perhaps they are miles behind their Cascadia rivals as they watch tourists in green dance up Robson Street after the final whistle.

At least three times, the Whitecaps have given up leads against Seattle. 2011 brought a 3-1 home loss, the last game played in Empire Field, which started so brightly with a goal from Camilo. Last season’s rollicking 2-2 draw at BC Place was going to be a win until Fredy Montero scored in the 90th minute. And of course, there was the defeat in Seattle last month, when the other shoe dropped in the form of a 2-1 road win flipping to loss late, again.

Surrendering points from a winning position has become The New Problem for the Whitecaps after the demoralizing loss to Montreal in the final of the Canadian Championship, a thread that runs through the Seattle game and to the last game against Kansas City. I mean, we will take a point from an out-of-conference road game and four from six points on the trip, thank you, but it’s been worrying.

So when Kenny Miller cut through with an early goal at BC Place on 4 minutes, the first feeling was elation. The goal came from nothing, a great ball that Corey Hertzog arced from the halfway line without looking speculative. Miller bamboozled Hurtado with a cut to the right and slapped the ball with the side of his foot, leaving it to run past two sprawling Sounders. The effect Miller’s return has had on this team has been tremendous; his technique and experience has now wholly eclipsed his disappointing first season.

However, the next feeling was fear. The Whitecaps were defensively terrifying in the first half. All the defenders produced decent plays, but Seattle, especially the tandem of Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle, found it just too easy to slice through. For the fan bruised often and recently by collapses from early leads, it seemed saner to prepare for disappointment again.

Brad Knighton’s performance in this half was one of the most important of his career. Despite winning the starting role mid-season two consecutive years there remains, as Ben Massey recorded, a feeling that perhaps neither Knighton nor Joe Cannon are good enough.

Just as the club’s move to bring in David Ousted from Denmark validated that sentiment, Knighton has been fighting like hell to retain his grip on the spot in the two weeks between the signing and when Ousted is eligible to suit up. A save on Martins as he drifted over on 22′ and two quick saves in procession after a Neagle corner were crucial in keeping the Caps level by halftime. Ousted is active now, and will play in the reserves tomorrow. Knighton’s seven-save clean sheet was a fierce effort to ensure he stays there.

Despite Knighton’s heroics, the outfielders did not inspire confidence in the first half. But something shifted in the second period.

Jun Marques Davidson, who had been invisible before the interval, stepped up and took control of the fulcrum at midfield, helping create a logjam in the Whitecaps area. (Most notably: Intercepting a dangerous Brad Evans pass from the goal line.) The midfield was a lot more challenging to pass through for the Sounders, and that’s because the Whitecaps were much better off the ball, depriving Seattle of time and options in possession.

When Corey Hertzog, admirably filling in up front for the absent Russell Teibert, was taken off on 63′ with a left-ankle sprain, the TSN commentators wondered aloud: defense or attack? Should manager Martin Rennie bring in a pacy young forward like Kekuta Manneh to cause problems or act conservatively, perhaps bringing on a midfielder to folding the 4-3-3 into a more defensive formation to grind out a 1-0 result?

The way the Whitecaps handled this question can tell you everything about how they did not simply avoid defeat but seize victory. Before Daigo Kobayashi’s introduction, the ‘Caps had a total of four shots, only two on goal. But Daigo helped reinvigorate the attack, pushing the play up the pitch so that Seattle had to make up ground to try and mount any kind of assault of their own.

The next sub sealed the attack-is-defense approach: Darren Mattocks. So quiet lately, appearing only once in the last six games, Mattocks exploded onto the pitch, matching the intensity of the crowd with a rapid five shots and quick runs, terrorizing poor Djimi Traore.

The decision to play attacking players like Kobayashi and Mattocks is what sealed victory. And when a Knighton goal kick — clean sheet and an assist! — was flicked on at the centre circle by Gershon Koffie, Mattocks did the rest himself, chesting the ball down, cutting through Traore and batting a half-volley up and over.

2-0. With 11 minutes left, that was something like certainty. Knighton stayed strong. Mattocks kept coming out of nowhere to terrorize Seattle on the break. There would be no capitulation. The fear of lingering oblivion that was thick and black after the Canadian championship vanished into thin air. The Whitecaps are on top of the Cascadia Cup standings.

It was a good night to walk down Robson after a Seattle game for the fans in blue, for once.

Stats after the jump.

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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 watch the game pass them by in road loss to Salt Lake

The moment where Reo-Coker realizes that a simple goal kick could possibly be fatal.

