The Seattle Sounders took their chances and the Vancouver Whitecaps didn't. That sounds like an explanation for last night's 3-1 loss; then again, it's also a fairly good definition for the difference between a good team and a bad team.
Fredy Montero launched what Sounders ballot-stuffers will ensure is Goal of the Week. It'll probably deserve it. A beautiful shot; not much Joe Cannon could do about that. But Montero never would have gotten into that position had Jay DeMerit not been so careless with the ball and if Gershon Koffie had been in position to snuff out Seattle's initial run. Moreover, maybe the Whitecaps would have had a golazo of their own if Eric Hassli and Shea Salinas hadn't been so determined to run the ball into the net, or if Camilo Sanvezzo had been in the middle of the mark for most of the game rather than out wide, or if the central midfielders had some offensive pep.
The Sounders got a penalty off a DeMerit hand ball: tough for DeMerit but the right call. "How unlucky is that?" we bemoan. But the Sounders spent a lot of time with possession in the Vancouver box and, much more importantly, were moving the ball effectively while they were there. The Whitecaps only had a couple decent forays into Seattle's area, scored on one of them, and never strung together more than one threatening pass at a time. You're a lot more likely to earn a penalty if you're making the opposing defenders move and work.
The Whitecaps weren't decrepit. Their goal was a thing of beauty, they pressured Seattle repeatedly, and they were a threat to win the game. If this were a game in the first week of the season against Real Salt Lake, I'd probably have been reasonably pleased. "A moral victory!" I'd have shouted, as I did so many times earlier this season. Instead it's a disappointment, a mere confirmation of our mediocrity against a major rival, and we got to watch Portland fans hand a trophy to a Seattle Sounder as we closed down our stadium.
It's strange, the way the Whitecaps manage to be both individualistic and not greedy enough. Our goal was a lovely piece of teamwork, as Davide Chiumiento hauled ass down the right wing, slung a cross into a streaking Camilo Sanvezzo, and that was that. Yet the team seldom found that balance between "use your teammates" and "shoot you bastard".
Take Eric Hassli. When you're a 6'4" striker and your team's leading scorer, sometimes you need to grab the match by the scruff of the neck and try to assert yourself. Unfortunately, experience with MLS refereeing seems to have taken some of the kamikaze out of Hassli's game. If ever there was a time for Hassli to engage the bull-in-a-china-shop mode which got him so many red cards earlier in the year, this was it: risking a suspension would have been worthwhile if he put the fear of God into the Sounders back line, bought some room both for himself and his teammates, and fought through tight, grabby marking to get a goal.
Instead, Hassli deferred. He held the ball up, he tried to work with his teammates, but he misplayed a number of passes when he should have just got his elbows up, rampaged through, and let a shot go. He wasn't entirely ineffective but he wasn't what the Whitecaps needed.
Hassli wasn't selfish (but, as his passing was so erratic and he didn't provide what the team needed, he wasn't being a great teammate either). Another usually-positive contributor, Gershon Koffie, was a trifle too greedy. What happened to Gersh? He was being outplayed by Peter Vagenas in the second half and that's hard to do. I have to assume his being named Whitecaps man of the match was meant to be ironic: he turned over an entire bag of balls, then tried to rampage through the centre of the park on long runs which didn't improve the team's position one iota. Normally, Koffie is arguably Vancouver's best player, but last night he was in the running for the worst.
Shea Salinas had only a cameo appearance but he was the same old Salinas: exceptional ball-handling skills, constantly seeming like a threat to score, except since he neither passes nor shoots he isn't. I had a lovely view of Salinas loping down the right wing, managing to avoid all challenges, working into the box, still running, still running, a clear look at goal from a decent angle but noooope, he turns the ball over. Ben Fisk would have had time to score a goal, make tea, then score another goal in the space Salinas wasted. Salinas's career highlight video will be named "Nice Run by Salinas!" and have a picture of him all alone in front of goal, running. He'd try to dribble on a penalty.
And on the subject of missed chances, Mustapha Jarju. Poor Moose. If he just completely failed to get into position and jogged around lazily while occasionally passing a ball to a winger (an Omar Salgado Special, we call it) he wouldn't catch nearly as much flak. Instead he gets into space, makes a play to create a scoring chance, and misses. On his best chance, Jarju was shoulder-checked just as he released the shot by Leonardo González: it ought to have been a penalty but instead the shot went wide (as it inevitably would) and the fans howled for Jarju's blood rather than Gonzalez's. Jarju unleashed a hell of a shot in the first half which Kasey Keller deflected wide magnificently and Jair Marrufo mistakenly called a goal kick: damn you, Jarju! How dare you take near-perfect shots which are unluckily saved?!
Jarju has scored 57 league goals in Belgium at 25 years old playing mostly as an attacking midfielder. His ability to finish cannot be doubted, and his ability to get into fine shooting positions at the MLS level is evidenced by the fact that he keeps doing it. I have very little doubt that Jarju will become a quality MLS player; in fact, I'd suggest he might be one already unless you consider "good luck" a player's most important skill.
Of course, on the Whitecaps that might actually be true. We could use a little good luck... but a lot of what appears to be bad fortune is just bad play.