Reading Too Much Into Vancouver - Houston

Tyler Deric (180)
Warren Creavalle (0) - Nathan Sturgis (5387) - Andre Hainault (6818) - Oscar Recio (0)
Emerson Sato (0) - Josue Soto (0) - Colin Rolfe (0) - Macoumba Kandji (3274)
Cam Weaver (3190) - Eder Arreola (0)

Honestly, when your opponent has a combined 18,669 minutes of Major League Soccer experience in its starting eleven, that 1-0 friendly win isn't too meaningful. The Whitecaps had a pretty young lineup but still accounted for 22,043 minutes, plus Watson and Nguyen with superior professional experience at other levels. This was probably not even second-best-on-second-best.

Yes, depth is important. Lack of it was one of Vancouver's 2011 problems. And as they socked the Houston Dynamo for sixty of ninety minutes, pinning a pretty good team's second eleven back in their own half and coming close to scoring three goals in the first half, the Whitecaps' depth socked it to the Dynamo. Questionable players at iffy positions like Greg Klazura, Matt Watson, and Carlyle Mitchell looked excellent, even when Houston loaded up in the second half to go for an equalizer. It was heartening.

But when do MLS teams play second-XI-on-second-XI? This time last year, Teitur Thordarson and the Whitecaps were in Seattle kicking holy hell out of the Portland Timbers second eleven under similar circumstances. Omar Salgado was strolling by defenders like they were two-dimensional. It was fantastic and ultimately completely non-indicative of the course of the season.

Vancouver's well-earned 1-0 victory guarantees the Whitecaps a spot in the final of the Disney Tournament Thing Nobody Cares About in advance of Wednesday's match against Sporting Kansas City. So we're in the driver's seat to win a literal Mickey Mouse trophy. Hooray. Lest I spent all morning pissing on a good win, I should also point out that I'm actually quite pleased.

The Whitecaps played a very good team game and seemed to have a constant sense of strategy. To simplify, the first half was about attack and the second was about defense. For the first forty-five minutes both Sebastien Le Toux and Long Tan were extremely active up front, while on the wings Lee Nguyen and (particularly) the excellent Michael Nanchoff were hard on the attack. Klazura and Jordan Harvey both got forward for aggressive crosses. In the middle, Matt Watson and Gershon Koffie did less but (one ghastly Koffie tackle and one sublime attempted Koffie lob aside) kept up solid two-way presence.

Vancouver got their goal a familiar way: Long Tan was clipped lightly from behind by rookie Dynamo defender Warren Creavalle, and by "clipped from behind" I mean "fell over like a graduate of the Camilo Sanvezzo School of Fine Acting". Then Le Toux stepped up (this time without argument), then he buried the goal, and I was like "hooray! May this partnership of Tan falling over and Le Toux scoring the penalty continue forever!" Then Long drew another one, hacked down by Houston's extremely sketchy goalkeeper Deric, and, well, if you draw three penalties in three days you're probably entitled to kick one of them.

Long Tan, having fought Le Toux to take the penalty he earned on Friday, stepped right up, got too cute by half, and lobbed a Terry Dunfield Special right into Deric's breadbasket. LOL. It took nothing away from what was an excellent game for Tan; if his reflexes had been a little sharper he would have bagged a goal in open play. But it was also hilarious.

It didn't matter, partially because it's pre-season and who gives a fuck, and partially because the Whitecaps were bossing the game around. Nanchoff, as discussed, was excellent: my man of the match. He had a lovely eye for the pass; his set-up to Tan created that first penalty and eventual winning goal. Nanchoff, whose fitness hasn't always been great, looked close to full strength after his 75 minutes on a sketchy Orlando field and had an all-consuming two-way performance. (Since he's competing with Russell Teibert for a job, I should add that Teibert was also very good but played fewer minutes and was handicapped by starting on his off wing).

Next to Nanchoff, my favourite was Klazura. He unleashed a couple accurate long passes which came as a pleasant surprise. He has a great mind for the game: not quite at MLS speed yet but you can see him evaluating passing options, knowing his positional responsibilities, knowing when he's been holding onto the ball too long. He's not that quick, he can be outmuscled, and he looked out-of-sorts when he moved up to right midfield, but he still had an extremely strong game which promised a lot for our fullback depth. This is the second preseason game where I've seen Klazura good: we still haven't seen what he can do against a full-strength MLS attack but he's starting the right way.

Later in the game, Houston went for an equalizer and brought on experienced players like Brian Ching, Calen Carr, and Brad Davis. The Whitecaps kept their starters off the field and played into Houston's hands, letting the Dynamo come in favour of working on their defense. Watson, Jun Marques Davidson, and Bryce Alderson did a masterful job late clogging up the middle of the field, successfully preventing most of Houston's opportunities in open play. The Dynamo remained good on set pieces, which was down to a lack of size on the field and the only big man, central defender Michael Boxall, having a really rough game. Alderson, in particular, looked in his element: showing enough offense to keep Houston off balance but mostly sitting back, challenging for every ball, and trying to slow down play. Sadly the Dynamo quickly learned of Alderson's left foot bias, and he'll have to work on his basics with his right.

Those later minutes saw the Dynamo with a big advantage in experience and firepower. But they failed to even get a shot on goal, while Tan, Caleb Clarke (until he dislocated his shoulder; luckily it seems he should be okay), and Teibert were able to muster more than a token attack. I was never fingernail-biting worried about the Whitecaps lead, as I was so often last year, because Vancouver always looked in control and a Dynamo goal would have to be a bit of a fluke. It was a nice feeling.

On Wednesday against Kansas City, the Whitecaps will probably face close to their best lineup. Not an expansion team and not a second eleven: it'll be a much more meaningful trial than these first two. But you can only beat the teams that are in front of you, and so far Martin Rennie's crew are beating the crap out of them.

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