On Whitecaps, Wizards, and Wondo

"Time and tide wait for no man."

-- Chaucer, ca. 1390

While the Vancouver Whitecaps managed to hold off father time long enough to secure a new MLS record for minutes played from the start of the season without conceding a goal, there was no holding back the shifting tide that led to one of the greatest swings in momentum in team history this evening.

The fall was sudden. It was swift. It was a collapse that would have done the Lehman brothers proud.

Caps fans couldn't be blamed for feeling upbeat at the halftime whistle, with the score 0-0. If not leading on the scoreboard or in possession figures, their side were certainly in control of their match against the San Jose Earthquakes as the Whitecaps clamped down hard on any semblance of organized attack, aggressively slamming shut windows of space and time, sniffing out interceptions, and generally disrupting any attempts at sustained offense from their hosts.

Offensively, the Whitecaps looked like they had spent the week prior scouring the pages of the Pro Manager's Playbook, with the passing much crisper, the sequence of play far more inventive, and the technical elements more polished than anything we've seen since opening day of the 2012 season.

Most notably, the Caps were sending multiple attackers into the box, and attempts to break down the San Jose defense came from multiple angles, and with swift cross-grain movement instead of the more ploddingly predictable north-south attempts at movement that had begun to infuse the Vancouver offense of late.

The sides were knotted 0-0 at the half, thanks in part to Joe Cannon's diving stop off Shea Salinas' curling effort from the top of the box moments before the first-half whistle, and also to the crossbar's denial of John Thorrington's lob wedge attempt from 12 yards out on a scrambly play initiated by a darting Davide Chiumiento.

Chiumiento, Sebastien Le Toux, and Eric Hassli were finally beginning to develop some chemistry, and showing signs of having devoted a considerable amount of time to that particular branch of natural sports sciences earlier in the week. In fact, in some halftime banter "Merlin" was offered up as Martin Rennie's newest tag -- in honour of his alchemy skills.

Just four minutes into the second half, "Merlin's" men cooked up a neat little tic-tac-toe sequence with Harvey taking a quick throw-in deep in SJ territory. Hassli, who was a dynamic figure all match, laid it off with a deft little flick from near the end line, where an unmarked Le Toux first-timed it past a helpless Jon Busch.

As the Caps crept past the 62' mark and into the record books still leading 1-0, it looked as if the smothering Vancouver defense would secure another win -- this time, against a quality opponent. But, despite all his conjuring, all his wizardry, Rennie and his men found that not all that glitters is indeed gold.

The collapse began in the 67th minute, thanks to a sequence of breakdowns. A long throw-in to the top of the WC box to a completely unmarked Chris Wondolowski, an uncharacteristically poor angle taken by Jay DeMerit, a missed attempt on the ball by DeMerit, and Wondo is in free from 10 yards out. He chips near side to make it 1-1.

The fall gathers steam in the 71st minute when Alan Gordon beats Martin Bonjour to a curling feed from the left wing, his diving header goes in far post. 2-1 Quakes with 20 minutes to play.

There's nothing but rubble after the 78th minute, when the Quakes convert a FK -- Moreno's inswinger to the far post clears Jordan Harvey's leaping attempt, falls right at Wondolowski's feet for the easy right-boot tap in.

Twin breakdowns, both involving the Earthquake's biggest threat, were enough to sink the Caps. Sportnet's keys to the game in the pre-match segment included "Where's Wondo?" -- a focal point that the WC were highly aware of, and yet the lapses came.

The lessons learned will no doubt serve the team (and fans) well through the rest of the season. We now know that earlier reports the team's offense had died were greatly exaggerated, but we also witnessed that the sheen has come off the back line to some degree.

"Merlin" Rennie has got things running smoothly for 80 minutes a match. A little eye of newt, a dose of piss and vinegar, and maybe a dollop of haggis, and the Caps should be ready for Sporting KC ten days from now.

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