Two weeks ago, I'd have been pretty pleased with a 1-1 draw at home to the New York Red Bulls. The Red Bulls are one of the best teams in Major League Soccer, an MLS Cup favourite. We're not. I could have lived with a bit of a frustrating draw in this game.
I still sort of can. The Red Bulls by no means bent over to the Vancouver Whitecaps; this wasn't a Toronto FC sort of game where we beat the hell out of them and then didn't win. New York had some chances, Jay Nolly made a very good save late in the second half, and we could have lost this game just as easily as we could have won it. It's easy to say that if Alain Rochat doesn't fall over we don't concede a goal, but then if Carlos Mendes doesn't try a dumb challenge on Camilo Sanvezzo we don't score one. Those breaks happen in soccer and in this game the luck was pretty even. The game was exceptionally well-officiated by Mark Geiger. It was an even game that ended fairly.
Still, though, there was a real opportunity there. After the game New York head coach Hans Backe looked pleased with the result and Vancouver head coach Teitur Thordarson looked annoyed. That summed it up. The Whitecaps had a real chance to get three points and didn't. There were a few mental mistakes, a bit of sloppiness here and there. I can't complain, not really, as the Whitecaps got the result they deserved... but I felt they should have deserved more.
That's the very picture of a frustrating performance. I can't particularly take positives from this game, except that the Whitecaps could be good. And we already knew that.
The midfield should take the heat for the Whitecaps' failure to win. So much of this team did its job. Wes Knight, stepping in for an injured Jonathan Leathers, handily took care of American international and attacking prodigy Juan Agudelo. Jay DeMerit was the leader in every sense, playing an assassin's role in central defense and cementing his reputation as one of the best centre backs in Major League Soccer. Greg Janicki was erratic and made a couple of errors but his positive moments were so excellent that I can't be angry at him. Even the forwards more-or-less came through, with Eric Hassli taking his penalty very well and scaring the hell out of the Red Bulls defense for ninety minutes, while Camilo showed his old weaknesses but was more productive than usual.
In the midfield, though, things didn't work. Both Gershon Koffie and Terry Dunfield were generally effective but not quite where they had to be. Koffie was just careless with the ball. He gave away some pretty ugly passes, even if his defensive performance was strong and occasionally first-class. Dunfield seemed to get a little anxious as the game went on. He was knocking his passes too far, playing them too quickly. When he got a clean break in the second half he was unable to settle a bouncing ball before he was at an awful angle and unable to do much with it. I don't want to say either of them were exactly bad but there were just too many mistakes in the most important part of the park.
It was doubly frustrating because the Red Bulls midfield was so mediocre. The team played Agudelo and Jan Gunnar Solli on the wings: Solli was occasionally useful in possession but Agudelo was all smoke and no fire. In the middle, Joel Lindpere was tough but I don't recall him making a single impressive ball, and I forgot Stephen Keel was playing sometimes, he was so invisible. The Whitecaps should have been able to dominate that area of the park no sweat, and yet because of mental lapses it didn't happen. Both Koffie and Dunfield constantly had more time than they thought they had. They didn't always get enough support from Janicki and DeMerit. It just didn't work. And it ought to have.
Shea Salinas may have been the weak point. I like Salinas. He's quick, talented, and has a positive attitude. He was clearly exhausted when he was substituted after 67 minutes, but that's simply his old injury hurting his fitness. The problem is that he was on a different page from his teammates and not in a good way. He knocked a flabbergasting number of could-have-been-excellent passes into defenders' feet. He passed up a couple good shooting opportunities. It just wasn't there for him, and for all the promise he's shown I don't remember him generating a great opportunity this season. I think it'll come for him in time. But this game balanced on a knife's edge. Salinas could have sent the Whitecaps in front and instead he was an offensive dead zone.
I liked most of what Davide Chiumiento had to offer, and when Russell Teibert came onto the left-hand side the attack sagged visibly. I love Teibert but his inexperience shows when he comes on as a substitute: he needs a fair bit of time to begin figuring a defense out. Late (and I mean in the last eight minutes), Teibert was probably the most dangerous player on either team. But that's too late to make a real impact.
Finally, a word about Camilo. He played fairly well; he certainly showed more than Omar Salgado did in his cameo. I've been advocating for Salgado to get the start ahead of Camilo for a few weeks, but Camilo's performances have improved just as Salgado has looked largely ineffective off the bench. But his weaknesses are still obvious and infuriating.
Camilo's problem is that he thinks he's better than he is. It's important for a forward to have an ego, but where it becomes a problem is when a forward plays himself into trouble that he hasn't got the skill to get out of. Too many times we saw Camilo duck into the New York defense with the ball and try to go through. He can't do it. And because he's surrounded by defenders, his teammates can't lend much useful support.
Camilo is a very, very good peripheral player. Dance his way out of trouble when trouble comes, play it off to a teammate (he has a pretty good playmaker's eye that he never puts to use), try to find space. Teams have laid off him in space before. He has a fine shot which can get goals from a lot of positions. And while not as quick as most players his size, he's more than able to motor past Tim Ream types. Unfortunately he's not using his skills as well as he could be. That's frustrating. But, then, so is most of this team.
Man of the Match: The honour definitely falls to the captain in this one. Jay DeMerit was ruthless in defense. He cut out passes, he took the ball from some pretty good New York attackers, and he knocked it up the field as well as anybody in the business. It was just a useful, excellent performance from a guy who has to be excellent for this team to get anywhere. The American with the Grizzly Adams beard definitely more than held up his end of the bargain, and when he did make a step wrong Wes Knight or Greg Janicki were there to clean up. Really, it was a great night for the whole defense except maybe Alain Rochat. But DeMerit was a cut above.
Most Disappointing: For all the reasons stated above, Shea Salinas. He just edged out Terry Dunfield, and I probably rewrote this paragraph three times deciding between them. Neither of them were very strong (although neither of them were exactly bad). I decided that Dunfield's defensive strength asserted itself often enough to give Salinas the short end of the stick.
Next Up: The team heads to the Home Depot Centre in Los Angeles to take on Chivas USA Wednesday at 7:30 PM PDT. The game will be on Sportsnet One.