Vancouver - Toronto Post-Game: Bitten by the Underdog

You didn't get it, Milos.

Toronto FC fans are pleased with how their team played last night. Well, they have a right to be. I thought Vancouver had most of the play but it was certainly close. Toronto's mediocre team exploited a Vancouver side's weaknesses, beating them up defensively down the wings (except for that one time when they didn't) and working set pieces. Vancouver scuffed too many shots and got too lazy with the ball. Julian de Guzman, continuing a quietly resurgent MLS season, had a game strong enough to make up for Terry Dunfield (who, in his return to Vancouver, seemed way too wound up).

I don't buy into the pessimism of some Vancouver Whitecaps fans; you think coming off a 4-1 loss in New England would allow for perspective, but the "this was our worst game all year!" crowd is definitely out. There seems to be reason for more shock than anger: we damned near lost to Toronto? We literally could not have come any closer to losing to a team that's oh-oh-and-snowman in league play. But the FCs played good, fundamental underdog soccer. They fought for every ball, let energy and sound positioning make up for a lack of skill, and when they got a good chance they damned well took it. Every dog has its day.

Jun Marques Davidson and John Thorrington both had their worst games of the year, which didn't help any. Martin Bonjour got caught ballwatching on Ryan Johnson's goal; we ought to have had the advantage defending the header but Bonjour lost position. And Camilo couldn't make clean contact with the ball to save his life. A bit of sloppiness, a bit of inattention, an opponent playing its heart out, and there's your 1-1 draw. No reason to panic.

Nor am I worried about the away goal. 0-0 draws are not common in this competition: there have been only three in its history (two of which came between these teams in the draw-a-week offensive nadir of the Teitur Thordarson era). As Eric Hassli could tell us, while Toronto will doubtless be bunkering and wasting time like motherfuckers, they're not always that good at it. There's at least one goal in the match, or possibly lightning.

Being in a certain mood, I'm going to quickly address a few points of contention.

  • That goal, called offside, was close. I feel it should have stood; Thorrington had been in an offside position but got back before the ball was played. Even I'm wrong that was a horribly-called game. Referee Toupee Dichio, officiating his first game above the MLS Reserves level, wasn't particularly biased. He was just a massive fuck-up. Toronto fans insist there was one play where Vancouver could have been called on two handballs in the box; I couldn't see it from my angle and will withhold judgment until I re-watch the game. I do know the Whitecaps had a goal chalked off that should have stood, that Camilo drew a foul by stumbling over the ball, that Doneil Henry drew a foul by tripping over his own feet, that the guy's whistle was so slow he blew down offsides from Shrewsbury - Macclesfield in 1981, and that he ended the first half five seconds early. If he made a decision he was just wrong nine times in ten. Okay, Canadian Soccer Association. I get it. I appreciate Dave Gantar now.
  • Eric Hassli's goal celebration is hilarious non-news. He pointed to his Whitecaps crest, did the no-no finger gesture, then gestured to himself. Was he saying "Whitecaps no, Hassli yes!", or did the jovial teammate-loving locker room teddy bear who once got sent off for a goal celebration just not think things all the way through? Was he invoking Lee Nguyen's similar celebration from the weekend? I report, you decide.
  • That crowd was shit. No excuses, please. If Tom Soehn wants to do something helpful, he'll visit everybody who thought about attending that game but didn't and smack them upside the head.
  • If you were upset by the anti-Terry Dunfield chants ("Whitecaps reject!", "Same old Dunfield, always eating", and so on), then blame me because I joined in. And as you know I love Terry Dunfield. But he's a loose cannon who was playing for the enemy and has an emotional scab to pick. I didn't heckle Dunfield because I don't love the guy, I heckled him because there was a chance he'd snap, commit a foul and get sent off (he earned a second yellow a couple times in my books). Dunfield played in League One and League Two and their fans make Southsiders sound like "please please win, meow meow meow"; I'm sure he's used to far worse anyway.

If Vancouver is to beat Toronto at BMO Field next Wednesday they cut the mistakes out; given their record the Whitecaps can play some surprisingly sloppy soccer. Not all the familiarity between players and with the coach is there yet, and while the occasional clumsy play is inevitable on any team that employs the likes of Hassli, Matt Watson, and Camilo one hopes that time will bring precision.

Vancouver also needs to bring more out wide. For the most part Jeremy Hall (not that good) and Ashtone Morgan (will hopefully be that good someday but ain't yet) had Vancouver in their pockets. Camilo Sanvezzo, playing wide left, is awkward. He's a mediocre crosser at best and gets his best opportunities by cutting in towards goal to shoot himself. This is fine since he's great at running past defenders on the turn; the problem is that when he does that from the left side he winds up shooting from his weak right foot. That's why the chronicle of Camilo is so often either trying to shift the ball back to his left, a clumsy pass, or an ineffective shot. I'd almost like to see him go on the right, although Etienne Barbara again played good soccer and deserves a look as well (he gets some hate for not scoring any highlight-reel goals yesterday but oh well).

Vancouver's one goal came through wide play, when Alain Rochat finally (finally) got Hall sitting too far back and served a cross to a Hassli who was so wide open he could have sat down and eaten an entire bag of hamburgers before getting the shot off. Instead he unleashed the mother and father of all volleys. If you're feeling nervous, just watch that video a few times.

Eric Hassli is an artist, not a house painter. He doesn't produce as much as we'd all like, but what he produces is worth ten times what we pay him. I can live with that. This is why I trust Hassli and Sebastien Le Toux are going to be such a good combination: Hassli can do some of the dirty work, occasionally score one of the best goals in Whitecaps history, and keep teams honest from distance, while Le Toux can be the classic just-bang-it-in forward.

The Seattle Sounders game on Saturday is going to make things interesting as well. Obviously. It's a difficult game to rest any players for: a bloody rivalry battle with 20,000 fans screaming for a result at home rather than a lukewarm rivalry thumb war with 12,000 fans sitting placidly on the road. If Martin Rennie makes any compromises to his first eleven and Vancouver loses, he is going to hear about it. At the same time, giving his best guns long runs on Wednesday, Saturday, and Wednesday again (and then the next Saturday away to Portland) is going to have consequences.

This is why I don't coach a professional soccer team. Talk about a diabolical choice. But it's all moot unless the Whitecaps can tighten up.

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