I'm not calling for Tom Soehn's head today, anyway.
The big man (and, as a sidenote, the guy has definitely dropped twenty pounds since the beginning of the season) more-or-lessdid his job against the Columbus Crew in an impossible position. He brought in Nizar Khalfan, which surprised me, and put Omar Salgado as the main target main, which scared the pants off of me. Well, they were terrific; absolutely first-class. Peter Vagenas was problematic but better than usual and Soehn at least tried to do something about that, bringing on Terry Dunfield. (Dunfield taking the penalty was not a coach's decision; Terry D pretty much just grabbed the ball and took over.) I really wish he hadn't released Mouloud Akloul and kept our back line a bit less ramshackle but that's long done. On the day, there's very little I would have done differently. I'd have started Russell Teibert, but Khalfan played so well that I probably would have been wrong. I would probably bring Philippe Davies back since this midfield is down on its knees screaming for a central defender who's adept at moving the ball, but I can see why Soehn wouldn't.
Tom Soehn did fine today. The last-minute goal by Jeff Cunningham was just life: an improvised defense giving too much room to the man who is now Major League Soccer's joint top all-time leading scorer. It may have been offside, too, although the only screenshot is hardly decisive. Maybe Greg Janicki, who's good in the air and keeps position well, would have marked Cunningham a little more closely. Maybe he wouldn't have.
Since I'm railing against Soehn constantly in this space, I must give credit where it's due. He did his job today, as best as it could have been done. He wouldn't be the first coach in the world who can't handle strategy but improvises tactics well; this was the weakest lineup the Whitecaps have started at home all season and the best game I've seen them play under Soehn.
What a pity it didn't work. What a pity that 17-year-old Omar Salgado, for all his immense athleticism and enthusiasm, hasn't yet got the poise or the confidence to start scoring goals from anywhere. Or that Shea Salinas's long-awaited desire to shoot resulted in only a post rather than a goal. Or that fucking penalty.
I don't like Soehn but he did the job. He grabbed a team that was slumping after those losses to Toronto and got a far better game out of them against a much superior opponent. That's a coach's job: to give his team the best possible chance, and that's what happened. The players rewarded with a terrific effort and only the slightest let-up that showed the difference between veteran strikers and rookies.
Maybe I should thank the Whitecaps. The team hasn't got much to play for but they played their guts out and gave us what was mostly an evening of great entertainment and endless hope. Keep that up and they'll go far. (Then again, that's another one of a coach's big jobs: to ensure they can keep that up, to make sure they have great form on the road as well as at home. So far, Soehn is failing badly on that count.)
With the playoffs all but lost there was nothing to play for. The most important thing for the Whitecaps to play their hearts out, thrill the home crowd, prove their mettle, and hopefully sell some tickets in 2012. They did all those things, and no number of Jeff Cunningham headers can change that.
Look at me, trying to be an optimist. I feel ill.