VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 5: The Vancouver Whitecaps dogpile on top of Eric Hassli #29 after he scored the winning goal against the San Jose Earthquakes during the MLS match at BC Place on May, 5, 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver won 2-1. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
Okay, so I didn't watch the Vancouver Whitecaps dramatic unbelievable come-from-behind game-of-the-season 2-1 victory over the Western-leading San Jose Earthquakes. I'm still in Alberta. Worse, I'm in Calgary. Nothing more dreadful than missing a classic soccer game because you're stuck in freaking Calgary.
But I saw the highlights so I think I'm qualified to talk about this game. (With an attitude like that, I'll soon be qualified to host sports radio but that's neither here nor there.)
It was a rare chance this year to see Vancouver open the game up. We've seen the success Martin Rennie's had getting one goal and clinging to it for dear life: now we see what his team can do when he turns his big guns on the opposition. All the old statistical worries were absent: we had more shots, more shots on target, equal passing accuracy, and possession was so close to a wash it really doesn't matter.
Gershon Koffie's goal was ridiculous, wasn't it? His poor shooting accuracy is pretty much a running gag but if we see make headers like that then his shots can knock me out of the press box for all I care. Admittedly, you won't see many opportunities for them: that was the first time in a while I remember any Whitecap, let alone the shoot-first-ask-questions-never Camilo Sanvezzo, making a great delivery to another player from a free kick.
And Eric Hassli's winner. Well. Again, I caught the result on Twitter, I saw the goal in a highlight package, I was completely devoid of any sort of emotional context, and it's still a triumphant thing to see. Hassli's power is still somewhere in Seattle but his accuracy is making a long-awaited return: the shot was a bit of a dribbler but he couldn't have put it in a better spot. Then he runs out to celebrate, collapses to his knees in joy and relief, his teammates mob him...
...yeah. Even from a province away on a crappy netbook screen the morning after, this team is just so much fun.
Obviously, my analysis will be pretty limited today. I hope you forgive me.
According to reliable witnesses, Lee Young-pyo and Sebastien Le Toux both had weak games. Le Toux's passing accuracy was poor (not for the first time), while Lee was at fault on Chris Wondolowski's goal and didn't get a lot done on either end of the field for once.
It's almost a relief. Particularly in Lee's case, the Whitecaps have spent the whole season heavily relying on a guy in his mid-30s at an outside position who just happens to be an incredible player. If something happened to Lee and we needed to lean on Greg Klazura or dragged Jonathan Leathers out of protective custody, it was impossible to estimate the drop-off. It's dangerous to rely too much upon one player, as the Whitecaps re-learn every time Alain Rochat goes down. But, thanks to Jun Marques Davidson and a more mobile, intelligent defense, we're actually doing all right As long as the right back avoids Jordan Harvey-level incompetence, the Whitecaps can survive a below-average game from their key player. Likewise with Le Toux, who was the offense early in the year but whose lesser games can now blend into the scenery.
Apart from Wondolowski drifting into space and somehow getting yet another open look at goal, of course. It's getting to the point where it's hard to criticize defenses for letting Wondolowski through, since he keeps doing it to every team in the league. At some point it stops being a defensive failure and starts being an attacker's mysterious superpower. Wondolowski may be at the point where we need to throw up our hands and do our best.
Everyone tells me the Whitecaps carried the balance of play and, even before Koffie's equalizer, looked like they were likely to fight their way back into the game. Matt Watson continued to make the turnovers which are a disturbing part of his game, but also the energy, versatility, and passing chops which make him a net balance. Koffie and Davidson pretty much won us the game but kept the ball moving forward while they did it.
Good teams can win several different types of games. So far, the Whitecaps have won one hoof-and-run track meet (Montreal) and a few grab-the-goal-and-hang-on games. They haven't really punched with anybody, or at least not anybody worth punching with. Until yesterday. Let's hope this is a team becoming more well-rounded and not just a delightful fluke, but even if this game has to stand on its own it stands pretty high.