Perhaps I've had my perceptions and/or expectations of how a soccer game should be played somewhat distorted over these last few days. Perhaps watching the best players in the world duke it out in front of tens of thousands of passionate fans in the soccer madhouse that is Brazil has set the bar for my viewing enjoyment higher than it should be. These thoughts, and other similar ones, bounced around my head as the only regular season meeting between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact turned out to be less of a Major League Soccer match and more of an over-the-counter sleep aid.
It didn't have to be this way, with Montreal leaving home some of their most recognizable names: Marco Di Vaio, Justin Mapp, Felipe, Sanna Nyassi and Hernan Bernardello all didn't make the trip. Even with Carlyle Mitchell filling in at right-back and Johnny Leveron covering for the injured Jay DeMerit, that still left the personnel advantage firmly in Vancouver's favour. Head coach Carl Robinson even deployed what I'm calling the "3M Solution" - Darren Mattocks, Kekuta Manneh and Pedro Morales - in the midfield, looking to get as many potential threats on the field as possible. All the signs pointed towards a shellacking, a thumping or possible even a rout of titanic proportions.
Three minutes of sloppy, disorganized play later, a sub-par effort on both sides of the ball somehow culminated in David Ousted being called into action early with a fine save off a deflected shot. This wasn't the up-tempo, counter-attacking Whitecaps, or the sprinting-up-the-wings 'Caps, or the Pedro Morales Passing Clinic And Penalty Bonanza Circus - easily the best circus in town - this was a shambling, uncoordinated mess of a team that clearly had spent too much time watching the beautiful game during their break and not enough time remembering how to play it.
While there was no good offensive movement to Vancouver's credit, there were some decent signs of life on the defensive end. Mitchell had himself a good game, indicated early by his positioning on Jack McInerney in the ninth minute to deny Montreal's striker a chance on goal. Ousted was also in fine form, denying all of Montreal's chances including a scrambly double-save to close out the first half. It wasn't all rosy among the back four, though; Andy O'Brien and Johnny Leveron still showed signs of needing to work out their communication issues, as McInerney repeatedly victimized the pair all the night. Luckily, the former Philadelpha striker's shooting was wasteful much like Vancouver's was non-existent.
Side note: you know you're watching a poor game when even Luke Wileman can't be bothered to drum up enough interest. I have a theory that Jason De Vos spent the first half kicking Wileman in the shins to keep his broadcast partner awake.
Back to the game - such as it was - and the Whitecaps started the second half with urgency, flair, shots on target and many other signs that Robinson may have busted a lung screaming some life back into his underperforming charges. This lasted until all of the 55th minute, punctuated by two very good chances - one from a Manneh shot, one from a worm-burning low free kick by Morales - before the game descended back into mediocrity. Well, maybe that's a touch unfair; Gershon Koffie did his best to try and influence the proceedings, making more than a few excellent runs up the park, setting up Mattocks and Manneh to try and score a goal. Alas, it was not to be.
Meanwhile, all you crossbar and post enthusiasts got a banner showing at BC Place as both sides had no problem smacking the woodwork as a show of effort. Maxim Tissot had the first big near-miss, being the fortunate recipient of the ball after Ousted was pulled well off his line to shut down Jack McInerney following a tricky set piece. With the defense scrambling and Ousted well out of position, Tissot did the only sensible thing and blasted the ball off the crossbar. Next up was Jordan Harvey, again from a set piece. This time, a Morales corner found the head of Carlyle Mitchell, who directed a fine header on goal only to see Troy Perkins come up huge to bat the ball away. Harvey then channeled his inner Tissot and sent the ball off the top of the bar and out of play. Finally, Montreal won the Mighty-Ducks-esque post-and-crossbar challenge thanks to more work by McInerney, who evaded double-coverage following a Tissot free kick and somehow got his head to the ball. Unfortunately for 'Jack Mac' and fortunately for the sell-out BC Place crowd, the ball managed to find only the post and nothing more.
Speaking of that BC Place crowd, I pity them; I really do. Here we are in the middle of a World Cup - a magnificent one at that, biting/diving/reffing notwithstanding - and what do the sports fans of Vancouver get to witness? A dull, listless game with few genuinely entertaining moments. Sure, the Whitecaps extend their unbeaten streak and sure, my fantasy team greatly appreciates a clean sheet on a captained goalkeeper, but the 'Caps did so without doing anything at all to convince the casual fan that this brand of entertainment deserves their attention any more than once every four years.