I didn't like that game, but I also don't know how to react to it.
It's stupid to be negative. The Vancouver Whitecaps starters had an advantage over Manchester City half-strength eleven. Unusually for Vancouver of late, they spotted the flaws in how City was playing and took advantage: they moved the ball well through the middle where City's players were all but inert and, on defense, they closed down the ball-carriers knowing that they were extremely reluctant to pass. The result was an effective half, a lovely Camilo Sanvezzo goal on an even lovelier Shea Salinas pass, and a 1-0 Whitecaps lead.
In the second half the Whitecaps conceded twice and wound up losing 2-1, which doesn't sound good. Then again, the Vancouver lineup to close out the game wouldn't add up to the talent in Mario Balotelli's right foot. Three of the players Vancouver finished the game with have seen regular time with the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency team this year: Alexandre Morfaw, Philippe Davies, and Long Tan. That was the first time Davies has kicked a ball for the senior Whitecaps since the pre-season. In spite of running out a hilariously understrength lineup the Whitecaps still played City very evenly and, in my books, earned a draw against one of the five best teams in the Premier League. It was all very well-done.
Manchester City was not playing at a fraction of their full powers. They seemed to be deliberately acting as individuals, not as a team. Their best players seldom exceeded a jog. Yaya Toure, before he came down hard and injured his knee, looked like he weighed as much as a small pickup truck but was much slower. Edin Dzeko had a nasty case of the shanks. The City players were reluctant to turn up the gas, to attempt killer balls, to make saving tackles, to do much of anything that we know they can do. Their effort didn't earn a damned cent of their million dollar appearance fee.
Again, I'm pleased with Vancouver's play. You can't ask a team to do more than play their best against whatever calibre of opposition they face and that's precisely what they did. At least on television, though, the game wasn't entertaining. It certainly wasn't insightful. We didn't even get the satisfaction of an upset. My team played its first Major International Mid-Season Friendly and I still don't like them.
The first half showed the Whitecaps quality. I mean that non-ironically. Mustapha Jarju is quicker than I expected but his ball skills are everything that was advertised. I'm not going to pretend he was a game-changer: the chemistry isn't there yet and in just forty-five minutes you could see his fitness letting him down. Jarju and Eric Hassli tried to work off each other but they don't gel well enough to get through the City defenders quite yet. Still, as an individual Jarju looked like somebody who might be worth his designated player money: he certainly looked dangerous and acquitted himself better against City's almost-first-team defense better than Hassli did.
The Vancouver defense held up its end despite having some weak spots. The central combination of Michael Boxall and Alain Rochat still has some work to do, Jonathan Leathers was playing out of position on the left-hand side, and hmm, let me remember, oh yeah, Jeb Brovsky was starting at right back!!! The fact that we got away with this should tell you how little effort Manchester City put into breaking us down. They'd lope into our third. The attacker would start trying to beat every single Whitecap on the ball. Usually he'd manage to get by the first defender but he very, very seldom beat the second and the Whitecaps would throw it down the pitch.
Manchester City's reluctance couldn't have been because of the swampy surface. They were trying tricks on the ground to evade defenders, they were getting into physical range and making quick changes of direction. They were doing all the things that horrible temporary grass makes worse. I'd hope that City has learned their lesson about demanding temporary grass fields for these games but I'd bet a million dollars they haven't.
Manchester City looked like they were under instructions to beat as many players as possible like a well-coached youth team. Possibly their attackers had too much ball-hog in them and not enough chemistry. Either way, the only real chance for City the whole first half was when Vladimir Weiss caught Edin Dzeko with a first-rate cross near the penalty spot. Rochat had been pulled way off Dzeko who had all the time in the world. Dzeko, one of the world's better young strikers, scorer of seventeen goals for his country, half-assed a shot about three feet wide like a Brazilian in the Copa America.
Camilo did more than that by himself. He hammered two free kicks, one of which barely went wide and another would have beaten 99.9% of the goalkeepers in the world (but not Joe Hart, one of the few City starters feeling his oats last night). He had another good shot stopped by Hart. It's funny that Camilo's worst shot got him on the scoreboard: a hard-hit ball that was going right into Hart's breadbasket until it deflected off a defender and bounced into the lower corner. It was made by a great Shea Salinas pass and Salinas was another offensive standout against a defense reluctant to engage him with the physicality required.
The second half was worse. Soehn didn't play an entirely sub-par lineup for the last 45: Jordan Harvey, Michael Nanchoff, and Nizar Khalfan have all started recently and Harvey would slot into our current best eleven. There was still a lot of USL PDL content on that field, a lot of Bilal Duckett, a lot of Long Tan and Omar Salgado. None of those depth players embarrassed themselves in the least: they did a pretty good job holding off attacks and got some pretty good chances themselves (mostly courtesy Tan; a massive ball hog but an effective one).
Big Swedish striker John Guidetti scored a goal with his head because his main marker was Philippe Davies: you probably shouldn't have aerially mediocre central midfielders guarding big men on corner kicks. Greg Janicki should have got over there if it meant picking Davies up and throwing him away. Shaun Wright-Phillips's goal, of course, is the sort of highlight-reel strike nobody's going to stop, but I wish Duckett had closed down Guidetti a little more effective on the pass leading up to the shot. That's it. Two little things by players who don't get a lot of time in this lineup, and that's your loss.
To Manchester City. I'd be a lot more pleased if the Englishmen had given even a tenth of a crap.
Man of the Match: Camilo. Done. Please drive through. (Although Jay Nolly, his never-ending struggles to distribute the ball aside, was also excellent. From a personal perspective, I was also glad to see Nolly start this game: Cannon clearly didn't give a toss about the friendly and it was a nice night out for Jay in front of the fans who still consider him a favourite.)
Most Disappointing: You know, you expect Yaya Toure to tear Vancouver apart and then he shows up looking like he ate a sofa. I remain convinced his injury wasn't because of the grass: my feed was low-quality but it sure didn't look like the field gave out under him. He just looked completely out of shape. The injury report for City should read DOUBTFUL: MF YAYA TOURE (fat).
This spot traditionally goes to a Whitecap, of course, so we must exclude Chubbs McKenzie up there. The trouble is that I can't think of any Whitecap who was really disappointing. This award is a bit unfair: nobody embarrassed themselves against an team good enough to qualify for the Champions League and therefore they weren't disappointing. I'll cringe and award this to Alexandre Morfaw. I like Morfaw but, against a second-rate City central midfield, he should have been able to make progress and he didn't. Maybe he was in a bit over his head: he's been audibly agitating in recent weeks for a chance with the first team and he seemed like he was trying a bit too hard. Loads of hustle but not enough simplicity and it cost him a few turnovers as well as some poor positioning. He was not, however, actually bad.