Dominic Oppong and Gershon Koffie go up for a ball. Koffie definitely won most of those battles last nght. (Uwe Welz/Canadian Soccer Association)
The Vancouver Whitecaps thumped FC Edmonton with what can charitably be called a B+ lineup. Yes, I said "thumped". The 2-0 result was certainly decisive enough.
It's not like Edmonton didn't have their chances. Yashir Pinto had a couple and really should have scored in the ninetieth minute. He also should arguably have drawn a penalty. Kyle Porter and Ilya Van Leerdam had decent opportunities to score. Matt Lam had some good runs. But, I mean... teamwork. That club isn't nearly playing like a team yet. Harry Sinkgraven dwelt on his players' lack of size and maturity but if his guys just ran some balls out, played with a bit more precision and kept the pressure on, they might have gotten something.
The Whitecaps must have been thanking their lucky stars. Greg Klazura at right back, pretty green, not quite used to the speed he has to make decisions, and he's hardly seeing any pressure. Rather than test his knee on some tricky athletic plays Alain Rochat could keep it simple and safe. Many of the Whitecaps veterans, particularly John Thorrington, did their job like crazy closing down the Vancouver ball carriers but ultimately they just weren't challenged enough.
If we're talking about FC Edmonton as a developing squad (and I suppose we should be, given the number of guys in their early twenties on that team) then this is a hell of a lesson. When Edmonton was willing to trade punches with Vancouver and slug it out, they were close to level; Omar Salgado was a goddamned beast who turned Paul Hamilton and Jon Joseph-Augustin into pylons but he was just playing in another universe for the first half. Other than that, Porter, Lam, and Pinto were going forward well, the midfield had the occasional look... they just couldn't play consistent enough soccer to keep it together.
So the Whitecaps will be pleased and should be. Martin Rennie's gamble on depth has paid off and the club returns to BC Place with the hammer. Eric Hassli is finally on the board, Atiba Harris got yet another cheap one. A few of the lesser-seen players did enough, although only Thorrington was properly impressive, and the regulars (except Jordan Harvey, of course) kept up their end.
The game was no tactical chess match. The Whitecaps played high-pressure but let the ball do the work while exploiting the athletic advantage where they had it. The Eddies, insufficiently sharp and stumbling over each others' feet too many times, couldn't respond. That was your game and the rest was details.
It is almost obligatory for me to mention that Edmonton wasn't embarrassed and certainly wasn't played off the pitch. It's faint praise indeed, I know, but Edmonton played a plucky game and looked like they might get a goal until the final whistle.
A few of the Edmonton players acquitted themselves well. Fabrice Lassonde looked good at left back against Atiba Harris: the goal was the responsibility of Kevin Hatchi (who played terribly). Porter, as mentioned, was consistently dangerous. We also saw what the fuss was about with Yashir Pinto, although he gave up on the play too early from time to time: at one point late, Porter had the ball on a quick break with Pinto running through the middle, and when Porter slung the cross in Pinto held up a bit as Klazura obstructed him rather than trying to rush through. That was all it took to keep Pinto from getting on the end of that cross and having a golden scoring chance.
Shaun Saiko didn't live up to anyone's expectations but he was marked out magnificently by John Thorrington. Saiko roamed the field and tried constantly to get involved in the play, but when he had the ball in a dangerous area he could count on Thorrington coming to shut him down. That meant Saiko mostly had the ball out wide, where he isn't the same player. (We can't, however, credit Thorrington for the fact that Saiko wasted every single attempt at a dead ball. Edmonton's best player was far from his usual standard.)
David Monsalve has not inspired confidence. He absolutely should have stopped Hassli's goal and should have been in a better position on Harris's. This was his first appearance of the season after a pre-season plagued by injury and it was easy to tell. His ball control and distribution was appalling and nearly cost Edmonton a goal. On the other hand, he made amends after a fashion with some cracking saves in the second half. It was still a weak game but better in the last 45 than the first, anyway.
The Whitecaps got very few spectacular performances but also very few weak ones. The two exceptions were Omar Salgado and Jordan Harvey: Salgado's "Young Pout-Face" nickname is rapidly becoming affectionate. He dictated the first half and it was a damned shame he was denied a goal he deserved. In the second half, until he was substituted out, he was still a strong presence although less utterly overwhelming. Edmonton was reduced to basically swarming him with tough bodies since Joseph-Augustin obviously couldn't handle it: Dominic Oppong and Paul Hamilton both spent time trying to keep Salgado in check. This whole Salgado-out-left phenomenon is the surprise of the season and even his former haters (like me) would gladly see him get a few more starts.
As for Harvey, well, we all knew he wasn't MLS quality at left back and now it looks like he isn't NASL quality either. When we traded him, Philadelphia Union fans bemoaned his departure because he was among their best defenders. Was that an elabourate snowjob or something? My god what a horrorshow.
Vancouver got a scoreline which their play deserved. They are by no means free and clear but Edmonton has never been a good road team and getting those two goals back at BC Place would be an almost unprecedented upset. Then again, last year Edmonton played its best soccer in the second leg, away, when they seemed to have nothing left to win.
Finally, a brief word about Canadian content. We hear some people bemoaning that the Whitecaps (and the Montreal Impact) had no real Canadians in their starting lineups and this is even worse than usual because it's the Canadian Championship. Vancouver didn't put a Canadian on at all, although at least one was available on the bench this time.
Well, the Canadian Championship is a serious competition. Teams should be doing their best to win it, not weakening the tournament by playing those they think aren't up to the standard. I'd have loved to see Russell Teibert play yesterday, obviously, but that's on merit and not because of his passport. The idea that we should do less than our best to win soccer games to meet some sort of arbitrary criteria for "correctness" is no small part of the reason Canadian soccer is so fucked.