The moment where Reo-Coker realizes that a simple goal kick could possibly be fatal.

I was once told that in journalism, your chances of getting a big story were based not just on talent, but availability: your freedom to pick up a phone or run across town to do something now.

In sports, if you wait for something to happen to start moving, it will be finished before you arrive. Maybe you’re on the road or tired or tense, but you have to react and stay ahead of the game if you’re going to pull off anything impressive. I was working during the Vancouver Whitecaps’ 2-0 road loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday, but watching the highlights it was clear that both the offense and defense faced situations where starting late killed their chances of pulling off the big play.

Observe the first goal at 2:11 of this highlight package, after Nigel Reo-Coker’s free kick from distance sails over everyone’s heads into the stands. While the team exhales for a moment, frustrated after the chance went nowhere, exactly two Whitecaps start running. Look at the gif above to see the exact moment when Reo-Coker, already near the halfway line, realizes the danger that the Whitecaps face from Rimando’s free-kick and starts sprinting.

By the time Joao Plata takes possession just outside the box, four Whitecaps are marking three RSL attackers. Andy O’Brien lets his man, Luis Gil, go on as he watches to see where the ball goes. It goes to Luis Gil, now standing five feet behind him, who heads it home.

At 2:10, when Reo-Coker sends a speculative long ball to Corey Hertzog, the rest of the team is moving at about quarter speed. Watch Daigo Kobayashi. At 5:57, he is standing just over the penalty spot. As Kekuta Manneh crosses in on a volley, Kobayashi is straining away from it, towards the goal, and is pushed over by the defender. He rolls over backwards before standing up. Reo-Coker fights off two men to send in a second ball that just misses Corey Hertzog, who has run across the box but cannot make it to a ball which rolls to nowhere. Kobayashi has walked exactly two feet from where he stood up after rolling over.

The aftermath of the loss has been continued handwringing over why the team loses games on the road. The manager and Reo-Coker, the acting captain, have criticized the desire of the team. Reo-Coker said to the TEAM 1040 that the ‘Caps weren’t “being tough and hard to beat. Defending properly, running back, doubling back, helping your teammates and making unselfish runs.” Basically, if you work hard and you move fast, you have a chance to be a factor. If you don’t, you’re just watching the game go by.

Stats after the jump.

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Kids show their stuff as ‘Caps put away ten-men Edmonton, advance to Voyageurs Cup final

Though there were some patches in the stands (this was taken at kickoff) a respectable crowd of 14,000 showed up despite a Canucks playoff game across the street in Rogers Arena. Photo Andrew Bates/Little Rubber Pellets

Though there were some patches in the stands (this was taken at kickoff) a respectable crowd of 14,000 showed up despite a Canucks playoff game across the street in Rogers Arena. Photo Andrew Bates/Little Rubber Pellets

If it was a showcase, at least it was an entertaining one.

A red card helped give the Vancouver Whitecaps space to run to a 2-0 win over FC Edmonton on a brisk Wednesday night at B.C. Place. Because of manager Martin Rennie’s rotation strategy, you couldn’t call it a reserve team, as it was a side of players who are being surveyed for their usefulness in the harder days to come and veterans given a chance to answer for themselves. For this year’s talented crop of Whitecaps rookies, it was a great time. For Darren Mattocks, it was not.

Edmonton, who play in the second-division North American Soccer League, had given the ‘Caps trouble in the away leg of the home-at-home Voyageurs Cup semifinal. But though they tried (and largely, succeeded) to fill the space in the first half, they couldn’t get the ball up the pitch with any speed to try and counter attack.

By the second half, the opportunity was lost. Vancouver attacked with heavy pressure in the opening, and six minutes in Adrian Leroy clipped Corey Hertzog, the last man back. It wasn’t vicious, and it may not have been intentional, but there was contact and it was denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity. It had to be red. Edmonton’s wings were clipped, and the Whitecaps were free to romp.

Romp they did. A host of youngsters got their chance, and the offense in the second half felt like a fun place to be. Between Kekuta Manneh, Tommy Heinemann, Erik Hurtado and Corey Hertzog, players who have seemed to be easing into their roles got a chance to run rampant. Hertzog’s stunner was amazing, launching a cannon from forty yards that bounced past Edmonton’s Lance Parker. When Teibert’s ghostly corner got in, a gift from Edmonton that sealed the end of their night, he was mobbed on the sideline. Heinemann got a ovation on his exit, a sign of a crowd warming to his robust play after an uneven start to the season.

