I hope nobody experienced the University of Victoria Vikes - Vancouver Whitecaps match on Sunday as their first ever soccer game. Holy crap was that a dog; 90 minutes of pure boredom (or 89 minutes of pure boredom if you trust the scoreboard).
The Whitecaps started a second-rate eleven: trialists Greg Klazura and Nuru Sulley both started on the back end. First overall picks Omar Salgado and Darren Mattocks went up front, which looks bloody impressive on paper, and old Railhawks like Brad Knighton, Matt Watson, and Jun Marques Davidson got their chance. The lineup was rounded out by left back Jordan Harvey, centre back Carlyle Mitchell, midfielder/captain Davide Chiumiento, and midfielder Gershon Koffie. It was decidedly a second eleven but not exactly weak, not even compared to the defending CIS champions.
Vancouver held possession, never looked like losing, and got far more chances than they gave up. The lack of chemistry between some of the players was obvious and Victoria's gritty defending and superior team effort meant they gave the Whitecaps a competitive game, but I think everyone agreed who the superior side was.
However, the Whitecaps lacked an attacking mentality and were let down by their forwards. Chiumiento was the only guy determined to go on the attack and even he got bored half an hour in. Klazura, of all people, was the next-most audacious player and did a lovely job setting up Watson's eventual winning goal. Beyond that, the team spent most of its time holding possession but wasting it and getting involved in a chippy tick-tack tackle-fest with the Vikes on the abysmal grass of Centennial Stadium.
Mattocks was full of energy but seemed to underrate CIS defending: he thought he could stroll through the Vikes back line and was incredibly wrong. Salgado was typical Salgado: jogging, overconfident, poor at using his teammates, and ineffective. Given how remarkable he looked when he arrived in Vancouver, I wonder if all the coaching changes here have hurt young Omar's development since he looks worse to my eye than he did this time last year. The team seriously improved when Long Tan and Caleb Clarke came on as forwards late in the match.
Apart from the forwards, most of the regulars looked good. Koffie was quietly effective; the Vikes were unable to beat him through the centre of midfield so got most of their chances off turnovers or down the wing. Knighton wasn't called upon to make any tough saves but had to be active coming off his line to deal with corners and crosses; he was almost unerring. Watson, obviously, scored and looked good in general. Mitchell and Harvey were both very good, with Mitchell in particular making a number of fine challenges to redeem mistakes made by his partner Sulley. Chiumiento fought boredom but was full of tricks: he eschewed his usual playmaking in favour of just beating guys but at least he made it work and could have had a hat trick on a luckier day.
Of the trialists, I was reasonably pleased with Klazura (good assist, loads of energy, somewhat mistake-prone and beaten a few times by the Victoria attackers) and disappointed with Sulley (good head on his shoulders, decent positioning, fought hard for every ball, and handles it like his feet are made of cement; responsible for a few good Victoria chances). I wouldn't sign either one of them based on what I've seen but Klazura made me think about it.
Many of the most interesting players came off the bench. Caleb Clarke had just played 90 minutes in a Residency game in Surrey on Saturday but still looked dangerous in his cameo Sunday. Russell Teibert also put in a substitute appearance and, far from playing left back, had a roving commission as an attacking midfielder. I realize that my Teibert zealotry makes me look biased, but I will say that, while Teibert didn't have a perfect game (missed his crosses, wasted some shots) he was by far Vancouver's most dangerous attacker when he was on the field. His runs and accurate passing forced the Vikes defense to spread out; previously they had been happily and successfully concentrating on whichever Vancouver defender had the ball. Teibert kept them honest and as a result the game ended with the Whitecaps looking like a good attacking team.
(While warming up at half, Teibert also wore a comically huge jacket and humped a tennis ball. Let nobody say I'm not impartial.)
As a Michael Boxall fan, I'm concerned he was one of only two players (with Residency goalkeeper Callum Irving) who didn't get into the match. Mitchell played very well and Sulley needed to get a look: I can imagine good reasons for Boxall not to get in without his being in trouble with Martin Rennie. However, I think it's most likely that Boxall just hasn't got Rennie's confidence and, as an international player at a position packed with internationals, he may have to watch his back.
I realize my impressions are of individuals rather than the team, but then again this was an individual game. There was little real cohesion or strategy among the Whitecaps. Under the circumstances this made sense. These were bubble players trying to prove they belonged, not a preview of our starting eleven trying to find each others' tendencies. But players like Chiumiento and Salgado, who are dead certain to start the year on the roster, were among the most individualistic of all.
This made for a boring game to watch. As a UVic alumnus I spent only ten bucks for a ticket and still felt ripped off. But as a preview of some fringe players against a determined opponent in tricky conditions, it at least had some value.