"But we're so good on paper!"
Martin Bonjour's own goal was a dud. Headed a long throw-in straight past Joe Cannon who, standing stock still like he never even considered the possibility, looked rather stupid. Then, not twenty seconds later, a Sebastien Le Toux goal led to what would have been a fantastic Seth Sinovic shot if it had been on the right goal, with Jimmy Nielsen acrobatically tipping Vancouver's best scoring chance over the bar.
That sort of night.
Because these are the 2012 Vancouver Whitecaps, it's easy to find bright spots. Omar Salgado's first Major League Soccer experience at left wing was positive: he made our single goal and could have made a couple we didn't get. Jimmy Nielsen made first-class saves and not always off his own fullbacks. Eric Hassli, who is building up a Mustapha Jarju-sized hate club because he has emotions instead of goals, had another good game. With beginning-of-the-season luck, Vancouver wins this one; instead they had pretty average luck and lost by two.
We're almost but not quite a quarter of the way into a season where we revamped our entire team from top to bottom. You'd think that a 2-2-2 record would be satisfying in those conditions, but a few fans are starting to get the knives out. Screw that. The Whitecaps aren't a contender but we knew that already. Building a team up almost from scratch isn't an overnight process, and right now we have a decent soccer team that looks set to become a good one. So calm down.
That game stank in a lot of ways, but it would have been one of our better home performances last season. Our first goal against was down to a botched fire drill off a badly-defended set piece; a mental mistake. Our second goal against was a are-you-kidding-me bounce off Bonjour past Cannon, and our third was because we were throwing the midfield forward trying to break through. The Whitecaps were not systemically beaten and they were not played off the pitch. They allowed three goals on two shots on target, because this is soccer and soccer is a random game. Sometimes, shit just happens.
It's not all silver lining on this dark cloud. One pass aside, Atiba Harris was less than mediocre (again). Jordan Harvey, who won my confidence back with his superb play as a left midfielder late last year and early this one, has me ranting and raving to see Russell Teibert come in at left back just to get Harvey out of the back four; he was without question Vancouver's weakest player for 90 minutes. And Davide Chiumiento continues to slump, although with a few accurate passes over the top today he looks like he might be working his way out of it.
Fans like to pick on Eric Hassli's lack of goals because we feel that, as a forward, his contributions are easy to quantify. If he's scoring, he must be doing well! If he's not scoring, he must be doing badly! You think the great goals at the beginning of last year and the Goal of the Season and so on would have convinced everyone that Hassli can put the ball in the net; instead, he's coming in for criticism out of proportion to anything he's doing wrong.
Hassli gets frustrated relatively easily and whines rather than getting right back into position. That's a problem. Camilo Sanvezzo dives like a fish, and when he doesn't get the call he's sometimes too slow to get back up and always too slow to get back into the play. That's also a problem, but he gets away with it because his missed shots go off the crossbar and right to Le Toux and Hassli's don't. If Eric Hassli was pulled down inside the box or missed a chance and didn't react, he'd be getting critciized for that too. "He doesn't even care!" It's pathetic the way some people grasp onto anything for the sake of tearing a player down.
Every player has the occasional mental weakness, but because the ball isn't exploding off Hassli's foot right now he's being chalked up as a waste of $900,000 even though we have the most absolute, indisputable proof possible he's a good MLS player. Who are we, Piotr Nowak? Anyone smart enough to watch the Whitecaps instead of the Vancouver Canucks game four should be smart enough to know you don't throw a proven talent under the bus because of a cold streak and things he can't control.
It was not a strong game for the Whitecaps. The mental mistakes on the first and second goal need to be ironed out. They got the ball in midfield but had a hell of a time getting it forward usefully, and both Le Toux and Hassli left a few chances unclaimed. But neither was it a bad one: good possession, the bulk of the scoring opportunities against a team that is now perfect through seven games. The Whitecaps gave the Kansas City defense their toughest fight of the year. Back away from the ledge and stop expecting this team to win the MLS Cup in a day.