If the second half was a new-look 4-3-3, the first half was an old-school 4-4-2 diamond, with Jun Marques Davidson, who didn’t do much, in the pocket and Camilo, who was great, up top reminiscent of 2012. But there wasn’t as much of the air of mirth due to the continuing trials of Darren Mattocks.

Mattocks is snake-bit. He’s looked rough before, but this wasn’t rough; he was much better today at getting into position. But things just aren’t going his way. Opportunities burble over the line into goal kicks. His brightest moment, a great ball from Gershon Koffie, rocketed into the crossbar. Rennie made the call at the half-time whistle to give Mattocks a rest, which bore out in a win, ultimately. Mattocks can only solve this cold streak with a goal, but a night like tonight proves that people are ready to take him on.

The defensive side of the field was fine, and with a lack of pressure it’s hard to pass judgement or declare great performances. Brad Knighton, amid speculation that he could swing for Joe Cannon’s starter spot again, had neither an outstanding or a bad game, as befits a three-save clean sheet. Neither did Johnny Leveron, the Honduran centre-back easing his way to fitness after visa trouble.

Ultimately, after the red card, less and less was at stake. But after a couple of weeks of tough, dour fare, a respectable crowd of 14,000 was pleased with a win and a shot at Canadian championship gold. Montreal, fresh from an unbelievable 6-0 romp of TFC, await.

Stats after the jump.

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Whitecaps tactfully decided to delete tweets trolling Dallas fans over diving

"After gauging reaction from Dallas fans to these tweets during the match... we decided it was best to move in a different direction."

“After gauging reaction from Dallas fans to these tweets during the match… we decided it was best to move in a different direction.”

We know the people who run the front office are fans at heart as well, but the Whitecaps decided maybe they shouldn’t be yelling “How is your face, Ferreira?” from their main account.

Things are getting heated in the rivalry between FC Dallas and the Vancouver Whitecaps. Despite a playful back-and-forth between the teams’ social media accounts (Vancouvering!) before the game Saturday, it was during the first half where things really started to get a shade more uncouth than you might be used to seeing from official Twitter accounts. Here are some tweets from the @WhitecapsFC account:

  • @WhitecapsFC: How is your face Ferreira? #Vancouvering
  • @WhitecapsFC: Dear @FCDallas strength and conditioning coach, please work on improving your players’ leg strength. It’s like watching Bambi out there!
  • @WhitecapsFC: @spevin @DFElite You mean “on fire”…don’t worry we’ve been informed that Dallas fans are the most sensitive in the league …Our apologies
  • @WhitecapsFC: A second goal for #VWFC and we’re tied 2-2!!!!!!! We kindly ask that you not rub it in to Dallas fans though, they’re very sensitive

To be fair, it’s not without precedent: The Vancouver Canucks’ official livetweeting account is ran by a guy named Derek Jory who aims for playful, passionate tweets. But we think of main accounts as having a little more decorum, and those first two tweets vanished by the beginning of the second half. When I asked the Whitecaps, this is what they had to say:

Both ourselves and FC Dallas are keen on creating fun, engaging social media content to stimulate fan interest… However, after gauging reaction from Dallas fans to these tweets during the match, and in consultation with FC Dallas communications staff, we decided it was best to move in a different direction for the remainder of the match.

The Caps said they had been “all healthy discussions,” so perhaps the staffer wasn’t fired.

The real comedy in all of this is the giant elephant in the room. Same reason why the obvious response to the Vancouvering video, defining Dallasing as a verb meaning “to dive” came from blog Pucked in the Head and didn’t get coverage from the Caps’ official social media; same reason why Schellas Hyndman lost it on the Province’s Marc Weber on Saturday.

Despite the fact that everyone knows, make sure you never talk about Dallas and diving — at least not in front of them.

Sources: I got the full text of the first two from this message board post, though I’d MTed the Bambi tweet myself. Second two are still up.

Whitecaps comeback shows only place to get revenge is the back of the net

Much attention was pored on the antics of Dallas' David Ferreira. Photo Mafue/flickr

Much attention was pored on the antics of Dallas’ David Ferreira (centre). Photo Mafue/flickr

By the end of the first half, the air in BC Place was nasty with hate.

It wasn’t just anger or a regular expression of rivalry, it was a fermented mix of helplessness and outrage. The score was 1-0 to the visitors, Dallas were playing like sneering villains and Vancouver were playing awfully. Vancouver manager Martin Rennie argued that his players weren’t mad, but the rest of the stadium might have been.

