On an afternoon where the Vancouver Whitecaps saluted their retired captain, former USMNT defender Jay DeMerit, it was the forwards, not the defenders, who carried the hopes of the 'Caps very nearly to victory against the visiting FC Dallas. In fact, you might say it was a disservice to the legacy of Vancouver's first MLS-era captain that some of the most groan-inducing gaffes of the afternoon were committed by the defense. Might a second defender's time in Vancouver be coming to an end after today's match?
Vancouver juggled their attacking options up front for this match, pleasing folks like myself who have been clamouring for Darren Mattocks to start atop Carl Robinson's 4-2-3-1. Erik Hurtado found himself out wide right, while Sebastian Fernandez took up the attacking left spot. The rest of Vancouver's starting XI was as expected; what wasn't expected was FC Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja countering with a 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2, depending on how you look at it). Pareja's tactical tinkering may have been a combination of looking for a counter-attacking solution to the match and managing the lack of Je-Vaughn Watson, who was missing for family reasons.
Quick shout-out to Mother Nature, who forced Dallas goalkeeper Raul Fernandez into wearing a baseball cap for the opening stages of the match. I have never seen something that bizarre before and likely never will again, so, thanks, sun!
To the match, then, and we got a preview of how much Morales was about to dominate the match in the 9th minute, when he did some great work to juggle the ball and set up Hurtado. Hurtado then showed how not like Morales he is by tripping over the ball and fluffing the chance. Amazingly, the ball still managed to end up with Mattocks, who put his shot on target and forced a save out of
Mr. Ballcap Fernandez, his first of many on the afternoon.
Thankfully, Fernandez was beaten early to give the 'Caps hope. Gershon Koffie, who had a great game, did his best Morales impression and put a clinical through-ball along the ground from midfield, splitting the Dallas defense and finding a sprinting Mattocks, who poked the ball past a challenging Fernandez. One-nil good guys after eleven minutes!
Early on, Dallas was not able to get much in the way of offense, which did not make Pareja's decision to go with a 3-5-2/5-3-2 look very good. If this was supposed to be a defensive formation, the early goal and chances from Vancouver made it clear it wasn't working; if this was supposed to be a counter-attacking formation, it was lacking in two major areas: countering and attacking. In the 21st minute, Blas Perez finally got a shot for FC Dallas, recovering a loose ball and firing a shot wide. Why was Perez able to get to that ball? Because Steven Beitashour and Carlyle Mitchell got their wires crossed. Please note how that refrain has been popping up repeatedly in past matches. (Spoiler: it's going to pop again later in this recap and you're not going to like it.) Is this a sign that Mitchell has run out of chances on the backline? SuperDraft pick Christian Dean was on the bench for the 'Caps, as was Andy O'Brien. I would not be surprised at all to see either of those defenders supplant Mitchell not just due to squad rotation - Vancouver's next match is a midweek tilt against the Chicago Fire - but due to an end of patience for the Trinidadian defender.
In what would be an ill omen, Mattocks missed an empty net in the 24th minute, having done so well to start the play but so poorly to finish it (speaking of oft-heard refrains...). In a move we've seen so many times, Mattocks charged up the flank, outpaced his defender and send a cross into the box for... no-one. Thankfully, Beitashour - who had been rampaging and would continue to rampage up and down the flank all game - did well to keep the ball in play and send another cross back in. This cross, intended for Seba Fernandez, took a lucky deflection to Mattocks who promptly shanked the ball wide of goal.
Naturally, Dallas picked this exact moment to finally put some attacking prowess on display and equalized five minutes later thanks to Blas Perez. Charging in on the counter, a cross found the head of a late-running Zach Loyd. The defender put his header off the bar but Perez, taking the rebound of his chest, poked the ball over the line to level the match. Two things about this play irked me: one, Perez was unchallenged and had both time and space to manufacture his goal; and two, Carlyle Mitchell left his post, allowing the ball to sneak in the resulting gap. Had Mitchell stood his ground, he blocks the shot and the game remains in favour of the home side. Instead, Mitchell's poor reaction cost the 'Caps a goal.
