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Real Salt Lake - Vancouver Post-Game: Spiralling, Spiralling

Fabian Espindola takes the Whitecaps to school. Again.
Fabian Espindola takes the Whitecaps to school. Again.

This post-game will be brief. But, then, there's really not much to say.

You'd have to be mental to have predicted a Vancouver Whitecaps victory at Rio Tinto Stadium against Real Salt Lake. Absolutely mental. I didn't fall into that trap (for once) and neither did any other observers of the Whitecaps who also pay even the slightest attention to the rest of the league. In fact, given that I predicted a 3-0 loss and we only lost 2-0, I should be pleased. They were 33% better than I figured they were going to be, and had Alain Rochat's screamer of a shot in the dying minutes been a bit luckier, or Bilal Duckett's well-timed header a bit more accurate, then it could have been better still.

But it was still a disappointing game. I expected the Whitecaps to look inferior to Salt Lake but not as stunningly, completely inferior as they did, with the Salt Lake players moving the ball as they saw fit, robbed only of some highlight-reel goals by the ridiculousness that is Jay DeMerit and Alain Rochat (indeed, watching them toil for a team so far down the talent ladder has really made me appreciate how good DeMerit and Rochat are). I expected Joe Cannon to start in goal after a shaky Wednesday, and he did fine, but I was still disappointed Jay Nolly didn't get to run onto the field against the club he debuted against in Major League Soccer.

The game was disappointment after disappointment. Russell Teibert got his first start in more than a month, looked as dangerous as any Whitecap could have looked in the first half, but was then victimized by Tom Soehn's weird use of his wing players and promptly substituted out at half for Omar Salgado. Davide Chiumiento, after arguably pushing his coach towards the edge of the cliff because he wanted to play in the middle, looked isolated, his passes inaccurate, his offensive instinct borderline nil. One great offensive run aside, Duckett was a complete liability. Peter Vagenas and Shea Salinas fought for the title of the Human Giveaway Machine.

This has been a stretch of two games as poor as any I can remember the Whitecaps putting together. It's impossible to blame it all on Tom Soehn, but I'm starting to look forward to the end of the season.

The scoreline flattered the Whitecaps, of course. As soon as Fabian Espindola had Real Salt Lake up 2-0 they completely took their foot off the gas. They farted around with it, hardly even pretended they were going to go for offense, and might as well have been discussing which pub to go to as playing soccer. With Salt Lake completely dogging it, Vancouver was still unable to take advantage: two pretty good chances, but one was caused by Rochat's individual brilliance rather than any sort of team play. Real Salt Lake figured Vancouver was too hapless to make them pay even if they completely relaxed, and they were right.

Again, that's not all Tom Soehn's fault. It's probably not his fault that Koffie had a bad day and it'd definitely not his fault that Terry Dunfield is with the Canadian national team. He tried Peter Vagenas, realized that Vagenas was playing PDL soccer on an MLS field, and put Alexandre Morfaw in. All good. Morfaw was lousy as well but at least he tried something. Still, the two were rather hung out to dry by Davide Chiumiento. The danger of having Chiumiento in the middle is that he is useless defensively and useless when you're trying to get possession; Eric Hassli and Atiba Harris do a far better job. Even Long Tan is noticeably more effective. So Koffie and Vagenas/Morfaw were trying to run the middle of the park by themselves; this didn't work.

So why couldn't the wingers support them? Because I don't know what Tom Soehn is doing with his wingers, and that is his fault. I keep waiting for Shea Salinas to figure it out, to get his brain up to game speed, and it keeps not happening. He keeps passing up fantastic opportunities to make a play and charging into situations from which there's no escape. I'm beginning to see why he was exposed in the expansion draft. Russell Teibert was fine, luckily, but at about the twenty-minute mark Soehn switched Teibert and Salinas's sides. Teibert played right wing and Salinas played left. He did a similar trick against Chivas with Salinas and Camilo Sanvezzo, and the exact same results took place. Two wingers, playing on their off feet, were unable to cross or do anything useful with the ball. It was like we were playing with nine men offensively. Salinas awkwardly tried to sidefoot a couple crosses that just went nowhere; what else was he going to do?! Teibert, clearly out of his comfort zone, had a high work rate but was pretty much marked into oblivion. As strategies go it was almost hilariously ineffective but I can't imagine what Soehn was trying to achieve by it.

I'm trying to tell myself to be patient, reminding myself of how little time Soehn's had to remake this team in his image. But when you fire a popular, well-respected coach thirteen games into your first MLS season because you need to win now, you better have something bloody impressive coming to pick up the reins. It's increasingly clear that the Whitecaps haven't, and we're looking at the same slow improvement process we saw under Teitur, just one that's a few steps further back.

Man of the Match: Jay DeMerit. If it's Greg Janicki instead of him at centre back, this game ends 4-0 or 5-0. I want to send Bob Bradley a bouquet of flowers for not calling this guy up for the Gold Cup; he's a leviathan back there.

Most Disappointing: Oh, there were lots of guys competing for this laurel wreath, but using the real definition of disappointing I'm going with Shea Salinas. My estimation of his talent is slowly falling from "great, electric starting winger" to "useful player if he figures it out" and is now approaching "you're sure Cornelius Stewart isn't available?".

Next Up: In a game that bloody well ought to be harder-fought than this one, the Whitecaps travel to Seattle to take on the Seattle Sounders in our first leg of the 2011 Cascadia Cup June 11 at 7:30 PM PDT. The game is broadcast on TSN2, because heaven forfend the Toronto Sports Network sully its main channel with a marquee Whitecaps game.