Caps Flame Out at Dallas

The Vancouver Whitecaps took to the field in Frisco, Texas last night clinging desperately to the last vestiges of their MLS playoff aspirations. After 90 minutes and change, those faint hopes were no more - extinguished like a candle left out in the rain, as FC Dallas rolled over the Whitecaps 3-1 on two late markers.


Mathematically, of course, the Caps are yet to be dispatched, but there is now no good reason to predict anything for Vancouver other than elimination.

While the competition has been slowly creeping upward in the Western Conference table, the Caps have been in free fall over recent weeks, and the descent is accelerating. Vancouver have won only once in their last seven outings, taking a paltry 5 out of a possible 21 points.

Having won only two of their 13 road games so far this season, Vancouver is once again abysmal away from home. And the Caps are visitors in four of their remaining seven matches - including the next two matches: in San Jose, and then in Montreal. No, if you're a Whitecaps fan, there's very little to look forward to at this point, I'm afraid.

If the final score was enough to get you down, the manner in which it happened will have you lining up for Prozac.

FIRST HALF

The Caps were in dire, dire need of a turnaround coming into Frisco. Having conceded goals in the third minute  to both LA and Chivas, and only ending up splitting the points with the Goats, Vancouver knew that they had to put up a better effort in the early going. And they did.

At 4', Daigo Kobayashi emerged from his coma, as he found himself on the the end of a nice interchange between Camilo Sanvezzo and Kenny Miller in the final third. Miller's square ball in was deftly sidefooted in by the Japanese midfielder and past a helpless Chris Seitz. Kobayashi's finish was impeccable, but it was his patience to check his run for just a moment, allowing him to then streak in behind defenders George John and Kellyn Acosta for the easy tap in.

Things appeared to have changed for the Whitecaps. And in many respects, change was indeed the order of the day. Vancouver came out in a 4-2-3-1, a formation that Martin Rennie has leaned on heavily in the past, but one he hasn't gone to for months. Nigel Reo-Coker was moved from his familiar midfield spot to play right back. Carlyle Mitchell was paired with Andy O'Brien at CB, with Leveron joining Koffie in a holding role. Up top, Martin Rennie had Matt Watson, Kenny Miller, and Kobayashi behind Camilo.

It was indeed a different-look Whitecaps side. Well, at least until the 8', when Dallas struck the first of three brutal blows. Je-Vaughn Watson drew the Hoops even from the top corner of the box to David Ousted's right. Given a decent look at goal, and nobody closing him down in a hurry, Watson stepped into one that beat Ousted top corner on the near side.

Dallas created a number of high-quality chances in the first half, only to put all but one of them just past the Caps' goal. Jackson, in particular, was a threat, first feeding Watson with a nifty backheel in the box, and then just missing a near-side attempt from in close - Vancouver could count themselves lucky not to have been buried by three or four goals in the opening 30 minutes.

In the latter stages of the first half, Vancouver fans were witness to a theme that's been presented repeatedly this season: instances of good combination play and strings of possession, as the Caps lurked around the periphery of the Dallas vault, but when the time came, failed to successfully crack the safe.

HALFTIME STATS:

Attempts: VAN 5, DAL 7

Shots on: VAN 3, DAL 1

Corners: VAN 3, DAL 3

Possession: VAN 38% DAL 62%

SECOND HALF

A combination of the Texas heat (36 degrees at kickoff), and a Vancouver adjustment into a 4-4-2 saw the pace of the match slow down markedly in the second half. Dallas had a couple of chances in the early stages of the 2nd half, but O'Brien and then Leveron were able to get in the way of those opportunities.

Play settled even further, with each side taking turns neutralizing not much from from the opposition, both Schellas Hyndman and Martin Rennie began to bring in their subs. Caps fans were asked not to adjust their sets as Y.P Lee came on for Daigo Kobayashi, with Lee taking up the right mid.

With roughly 15 minutes left on the clock, play began to pick up, as it looked neither side would be happy with just a single point.

Time, luck, and hope all ran out at more or less the same time for Vancouver, as within the span of five minutes - starting in the 86', the Caps would concede two late markers in embarrassing fashion.

First, Fabian Castillo drove deep to the by line before cutting a ball back diagonally to a trailing Mauro Diaz who had nobody interested in marking him. Diaz' first-timer gave Ousted no chance: Toros up 2-1, with four minutes and change remaining to play. It was an absolutely inexcusable defensive lapse - the type of which good teams don't make. It was the game-killer.

If Vancouver lost the match in the 86th minute (note to self, submit website rebranding proposal), they lost any sense of dignity or pride at the 90' when substitute Jair Benitez (D) hammered one from 49 yards out that caught Ousted much too far upfield. Benitez' smash cleared the scrambling Dane, hitting nothing but net for a 3-1 final score. It was an audacious effort, and to give him his due a superbly taken one by Benitez, but any ball that beats a keeper from another postal code is the keeper's fault.

THE WRAP

Where do the Caps go from here? There didn't appear to be much in the way of interest to that question last night in the post-match chat. And that's the view from the serious Whitecaps following. God knows how many casual followers are busy erasing home dates from their calendars. All indications are that Vancouver is now home to two sports franchises that just can't win the big one.

Surely, Martin Rennie needs to re-examine the goalkeeping situation, as David Ousted is not playing great, and some would argue not even as well as Brad Knighton was before he was replaced as the number one.

Dallas was fielding a side without leading scorer Blas Perez, fellow forward Kenny Cooper, or starting keeper Raul Fernandez. Vancouver was without Russell Teibert and Darren Mattocks.

Many on the Whitecaps' roster will survive to play another season, but one has to wonder at this point if Martin Rennie will still be in Major League Soccer come 2014.

MATCH STATS (courtesy of MLS)


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