Eight Thoughts on the Vancouver - Houston Game

RARE PHOTO: a Houston Dynamo defender manages to stop Long Tan.

So I have a ten-day post-less streak to break here. Jesus that's a long time. Sure, I already wrote my post-game for the Vancouver Whitecaps - Houston Dynamo match on the Score's Footy Blog, but that doesn't mean I don't have a few thoughts on the game that are either too indistinct or too swear-y to make it on there.

I should probably put something up, shouldn't I? So here they are.

  • How lucky are we that John Thorrington got hurt? I don't like his contract but I like John Thorrington: if he wanted to come back next year for $60,000 I'd take him in ten seconds. That said, Tom Soehn obviously has no idea how to use the guy. Thorrington's a decent player when healthy and so Soehn feels he has to put Thorrington on the field. Thorrington's not as good as Gershon Koffie and Peter Vagenas has dirty pictures of Soehn fiddling with a goat or something, so they can't come off. That means Soehn puts Thorrington on the right flank (I'm reluctant to say he's on the wing since he can't play the position to save his tits).

    Vagenas, Koffie, and Thorrington. Three guys who I'd characterize as holding midfielders. Vagenas has minimal offensive ability, Thorrington has very little, and Koffie has some. When the Whitecaps are playing against a team which gives them too much space this sort of works: the three of them can dick around with the ball risk-free and eventually advance it up the field simply because they have nothing better to do. When a team puts pressure on the Whitecaps, as the Dynamo do, it doesn't work because they're not quick enough to move the ball. Thorrington was getting destroyed for thirty-three minutes: he was way out of his most comfortable position, he was trying to cover for the always-nomadic Jonathan Leathers, I'm not convinced he was 100% fit... it was spectacular.

  • Then Thorrington got hurt and Shea Salinas came in. I'm not a big Shea Salinas fan but midfielders attack him at their peril. He's as good at dribbling through challengers as any Whitecap. He spreads the field, he gives Vancouver counter-attacking opportunities. I'd rather have John Thorrington on my team than Shea Salinas, but I'd rather have Salinas in that lineup. Houston still bossed Vancouver around in midfield (was Vagenas actually high on needle drugs while he was playing that game?) but between Salinas, Davide Chiumiento, and a good performance from the central defenders they couldn't work the ball in for too many five-bell scoring chances. In short, Shea Salinas is a worse defender than John Thorrington but thanks to Vancouver's lopsided initial formation, bringing Salinas in helped the Whitecaps defensively. I'm convinced of this to the core.

  • Jeb Brovsky played midfield. Jeb Brovsky played midfield! I know he's played like garbage a lot but I still think Brovsky has something as a central midfielder. He works hard, he's reasonably athletic, and he has a great eye for passing. Unfortunately he tackles like a kamikaze and his positioning is awful, which is part of the reason he's gotten killed as a right back. Put him in his native position and his skill moving the ball stands out just often enough that I'd like to see him come off the bench as a full-time central midfielder for 2012.

  • Long Tan played for about fifteen minutes and got a lovely assist, which is causing people to agitate for him to get more playing time.

    What struck me about Tan's great set-up of Salinas's goal wasn't his turn around poor Hunter Freeman. Freeman was caught flat-footed and clearly didn't expect Tan to do a damned thing; watch him try to hustle back to get Salinas and only manage to keep on Shea's shadow without affecting anything at all. It was that, after turning, Tan managed to hit Salinas perfectly in-stride. Oh my god have we ever been missing that this season. Even our better set-up men, like Davide Chiumiento and Alain Rochat, have been absolute masters of hitting guys just a half-stride too far back or too far in front. Obviously there's a lot of luck in that and nobody completes a perfect pass every time, but Chiumiento seems to believe that every Whitecap is about 10% slower than he actually is.

    Tan's been an outstanding player for the Whitecaps Residency this season; he bloody well should be, as he and Alexandre Morfaw are the elder statesmen on a team full of teenagers. He's also gotten some results against half-motivated men with the Whitecaps Reserves. That was the first moment where Tan really looked like he belonged in MLS. It's arguably more moment than Omar Salgado's had, of course. Tan isn't the quickest guy and he has struggled constantly with his timing: he panics and dumps the ball too early, or tries to do too much and gets his ass beat, and he's never in the right place at the right time. That can come with practice, though, and he's been consistently improving. It remains to be seen if he can keep it up, but I'd rather have Tan available as an impact substitute than Salgado. I'm not sure he's yet put Nizar Khalfan out of a job, though.

  • This really deserves a full post but I haven't lost faith in Mustapha Jarju. When he's on the field you can see his brain working. He's always moving off the ball, looking to get into the best possible position. He's not a pure striker although he can score plenty of goals. Jarju's lacked fitness and precision: both what you'd expect from a non-superstar talent who's trying to play his way into shape while the rest of the league is fully fit. I really believe that, while he's not Eric Hassli, next season Jarju will cover the bet as a designated player.

  • Alain Rochat is comfortable playing the ball, he's quick, he can get up field without compromising himself defensively, and his tackles are far better-than-average. His positioning suffers a bit from time to time but when Carlo Costly looks less motivated than Ali Gerba after all-you-can-eat ribs night he's more than capable of mopping up a very skilled striker. Jay DeMerit's improving fitness was obviously a big factor in the team's good performance in central defense, but much more helpful was just having Rochat around. He is, in my opinion, even more irreplaceable than Eric Hassli.

    Which is why Mouloud Akloul being released still bugs me so much. Akloul was doing reasonably well in central defense simply because he was a poor man's Rochat: not as quick or as skilled, a touch erratic, but agile and a natural ball-handler as opposed to DeMerit and Boxall's more limited abilities. Akloul wasn't the greatest defender in MLS but he meshed perfectly with the players we had available. Rochat plays that role very well but he's better at left back (how is it that Jordan Harvey was brilliant with the Philadelphia Union and looks like a slow child being fed sleeping pills with the Vancouver Whitecaps?). We released Akloul after the semi-guaranteed contract deadline so we got no contract relief: just a roster slot we haven't used. Unless Mouloud was walking around the dressing room punching Whitecaps in the face releasing Akloul was the stupidest moment of what's been a very stupid season.

  • Man of the match: Rochat. Brilliant. Joe Cannon also got strong consideration, and if Eric Hassli had trundled one of those balls into the goal he'd probably be the man.

  • Most disappointing? Carlo "I'm getting paid for this in bacon, right?" Costly. He was so invisible I thought he was playing in camouflage. Oh, right, I have to pick a Whitecap. Well, then Peter Vagenas. Jordan Harvey another good nominee.

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