The Vancouver Whitecaps won their first road game in Major League Soccer. They got it with goalkeeping performances from both Joe Cannon and Brad Knighton, and of course a dramatic goal, on a header, from a corner kick, by Jay DeMerit.
That settles it. Martin Rennie can do anything.
It was just like being back in the USL. There were a couple thousand fans sitting on their hands on a ground that was wet and difficult to play on. Chivas USA brought on loads of obscure players with questionable origins; they poached Cesar Romero from Mexican indoor soccer, which is probably the most USL thing that's ever happened. Plenty of old second-division players were prominently involved. There was even a goalkeeper substitution.
I miss the Whitecaps being in the USL, so I loved it. The game itself was crappy, with Chivas controlling large portions of the play and being screwed out of a deserved point by a defender's goal for the second week running. Both teams made plenty of mistakes and both Robin Fraser and Martin Rennie have plenty of work to do. Passing was hilariously sloppy, and not all of that can be down to bad surface conditions. Chivas and Vancouver both have highly revamped lineups, and that showed in the lack of chemistry or understanding.
In the end, the Whitecaps weathered the early Chivas storm, gradually took control of the game, got a goal, then successfully held on for dear life without allowing a really excellent scoring chance. The beginning of the game was ghastly, and the whole 90 minutes was really below-par, but in the end the storyline was out of a textbook. That is how you do that.
This result, to use an old cliche that seems thoroughly inadequate for the occasion, takes a money off the Whitecaps' back. Even if it was ugly, Vancouver played a lot of ugly road games that got one or zero points last year and to get three in grotesque style will be a huge relief to both fans and players. The win was Vancouver's first on the road since October 7, 2010 when they beat the Portland Timbers 2-0 in the first round of the USSF D2 playoffs.
(On a related note, I am annoyed by people referring to Vancouver's first road win in 17 months as "historic"; long overdue, certainly, but not historic. Not nearly as annoyed as I was by Craig MacEwan's repeated references to "the first road win in franchise history", mind you; true in a legal sense, inaccurate in any other, including the sense in which the Whitecaps wear "Since 1974" on the back of their jerseys. Davide Chiumiento was in our last road win and Gershon Koffie scored the winning goal; don't tell them that magnificent game has been thrust down the memory hole.)
With the loss of Gershon Koffie, Matt Watson made the first start of his MLS career and looked adequate: a couple slightly mis-played balls but fewer than most Whitecaps and generally sound positioning, defending, and instinctual play. I might nickname him The Adequate Matt Watson: so far his every appearance has had me shrugging and saying "hmm, I suppose that was pretty good." That's a compliment, by the way: last year's Whitecaps would have walked through a window to get The Adequate Matt Watson.
Nothing made the difference clearer than seeing Peter Vagenas in the uniform of the American Goats; he got none of the pressure which brought out the worst in him last year but he was still a zero until he was substituted out. Vancouver players barely even needed to pay attention to him. I'm so glad we don't have to worry about him anymore.
Obviously, the linkage to the forwards was bad; I've mentioned how crappy all the passing was, right? Eric Hassli had a few half-chances and he spent even more time grabbing his knees in frustration than usual; he was fractionally imprecise for all 90 of his minutes. He'd barely misjudge a header here, or slightly botch his first touch there, or get around a defender but leave the ball too far out from his feet so the second defender can slide it into touch. It's like his timing was off by the smallest fraction of a second and as a result he couldn't put a damn thing in. Sebastien Le Toux ran his balls off and played decently but left his shooting boots in Vancouver on those few opportunities he got to shoot.
On the back, Jay DeMerit was erratic, apart from the moment where he was the hero, of course. His positioning was a little off as he was back into "I'm-a-superhero" mode; closing down the ball too aggressively and leaving his teammates to pick up the brunt of the work. Alain Rochat, Martin Bonjour, and Young-Pyo Lee were both basically fine, although Rochat gets a tsk-tsk for milking an injury at an inopportune moment: he was off the field when Chivas had their best late-game scramble in the box. Also, I thought Lee's crossing was mostly terrible, which is funny given that's basically how he made his living in the best league in the world.
Not enough can be said about Joe Cannon, who kept the Whitecaps alive while they were trying to find their road legs. But credit must also be given to Brad Knighton. The last time he appeared in an MLS road game was on September 29, 2010, where he allowed four goals to the Colorado Rapids. He came in cold and at a time when it initially looked like Cannon would be able to continue. He faced no really ferocious shots like Cannon did, but hish courage in sweeping up every ball he could reach and his intelligent play was a big reason for that. Bravo, Brad Knighton. I started this season as a doubter of yours but you made me look pretty stupid for 49 minutes.
Man of the Match: The game was at a low standard so Joe Cannon takes the honour in a bit less than a half. He made one save-of-the-week-calibre stop off Ryan Smith and a few other very good ones. He held onto a wet ball very well and ensured that nothing went wrong, and he was injured making up for a defensive lapse and playing keeper-sweeper to clear away a potential scoring opportunity. Without him, we would have lost; what else could we ask?
Most Disappointing: Camilo didn't adjust to the conditions too well. With a few exceptions, his tricks on the wet grass didn't come off. His easy fouls were seldom recognized, he had no great shots, and as ever he seemed to have tunnel vision in terms of his playmaking. That's Camilo's great weakness when playing the game: obviously he's a magnificent, magnificent goal-scorer and drawer of fouls, but he hasn't really got the head-on-a-swivel awareness to be an effective playmaker. Today was worse than usual, without the usual goal or assist or drawn penalty to make up for it, and we could have had some real chances if a true winger had been out there.