You could feel it in the rueful head shakes of two ground staff waiting for the elevator at half-time. In the the social media staffer who accused Dallas of playing like Bambi from the Whitecaps main account while the match was in play. In the short, staccato four rounds of “FUCK YOU DALLAS” from the Southsiders late in the first, fully aware they weren’t supposed to sing it but too furious to stop.

It’s the sort of hate that isn’t productive, not in soccer. Joe Cannon looked up and waved frantically after the second goal went in on 47 minutes in disbelief. Even though there probably wasn’t contact, something had to be wrong with it. Could he have closed in any more without mashing his face into Matt Hedges’ boot? There had to be something wrong. I wanted there to be something wrong, because that would explain how Vancouver was down 2-0; how they had 57 per cent of possession but only two shots on target.

But that can poison you in soccer. Search for their foul or their dive and you never find the through ball that’s coming for you. No amount of roaring or taunting Dallas can change the fact that you’re down 2-0 in the second half.

And then the game turned. Passes started connecting. Jun Marques Davidson and Daigo Kobayashi, both having tough seasons, came out, replaced by youngsters Kekuta Manneh and Tommy Heinemann. Camilo, who had not taken a shot, lit up.

The first goal was a combination of those three forces. When Camilo’s shot riocheted off Raul Fernandez, Heinemann used a crazy diving header to try and keep the ball in play; it ended up being an assist when Kekuta Manneh, who had showed promise with no result, slid the ball inside the near post and brought the spark of life to the Whitecaps.

Three minutes later, it was Manneh again, sliding the ball through the box and finding Camilo, whose first touch slipped coolly into the goal. Just a week after a FC Dallas video mocked the Whitecaps for players lying on the ground, head in hands, in sorrow over missed chances or botched goals, three of their players collapsed in disbelief.

It was now Dallas who couldn’t believe how they found themselves level. Trying to shake off Alain Rochat, Brazilian midfielder Jackson whipped back and thwacked him in the previously-broken nose with a right hand. He saw red, and the Dallas attack slowed to a crawl. The goalie, Fernandez, got rattled. The crowd roared with excitement now, instead of rage.

Vancouver couldn’t, unfortunately, turn the comeback into a win. Even though they managed anger well, there’s still an element of fear that has persisted throughout the current streak of six games without an MLS win, especially the away loss last week to Dallas. You can see it nowhere stronger than than Darren Mattocks. Mattocks, who remains athletic and fast, had serious problems being in position for through balls in the first half. And while Joe Cannon saved the game in the 94th minute with a point-blank save, his decision-making is being questioned for his role in the two goals.

But on the night, the good guys won, because they started clicking and they paid attention to what mattered: their own play.

Dallas’ manager, Schellas Hyndman, for their part, was furious. He addressed the reporters like they were the team themselves, blamed the stadium for playing Dallas fouls on the screen and called a journalist embarassing for asking about diving. He hated that his team didn’t win.

But it didn’t win him the three points.

Stats and quotes after the jump.

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Bashful Whitecaps make it out of Edmonton with a Voyageurs Cup lead

The Vancouver Whitecaps beat FC Edmonton 3-2 last night in the first leg of their Voyageurs Cup semifinal. I missed the match, but it certainly proved why we play these things, as the Whitecaps reportedly looked poor and trailed the second-division Eddies for much of the night before that weird Camilo PK.

The call looked so sketchy that Edmonton manager Colin Miller got himself ejected for complaining about it. When it comes to the foul, I think there was contact but he certainly made a meal of it. He appeared to be savvy, snagging a lovely goal inside the first ten minutes. It’s easy to do that against an inexperienced defense, but it’s nice to see him get results. It’s also good that Tommy Heinemann got a goal; I haven’t really liked what I’ve seen of him ever since a brief moment of insanity that got him sent off against UBC, and perhaps this will pick up his spirits.

The Whitecaps have been criticized for their focus on this competition, the thinking being that it might distract from their league play. This result proves that you can’t sleepwalk through the Cup, but the ‘Caps suffered up until the 83rd minute. Oh well. At least it’s a road win.

Stats after the jump.

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All you need to know about the 2013 Amway Canadian Championship

The winner of the Canadian Championship is awarded the Voyageurs Cup. Photo courtesy Jason Gemnich/CSA

The winner of the Canadian Championship is awarded the Voyageurs Cup. Photo courtesy Jason Gemnich/CSA

It’s a special time for Vancouver Whitecaps fans: the Canadian Championship. Every year, it’s an opportunity to see old friends from the second division, dream of Central America and ugly cry after the final.

