The Vancouver Whitecaps went to Columbus having collected points in three out of four road matches in 2014. Having said that, Carl Robinson's squad had only managed to obtain three out of a possible 12 points and that first road win of the season had proved elusive. Vancouver's away woes were put aside, and the Whitecaps were able to obtain full points in a win that combined exciting football, tactical organization, brilliant individual performances and good ol' guts.
Carl Robinson fielded the same lineup as he put forward in the win against the San Jose Earthquakes last weekend at BC Place with the exception of Eric Hurtado getting the nod to replace Darren Mattocks who was left to watch the match on TV in Vancouver while he nurses his hamstring injury.
For the second time in as many weeks the ‘Caps started the game very strong and created several early chances that both Eric Hurtado and Sebastian Fernandez were unable to capitalize on. The Whitecaps' attacking weapons (Morales, Fernandez, Manneh, and in this case, Hurtado) are starting to bring a combination of speed, fluidity and high pressing that are really causing issues for the backlines of the opposition. The Whitecaps' pace allows them to transition at great speed and create dangerous counterattacks.
It was not one of these quick passing plays that created the lone goal of the night. Erik Hurtado has finally been able to open his scoring tab as a professional player at the 37th minute on a play that showcased both his physical strength and, yes, a nice striking technique. David Ousted tallied up his first MLS assist after Hurtado was able to bring down a long goal kick, turn around, set up with a cheeky move and fire off a very nice left-footed strike that nested in the top left corner of Steve Clark's net. It has to be a great boost for a player who has received a fair amount of stick during his time in Vancouver.
While the first half was mostly Vancouver's, Columbus improved in the second half and pushed forward. The defensive strength and organization of the Whitecap's defensive bodies, spearheaded by Matias Laba, proved impossible to break down, and that leaves the Crew winless in seven, scoreless in the last three, and dropping their last three games.
Matias Laba's play has to be highlighted as he deservedly won the man of the match award. The Argentine was a beast in midfield blocking, tackling, pressing, distributing, sliding, recovering balls and effectively erasing the efforts of his compatriot Federico Higuain, one of the best (if not the best) creative midfielders in the league. I cannot emphasize enough the importance that the young DP has in Robinson's squad.
However, it would be unfair not to mention that this road performance was the fruit of a collective effort with the backline playing solidly. Steven Beitashour has to be a lock for the World Cup, Gershon Koffie is starting to look like his own version circa mid-2012, Sebastian Fernandez is solidifying his place in the starting XI, Pedro Morales keeps pulling the strings in midfield with Kekuta Manneh providing a constant threat despite his sometimes wild runs with the ball.
The Whitecaps even had the chance to put away the game towards the end with a few glorious chances that Hurtado, Manneh and recently recalled Omar Salgado were unable to put away. While the Crew pushed hard for an equalizer, the Whitecaps were equal to the task. They absorbed the pressure and remained organized and focused from whistle to whistle resulting in a very important road win.
The Whitecaps now come back home to prepare for the second leg of the Voyageurs Cup semifinal to be played on Wednesday night against Toronto FC before having a bye week next weekend.
In your opinion, what was the most important aspect of the first Whitecaps road win in 2014? Let me know in the comment section.