Last year's inaugural version of the Whitecaps reminded me of that decidedly homely girl we all knew back in grade 11. You remember her too, I'm sure. Kinda heavy in the eyebrow, vanilla face, flannel frocks, maybe a candidate for maxillofacial surgery somewhere down the line.
But what a difference a year makes. It's grad year, and the blue and white have moved up in the world. They've shed the ugly duckling image for a completely different look. This year's Caps are a different breed altogether. Trouble is, I'm not so sure the change is for the good.
If the 2011 Caps were that girl that couldn't get a date, the current edition is that emerald-eyed willowy high school tease whose taut v-neck cashmere sweaters carried the faint scent of Tigress -- promising the world, while giving away nothing.
For two consecutive matches now, the Whitecaps have tantalized us with a variety of their wiles -- revealing just enough of their attacking acumen and defensive diligence to whet the appetite, but delivering too little to satisfy. I love them, and I curse them at the same time.
In San Jose, the Whitecaps played 65 minutes of alluring soccer, smothering the Earthquakes' advances, and taking the lead on a one-two Hassli - Le Toux combination that had sure thing written all over it. So much for the pleasure that evening, as it was followed by 15 minutes of pain, as Vancouver went flaccid en route to a 3-1 kick in the gonads.
Fast forward to Wednesday evening. With Kansas City, the hottest team in MLS coming into town via Salt Lake, the well-rested Caps knew that they would have both hands full, and needed to put out for the full 90 minutes -- that particular lesson should have been drawn from the result in San Jose.
Poor marking from Jordan Harvey (yet again) on a SKC corner kick allows Roger Espinoza to take an uncontested crack on goal from 15 yards out. The ball pings off Sapong's butt cheek and threads the needle between three Caps defenders, and into the path of Aurelien Collin who beats Jay DeMerit to the ball to tap it home. To be fair, Harvey tracks Espinoza well in the pre-kick manouevering -- tailing his man deep into the six, but thereafter becomes distracted watching the ball as it carries in far post, is headed, then cleared out of the box, and is once again fed in by Zusi. By this time, Harvey has no idea if he's coming or going, and has nothing much to do except react way too late, fall to ground like a wounded pig, and watch to goal unfold from there.
Bonjour's OG six minutes into the second half put the Sportings up 2-0, and the match pretty much out of reach.
Down 3-0 very late in the match the Whitecaps come alive to play some of their most entertaining soccer of the season. It begins with Le Toux's goal, a follow-up effort after Camilo's power header rebounds off the post. Ten minutes from time, and the Caps are on the board. They're finally ready, they're willing, but are they able?
A couple minutes later, and Camilo hits a screamer from 30+ yards out, forcing keeper Jimmy Nielsen to a make a spectacular leaping effort to touch it over the bar. The save should, by all rights, make the save of the week honour roll. The Caps are relentlessly pouring on the pressure now, and only 30 seconds later Hassli drills a low cross-grain worm-burner that Nielsen manages to parry. Late sub Long Tan (87') gets a shot from close range, and Hassli whiffs on another opportunity while in close, and time runs out.
This team manages to be intriguing, beguiling, and just plain aggravating -- all at the same time.
Yes, the Caps are indeed just like that girl that Rough Trade made famous back in 1981. Enough to quicken your pulse just thinking about her, but somehow unattainable and distant enough to put you off asking her out.