During our pre-match pint, Chris Corrigan and I figured that there'd be goals in it, as the Vancouver Whitecaps played hosts to the LA Galaxy in their only visit to Vancouver this season. If memory serves, there was even a prediction of a 2-2 draw, unbridled praise for Kekuta Manneh, and what must have been ale-fueled confidence in the Whitecaps' back line. Well, as the song goes: two out of three ain't bad.
Having edged Vancouver 1-0 last week in California, the LA Galaxy knew they'd be in for a tougher fight in the second portion of their home-and-away series versus the Whitecaps. Still, Bruce Arena's squad had to be pretty secure in their 7-1-1 all-time record versus the Whitecaps.
For their part, the Whitecaps were looking to build on last week's performance, where one momentary lapse was the difference. Carl Robinson's fine crop of youngsters had made a game out of it, and had they taken their chances, the result would have been different.
When all was said and done, the Caps had erased a pair of one-goal Galaxy leads, Kekuta Manneh had proven yet again to be the premier game-changer in MLS, and Vancouver's defending looked - for the first time in 2014 - to be troublingly suspect.
With Mathias Laba back from suspension, the Whitecaps opened in a 4-4-2 diamond - with Russell Teibert, Gershon Koffie, and Pedro Morales completing the remaining three points. Kenny Miller returned to his familiar starting role, alongside Darren Mattocks.
It wasn't a particularly bright start for Vancouver, with Andy O'Brien needing all of 30 seconds to collect a very questionable yellow card from Silviu Petrescu, whose history in Vancouver remains chequered to say the least. Though Teibert did have a half-chance just nine minutes in, Vancouver spent the majority of the opening 20 minutes looking nervous and sloppy, turning the ball over with alarming regularity.
But the tempo and quality improved for both sides soon thereafter.
Vancouver had the first seriously dangerous scoring opportunity at 22' when Morales dinked a ball over top of Galaxy centerback Leonardo. Miller raced onto it, and at speed played a low square ball across the top of the six that a diving Mattocks just failed to head home.
Two minutes later, a loosely marked Robbie Keane narrowly failed to curl his effort inside the back post.
Pedro Morales saw a lot more of the ball in the first half than he did in LA, working some nice sequences with first Koffie, and then Teibert. At 31', again off some Morales industry, a Koffie bicycle attempt was blocked, but the rebound fell most kindly to Morales 15 yards out. His strike ricocheted off Miller just outside the six-yard box. Somehow, Jaimie Penedo managed to react in time, and parried the ball off to his left and away from danger.
Seven minutes before the half, LA went ahead on a cavalcade of mistakes in the Whitecaps half. It begins when LA midfielder Marcelo Sarvas slides a ball wide right to RB Dan Gargan 35 yards out. He's got the entire Agricultural Land Reserve free in front of him, takes a touch and then tees up a sand wedge to the back post where a completely free Baggio Husidic heads it back dead center at the top of the six-yard box where Stefan Ishizaki gets an uncontested head to it, sending the ball past David Ousted and off Jordan Harvey and into the goal. Laba was late coming over to close down Gargan on the play, and still outside the penalty area when Ishizaki scores. Teibert starts to recognize the danger when Husidic gets on the end of Gargan's cross, but by then it's too late. It's an exercise in shoddy marking and ball-watching for the entire back line.
At the break, Carl Robsinson shook things up, bringing on Johnny Leveron for O'Brien, and Kekuta Manneh for Teibert. The effect was immediate, as the Caps starting moving the ball with a tactical purpose beyond just trying to avoid losing possession.
Kenny Miller and Darren Mattocks had early opportunities in the second half, only to shoot high and wide respectively from close in. The Caps finally drew even when Steven Beitashour sent in a lobbed through ball deep into the LA penalty area. Mattocks raced in, put a shoulder tackle in on Leonardo, and after Penedo and Leonardo got tangled up, collected the loose ball and slotted it from the sharpest of angles.
Ten minutes later, at 77' Robbie Keane put LA up 2-1. Second half sub Rob Friend outbattled Jay DeMerit to a header in the penalty area, directing his header to an unmarked Keane for a bang-bang and in she goes play.
Three minutes later, David Ousted made his biggest save of the match, denying Keane of a second marker when he dove left to snag Keane's low drive from the top of the area.
With just four minutes left in regulation time Mattocks found himself in the LA box to Penedo's right. He immediately drew three defenders, and then laid off for Manneh to strike back across Penedo and into the side netting, far side to tie the match 2-2. Two minutes later, Miller almost won it for the Caps, but his turning strike missed the far side by mere inches.
The Vancouver Whitecaps proved Saturday that they can play with the big guns of MLS, taking a point, and very narrowly missing out on all three points Saturday afternoon. Carl Robinson continues to demonstrate his ability to analyze weaknesses, and his will to make use the assets best-suited to make a difference.
However, there's cause for concern in yoga-land, as Vancouver's back line showed some glaring weaknesses. They regularly failed to pick up the wide/trailing man on back-side plays, and still seem to have trouble winning aerial battles in their own box. There's another concern, that's so far crept under the radar for the most part, and that's the lack of production off corners and FKs. For all his talents in open play this year, Pedro Morales has yet to really impress on corners and dead ball situations. I hope to see this change soon, as I can't quite picture myself wishing Camilo was back.