I've discussed how much I love good defensive soccer. But I seldom have the chance to say how much I hate time-wasting. Really, I suppose I should thank the Puerto Rico Islanders for giving me the opportunity.
I should, but I won't.
From minute one Puerto Rico, and particularly their infamous goalkeeper Bill Gaudette, practiced the most heinous time-wasting tactics known to man. Gaudette and left defender Kevon Villaroel were both yellow carded for timewasting, and there could easily have been far more than that. The Islanders came out looking for a 0-0 draw and by Jove, they sure got it.
If I strain myself, I can understand Puerto Rico's motivation. Only three days earlier the Islanders had played to a tough 1-0 defeat in Portland. In three days more, they have to return home to face the Montreal Impact. The Vancouver - Puerto Rico road trip is the longest in professional sports today, and it's certainly not an easy task for Puerto Rico to overcome. They may well have thought that if they bunkered and took the single point, it was one more point than they were likely to get playing wide open. There's logic there.
It's true that the Whitecaps had a heavy territorial advantage in the game. They outshot and outpossessed Puerto Rico comprehensively. They picked up more corners, though they drew fewer fouls. But the game was far closer than the numbers indicate. The Islanders played things quite even and had some of the game's best opportunities. If they'd played a Vancouver team still trying to get acquainted and in shape head-on, they might well have come out ahead.
But they didn't, and we fans paid the price.
The Whitecaps came within an ace of victory all the same. Ridge Mobulu gifted us with ninety minutes of superb activity. His only shot wasn't a real tester but the Islanders could never take Mobulu's speed and agility for granted. More and more, I'm finding myself impressed Swiss-born Congolese striker. He has not only electrifying physical ability but some poise and talent as well; if he can round it off with the reflexes and instinct for the goal that has so far been lacking in his two games, the Whitecaps might really have something there.
Captain Martin Nash, the Whitecaps' co-leading scorer this season, boasted perhaps the surest chance in the game. A ball from Mobulu caught Nash deep in the box with Gaudette out of position. Nash struck it on the volley and drove the ball just fractionally wide into the side netting - watching the web broadcast, you could see fans in the grandstand cheering as they thought it went in. Gaudette had recovered superbly from his mis-positioning and might have gotten a hand to Nash's shot had it been on target, but all the same the veteran central midfielder had come agonizingly close to giving Vancouver a precious goal.
The next candidate for a close chance was substitute striker Randy Edwini-Bonsu, finally returning to the Whitecaps lineup after a too-long absence. Edwini-Bonsu did what he's usually capable of coming in as a substitute for Blake Wagner: he pinned the Puerto Rico defense back and left them almost at the mercy of his speed. Edwini-Bonsu is mostly effective with his legs, both in terms of running and in terms of mostly scoring with his feet, but he mustered an excellent diving header on a feed from Alex Elliott that flew just wide and also showed some dandy crossing by Edwini-Bonsu's standards. Although Edwini-Bonsu once again failed to score, he did very well indeed in his fourteen minutes and I must repeat my usual cry for him to see more playing time.
Unlike, say, Cody Arnoux, who once again left me aghast at his complete ineffectiveness. But I shouldn't complain because when Arnoux came out after sixty minutes he was replaced with YouTube phenom and on-field pile of useless Jonathan McDonald, who was once again even worse. I'd rather see Edwini-Bonsu and Mobulu than Arnoux or McDonald up front any day. While I see that Arnoux has the ingredients, if not the recipe, to be a decent striker, I don't think that McDonald has anything whatsoever and I would be downright alarmed if either one got much (any?) playing time in MLS.
Blake Wagner also struggled, but he struggled with distinction. He looked after his defensive duties as a left midfielder passably but his inability to fire Whitecaps counterattacks or contribute to the offense marred Vancouver's game. Unlike the likes of Arnoux or McDonald, Wagner's put in enough good games that I have plenty of faith left in him. But the Whitecaps could have used an impact game from Wagner last night and didn't get it.
It was a game more frustrating than terrible, more infuriating than discouraging. It ought to have been three points, perhaps, but then again it could have been zero. What a shame Puerto Rico didn't let us find out.
Game Ball: Hard to pick one but I'll go with Zurab Tsiskaridze, who had a quietly effective night at left back and was not exploited by the Puerto Rico attackers once. His fellow winger, Wes Knight, had a rougher go of it but Tsiskaridze was effective, active, and generally potent if not remarkable.
Most Disappointing: Cody Arnoux takes the wooden spoon for the second week in a row. They say the Whitecaps are fighting hard with MLS for the right to take this kid into the league without his having to pass through the SuperDraft. I can't imagine why.
Next Game: the men travel to scenic Baltimore to take on Crystal Palace Baltimore on Saturday, September 11. The game, as always, will be webcast at whitecapsfc.com. Their next home game isn't until September 24 against my man Ali Gerba and the Montreal Impact.