Vancouver will visit FC Edmonton tomorrow in the first leg of a two-match semifinal, with Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact in the other side of the bracket. The Championship, also known as the Voyageurs Cup, is how I got into following the Whitecaps, and it’s always been the source of some lovely memories. And some really, really awful memories.

What’s at stake?

The winners of the Canadian Championship are awarded the Voyageurs Cup, named for the national team supporter’s group that bought the trophy. They are also granted a spot in the CONCACAF Champion’s League, which is like the European version except with less money and more trips to crazy loud Mexican and Central American stadiums. (MLS teams usually compete for that through the league or the U.S. Open Cup, but we are special Canadian flowers and we get our own route. It works out.)

How did it start?

It started life in 2002 as the Voyageurs Cup, a trophy founded on donations by the national team supporter’s group and completely organized by the fans. At the time, all the Canadian professional teams played in the North American second division. From 2002 to 2007, it was awarded to the team with the best results in the regular season against the other Canadian teams in the league, which was invariably the Montreal Impact. Montreal competed yearly with the Whitecaps, TFC’s predecessors the Toronto Lynx, and, for a time, a Calgary team.

But things were changing rapidly by 2008. Toronto got an MLS expansion team and CONCACAF was rearranging its eight-team knockout cup into a 24-team format more like Europe, with group stages. Since American teams had always been awarded to the top two MLS teams, Canada needed to find a way to pick their own champion. Enter the Canadian Championship, a four-game round-robin between Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Eventually, Edmonton joined the second division, and in 2011 it changed to its current form, home-and-away semifinals followed by a two-legged final.

Has it been fun?

Oh yes. Back before Vancouver and Montreal got their MLS spots, it was a fun chance to take swipes at big-league Toronto. To those who had schlepped it in the second division for years, Toronto fans seemed like plastic jerks with no sense of history, who thought they were important just because they had games on TV. (Now, of course, we’re all that way.) A 1-0 win at BMO Field in 2008 was an underdog’s triumph, and though the ‘Caps lost, taking five points off Toronto kept them from seizing the first Cup of the new era.

Vancouver really wants to win one of these, largely because it keeps evading them. Last year’s 1-0 wet-fish loss against a TFC team that had been dire in almost every other match it played was brutal. In 2011, Vancouver were leading 1-0 in the 60th minute of the final’s second leg at BMO Field before rain and lightning caused the game to be called off. It was restarted a month later from 0-0, and TFC maddeningly won 2-1.

And then there’s 2009.

What happened in 2009?

Oh, 2009.

It was an exciting time! A young nerd from the B.C. Interior who’d been watching Tottenham since 2005, I started following the exploits of the second-division Vancouver team, who’d recently been awarded an MLS franchise for 2011. On a vacation to the Lower Mainland, I poked my head in the door for my first ever pro game live, a Voyageurs Cup game against Montreal. It was wonderful, although I missed Ethan Gage’s 60th-minute goal because I was making an emergency run to the portable washrooms behind the bleachers that held the Southsiders in Swangard Stadium.

I prolonged my vacation enough to make the next V-Cup game against Toronto, and it was delirious. With all the pressure — Toronto would win the Cup on our ground if they beat us — Ansu Toure scored twice, and Vancouver turned aside those big-league jerks. Not only that, but barring an inconceivable four goal win for TFC in their final game against Montreal, Vancouver were going to win the trophy themselves. We were dreaming of Costa Rica. There was a pitch invasion. It was like this:

Two weeks later, Toronto and Montreal lined up at Stade Saputo, with a crew of Whitecaps players watching from the stands. It couldn’t go wrong, right? Montreal wouldn’t ship five. They were too good for that. Even though they’d fielded what looked like a weak side, when they scored the first goal on a penalty, that looked like it was done and dusted.

And then Dwayne DeRosario, that asshole, scored twice before halftime. Then again for a hat trick. Then Amado Guevara scored. And then Chad Barret scored. Guevara’s 90th-minute goal sealed it. Toronto had won 6-1. Each goal was like a punch to the stomach.

Writing for the 24th Minute at the time, I had absolute sorrow. From Whitecaps president Bobby Lenarduzzi down, everyone was furious at Montreal for rolling over. They maintained they were saving their energy for the league game against Vancouver on the weekend, when, to add insult to injury they trounced the Whitecaps on national TV. The Montreal supporters’ group boycotted the first half in protest. There would be no Costa Rica. Toronto lost in the first round of the Champions League.

It was sporting hurt. Vancouver fans fly banners that read Je me souviens to remember it. One of these days, we’re going to win this damn thing. Maybe this is the year.