Hey, remember that spoiler warning from earlier? Remember how Mitchell has been showcasing nothing but poor communication and decision-making all game? In the 37th minute, Mitchell outdid himself. Not heeding David Ousted's claim for an aerial ball, the defender leaped and then inexplicably balked, ducking and shielding himself with his arm while in mid-air with Ousted. The result was the goofiest handball ever conceded and perhaps the most vicious tongue-lashing Ousted has ever given to a teammate as referee Kevin Stott whistled for the penalty. Michel stepped up and converted, putting FC Dallas up 2-1 before half-time.
After the break, Dallas subbed off defender Matt Hedges for midfield ace Mauro Diaz, getting the Argentine some minutes as he recovers from injury. I have no further notes on Diaz, so we can assume he did squat all. Also doing squat all: the assistant referee who missed Raul Fernandez catching a ball out of bounds in the 50th minute. Thankfully, the 'Caps would get a make-up call a minute later when Morales (who else?) sent another gorgeous ball forward for Mattocks. The forward wasn't quite able to control the ball but it deflected off defender Moises Hernandez's outstretched arm, which Stott whistled for a penalty. I call this a make-up call because replays later showed Hernandez was outside the box when he committed the handball. A foul, yes; a penalty, no. Still, it was called a penalty at the time and the call stood, which meant it was time for Pedro Morales to step up and take the penalty. Once he had finished wading through the mass confrontation of Dallas players led by Blas Perez (how was that not a yellow?), Morales cooly put the ball in the back of the net past a frozen Fernandez to even the score at 2-2.
Those of you who worried the diving scorecards would never see use with the departure of David Ferreira from FC Dallas, good news: Raul Fernandez is capable of feigning injury with the best of them, duping Stott into handing Mattocks a yellow card in the 58th minute. TSN's replay angles showed Mattocks's trailing leg missing Fernandez's head as the former leapt over the latter, yet Fernandez milked the challenge for all it was worth.
Carlyle Mitchell Gaffe Update: a wild, slicing clearance forces Ousted into a great save. Somebody take Mitchell off the field. Please.
Carlyle Mitchell Gaffe Update Update: Perez gets past Mitchell and puts a decent shot on target, though Ousted is able to tip it over the bar. This is Mitchell's last game, right? Right?
After Kekuta Manneh subbed on for Hurtado in the 67th minute - Hurtado looked to be suffering from some sort of extended leg cramps - Morales stepped up and sent in a lovely free kick. A wide-open, unmarked Carlyle Mitchell headed the ball off the bar, which is technically not a gaffe but aaaaaaaaaaargh. My point, if it hasn't been made clear, is that I'm done with the Carlyle Mitchell experiment. Maybe we can get FC Edmonton to trade us a bag of balls and one night's free accomodation at the Fairmont Macdonald.
As bad as Mitchell was on the day, Gershon Koffie, Darren Mattocks and Pedro Morales were the opposite, causing havoc for FC Dallas' defensive strategy. If Morales was marked, Koffie was there to take over and set up an attack. If Morales was unmarked, cue the circus music. Mattocks did score a goal and caused many threatening chances the whole 90 minutes, though I would've liked to see that gift of a chance in the first half buried. Thankfully, Mattocks was also capable of setting up attacks as he did in the 76th minute, as he and Koffie set up Morales for a wicked, curling shot from outside the area, only to see the shot brilliantly parried by Raul Fernandez.
(Actual note written shortly thereafter: "STOP TAKING SHORT CORNERS AAAAARGH")
Fernandez would continue to come up huge for the Hoops, stoning Morales again in the 87th minute as Vancouver threw wave after wave of attackers forward to try and get the win. The Whitecaps' desperation would ultimately come to naught, though, as Morales' final chance - a one-time volley on a deflected sent right into Fernandez - in the sixth(!) minute of stoppage time would be as close as the home team would get to pulling out a win. For his amazing efforts on the field (including more than a few feats of juggling that made his opponents look foolish and got a cheer out of the BC Place crowd), Morales was rightly chosen as Player of the Match, with Raul Fernandez coming in a close second for his efforts to preserve the draw.