There were plenty of potential headlines for media scribes to play with on Saturday, when the Vancouver Whitecaps trounced the San Jose Earthquakes by a score of 2-0 at BC Place. They could have decided to feature David Ousted, who in his first home match of the season, was absolutely brilliant in a clean sheet victory. Or, they could have chosen to throw some more love Camilo's way, after he moved into a tie for the Golden Boot chase with his 14th goal of the season. Then there's the ageless Kenny Miller, who scored a nice one in his first match back from injury to seal the victory for the good guys.
Of course, all of their performances paled in comparison to Nigel Reo-Coker, the powerful midfielder that helped set up both Whitecaps goals, and was eventually named the 'Budweiser Man of the Match.' We've seen Reo-Coker play well all season long, but this time it was different. In the first goal of the match, he carried the ball up the pitch, waltzed around an Earthquake defender, then slid a perfect pass to Camilo, who one-timed it home in the box for the 1-0 lead. While we've seen Reo-Coker show off his great ability to charge up the pitch pretty much all season long, this one has to go down as his best play of the season. To go coast to coast, to outrun all of those Earthquakes, and then to thread the needle with a pass that only Camilo could strike? Are you kidding me? In my preview of the match, I mentioned (tongue firmly in cheek of course) that Reo-Coker alone gave the Whitecaps a clear advantage in midfield against the Earthquakes; little did I know he would make me look like a genius in his dazzling runs up the pitch.
It was a complete performance from Reo-Coker, as he tracked the ball well in his own zone, taking pressure off of Gershon Koffie, who found himself starting in the defensive midfield position usually held by Jun-Marques Davidson. While Koffie has the talent and versatility to handle whatever the 'Caps throw at him, he must have breathed a sigh of relief knowing Reo-Coker had brought his 'A' game.
In a true sign the football gods were smiling upon Reo-Coker, he truly lucked out on the Whitecaps second goal. After a beautiful ball from Camilo to Russell Teibert, Teibert set up Reo-Coker perfectly in the box. Reo-Coker fired but whiffed badly. Happily, an opportunistic Kenny Miller was there to clean up the garbage. Afterwards, Reo-Coker could be seen celebrating with Miller, a gigantic, though sheepish looking smile plastered on his face.
The Whitecaps have only been in MLS for two-and-a-half seasons, and yet we've seen the club undergo a few transformations. The cellar dwellers to the playoff bubble team was the first big step forward, and now the Whitecaps sit in 2nd place in the Western Conference, just five points behind first place Real Salt Lake. Who knows; by the end of the season, we may look at the Reo-Coker signing as the beginning of the next Whitecaps big step forward. This time it's from play-off bubble squad to elite.