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Vancouver - Montreal Post-Game: Beating Montreal is Just What We Do

Normal service has been resumed.
Normal service has been resumed.

Wait, I'm supposed to feel super-stoked about the Vancouver Whitecaps handing the Montreal Impact a 2-0 season-opening ass-kicking?

Beating Montreal isn't an upset; it isn't even special. Vancouver whipping the Impact's hide was once as regular as the sunrise. The stats men will tell you Vancouver beat Montreal because Montreal's a crappy expansion team built from the ground up to draft first overall and have to be built from the ground up again, while Vancouver was at home and had some real soccer players.

It's more unusual for the Whitecaps to score two beautiful goals in said whooping: a traditional Whitecaps goal is either a straight run-and-gun or a bit of greasy thrashing and banging in front of the net. Instead, we had Alain Rochat hitting a long pass to Eric Hassli, who flicked a header on to a charging Sebastien Le Toux, and hey maybe Montreal should have signed francophone players instead of Italians because those three worked out pretty well. Then Camilo, half on purpose and half by accident, put himself on the 2012 MLS Goal of the Year ballot... yeah, take that, YouTube.

Montreal had their attacks. A couple decent chances fizzed not too far high or wide. They got dangerous spells in the Whitecaps end for five minutes at a time at two points. But they didn't look as good as Vancouver, or even as good as the Impact looked last year in the Voyageurs Cup. They looked like 2011's Whitecaps at the most depressing moments of their season, when their self-belief was gone and their lineup was set by dartboard.

That was how they came out for their first game of their first MLS season. As a Whitecaps fan, I'm pleased but not ecstatic. As an Impact hater, I think this looks brilliant.

Because I'm a pessimist by nature, my first thoughts are about the work Vancouver still has to do. The chemistry among their back line is obviously not there yet, though I'm sure it will come. As individuals Lee Young-pyo, Jay DeMerit, Martin Bonjour, and Alain Rochat looked more than up to the standard: as a unit they leave something to be desired. Language issues are probably a factor, with Bonjour far from knowing English and Lee's not exactly perfect, but more of it is just knowing each others' trends. I think almost all of Montreal's chances would have been snuffed out if, in particular, Lee, DeMerit, and Bonjour thought they could predict the others' movements.

Both DeMerit and Martin Rennie alluded to that problem post-game and time and practice are the only ways to cure it: I can't say it's something I'm worried about but it is a vulnerability we must be aware of. When we're playing teams with a more varied attack than Montreal it will come back and bite us; luckily we're not seeing such a team for a few weeks.

It's early but Martin Bonjour might have Michael Boxall levels of dominance in the air. He was humbling even Justin Braun on headers. Since DeMerit is surprisingly weak there, I like the looks of that.

The central midfield of Gershon Koffie and Jun Marques Davidson had an interesting time in a very physical game. Koffie told me after the game he thought it was no rougher than usual, but he's a pretty tough customer and was responsible for a lot of that roughness. Round about the centre circle, both teams were handing out fouls like candy. Davidson, meanwhile, was the official Whitecaps man of the match, making some excellent interceptions and combining with Koffie to force most of Montreal's best chances to the outside. Both Davidson and Koffie slipped a bit when it came to forcing the offense, and as both are natural defensive midfielders it's no surprise. Barry Robson's arrival should turn the tide a bit.

The attack came down the wings through Davide Chiumiento and Camilo Sanvezzo. I was right when I said Chiumiento's playing exclusively the left-hand side in preseason was significant but wrong when I predicted who's go on the right; apparently Teibert's groin still bugs him. Camilo scored but didn't do much otherwise; playing well out of his usual position on the right he struggled to fit into the team concept. It's no coincidence his goal was such an individual effort; of course, when you score a spectacular goal like that you've earned a lot of slack. Chiumiento had a total mismatch with Jeb Brovsky at right back, you'll be unsurprised to learn. When Jordan Harvey came in even he had Brovsky's number (although credit to Jeb for a very good desperate slide to break up a five-star Vancouver scoring chance late).

Given that the Impact got almost nothing from Patrice Bernier and Felipe Martins in the middle, they should consider putting Brovsky back into central midfield where I continue to insist, against the opinion of seemingly every coach in the bloody league, that he can be a useful player.

Since I've had little enough to say about the forwards, both Le Toux and Hassli were excellent. I was pleasantly surprised Le Toux started but everything I was told about his work rate off the ball looks true, while Hassli got back to play some great defense and worked like a devil as well. Again, we're waiting for the chemistry between theme but at least they speak the same language and Le Toux was effusive about playing with Hassli after the game.

I'm praising the Whitecaps individuals, but as I keep trying to emphasize the team play's not there yet. That accounts for Vancouver's slightly disappointing possession and passing accuracy in such a one-sided game. We all know why we have that problem, and I think Martin Rennie's a coach capable of solving it. But last year, the Whitecaps never got there: let's not start printing playoff tickets just yet.

Man of the Match: I'm going to agree with the Whitecaps and give it to Jun Marques Davidson. I didn't see Davidson too good in the pre-season, preferring Matt Watson, but on his MLS debut he saved a great scoring chance with a sliding interception late in the first half, challenged for every ball, and adjusted to MLS's physicality with aplomb and strength. He was a reasonably accurate, though unambitious, passer, and knew how to dictate the tempo of the game. I liked what I saw.

Most Disappointing: not really anybody; this is one of those games where it's tough to give out. I have to say Alain Rochat, simply because expectations for him are always so high. While he made no major mistakes in his own third, he didn't make many successful runs with the ball and his crosses were all off-target. Even he had a terrific opportunistic scoring chance in garbage time that hit the post: it was one of those nights. (Darren Mattocks nearly got this, just because he was the least effective Whitecap on the field, but obviously that would have been bloody unfair. Not everybody was exceptional but none of Vancouver's players were bad.)