Vancouver - Dallas Post-Game: No Excuses

NOT A FOUL.

That's a bloody frustrating way to lose.

The refereeing was repugnant. Eric Hassli has apparently earned a reputation, which means that referees will call insane things against him. He had a foul whistled against him because Ugo Ihemelu had him in a headlock; should have been a penalty in any fair referee's book but instead the ball went the other way. He had a foul called against him because an FC Dallas defender, some eight feet away, tripped over the carpet. Doesn't matter; obviously big Hassli fouled him with his gravitational pull. Hassli's eventual yellow card, ensuring his suspension for the Columbus Crew game on Saturday, was for having his jersey pulled. He wasn't even vaguely the aggressor and yet "oh, that big stupid forward, I'm sure he's doing something." And you know that these crappy half-assed referees with their USSF jobs-for-life will point to that yellow card next week and say "see, Hassli really is a dirty player" because referees are like that.

And the FC Dallas players are the low-down, dirtiest, most utterly unsportsmanlike scumbags this side of the Puerto Rico Islanders. Flopping mercilessly, rolling around for minutes, calling the stretcher out because a ball lightly glanced off their faces. To say nothing of the grabbing, the low tackles, the obvious fouls (or, at least, obvious to anybody but this referee). It was pathetic. I said before the game that I couldn't think of a reason to hate FC Dallas; now I think we should decimate the population of the entire city just to teach the toilet-dwelling parasites that they call "soccer player" a lesson. What a bunch of flopping, dirty, foul-happy pieces of offal. It was so ugly I thought at times I was watching the Serie A.

And the most frustrating part is that we can't really use all that as an excuse. Sure, FC Dallas was given every advantage in the world and they played like the worst stereotypes of the hot-butter-soft, cheating footballer. But the Whitecaps sure didn't make it hard for them. We took our lead and then that was that, have a nice trip Mr. FC Dallas sir, please, may we open up our goal for you? It was, on balance, a fairly even game, but it's not one I can say we deserved to win. Perhaps not one we even deserved to draw. No matter how bad the refereeing was, the team was worse.

It's been said by all and sundry that, in the second half, the Whitecaps got far too direct. They tried to hoof the ball up the field and cross their fingers and on a night where one of your forwards is 5'7" and the other one is being whistled for running too near opposing players that ain't a good thing.

The usual reason a team falls into bad habits like that is the midfield. And some of the midfielders weren't great. Nizar Khalfan was in full-blown Bad Khalfan Mode from the moment he came onto the pitch, and in truth it must be said Wes Knight wasn't much better. Davide Chiumiento was too mercurial, too conservative, a bit too willing to lay the ball off rather than charge forward and go for gusto. Jeb Brovsky was typical Jeb Brovsky until his injury: a few nice touches, a few absolutely homicidal tackles that made even me think about a red card, and most of the game spent so far out of position I think I saw him in the north stands at one point. Only Terry Dunfield particularly impressed. He played a quintessential Dunfield game: good in defense, neat in possession, and absolutely determined not to come off the field no matter how badly his nose was leaking. When the game kicked off I was terrified about his groin injury, and when the game ended I had almost forgotten about it.

But the problem was the back four. FC Dallas worked over Blake Wagner like a rented mule for ninety minutes; by the final whistle he must have had vertigo from being turned so often. Michael Boxall did his best but was an utter liability on the ball. Jonathan Leathers had perhaps the worst all-round game I've seen him play as a Whitecap. And Alain Rochat...

I will be quarreling with a local hero now. Rochat scored the Whitecaps' goal, after all (and a lovely header it was). He was energetic as ever in the back, the leader of the team's defense. He went hurdling in with precise tackles that never risked being a foul. He did his usual yeoman's work cutting out passes. But he also gave away a penalty; a bit unlucky, perhaps, but a clear hand ball. He was directly culpable on FC Dallas's goal as he left his man, George John, far too open as he stood behind John and completely out of the play. Dunfield, tracking back, actually tried to tackle John to the ground, such was his desperation to cover Rochat's lapse. And, on Eric Avila's late goal, who was it who failed to cut out the pass that led to woe and heartbreak?

Now, I know that Rochat had some great moments in that game. I also know that he might have been Vancouver's best player so far this season. But that was not a good night at the office. When you score a goal as a fullback, that's a lovely bonus and quite rightly gets you some plaudits. But you can't make up for that by committing errors leading to two goals against. That adds up to a lousy soccer game, I'm sorry to say.

Rochat was just as culpable as the rest of the defense in the failure to use the field properly. I don't know whether it was panic from the defenders or deliberate strategy, but, particularly in the second half, when the defense had the ball they simply tried to hoof it up field, very direct, usually looking to Camilo Sanvezzo. Camilo's pretty good at holding the ball up for a 5'7" MLS rookie but he's still a 5'7" MLS rookie and when he's in that role it shows. He shouldn't be asked to do that. Were they hesitant to go to Eric Hassli because he gets called for a foul while walking out of the tunnel? I don't know. But it didn't work.

Late in the game, after going down 2-1, the Whitecaps actually tried to play sensibly, building through the midfield. Too little, too late. Nizar Khalfan was Bad, Davide Chiumiento was tired, Jeb Brovsky was out with a sprained ankle and had been replaced by Kevin Harmse, and Terry Dunfield was just one man (and a little bagged himself). There wasn't much ball movement in that midfield. Ultimately it mostly fell to Khalfan to knock passes too far for anybody to reach and play the ball into touch without any justification, because he had the most energy left. The team knew how to play sensibly; they just didn't do it until they no longer had the horses.

Yes, the game was refereed appallingly. But the Whitecaps didn't lose because of that. It hurt, but that's all. Responsibility has to fall on the players.

Game Ball: given, more-or-less by default, to Terry Dunfield. He didn't make any egregious mistakes, he had a couple decent moments. I'm not going to pretend he had a great game, but he had a pretty good one and I'm not sure any other Whitecaps can claim the same.

Most Disappointing: tempted to give it to Alain Rochat for all the reasons I expounded above. But, really, I have to give the nod to Blake Wagner. Rochat at least had moments. Wagner did not. Playing against his old team, trying to win a long-term place in the starting eleven, with the best opportunity any soccer player can have to show his stuff, Wagner blew his brains out. I'm less and less of a fan of Blake Wagner: he's decent with the ball but he seems to have neither the intelligence nor the athleticism to play at this level.

Next Up: a short turn-around for the Whitecaps as they fly to Quebec to take on the winless cheese-eating surrender monkeys that are the Montreal Impact. Kickoff is Wednesday at 5 PM PDT, broadcast live on Sportsnet Pacific and Sportsnet East.

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