San Jose, CA - with only three matches remaining in their 2015 Major League Soccer campaign, the Vancouver Whitecaps traveled to chilly southern California to face the San Jose Earthquakes, who are in the the thick of the playoff race in the ultra competitive MLS Western Conference.
Vancouver, who have not won in the league since they defeated the Colorado Rapids on September 9th, were looking to break out of their slump and return to winning ways on Saturday evening. While securing a playoff berth seems a formality at this point Carl Robinson and his team surely want to finish the season on a high note in order to the maximize the amount of points from their final matches, and finish the year with some momentum on their side.
While the Whitecaps still have yet to win in San Jose since joining MLS in 2011, Vancouver were by and large the best team in the opening forty-five minutes and deservedly went into the half time break with the lead courtesy of Cristian Techera's thirty-ninth minute goal. The second half was a more even affair between the two teams, and unfortunately for Vancouver's back six the only real defensive lapse of the entire match was punished by Chris Wondolowski, who was left completely unmarked to draw the 'Quakes level in the sixty-second minute.
Perhaps even a month ago a one-all draw at Avaya Stadium would have been seen by 'Caps fans as a good result, but the faithful are concerned with the team's lack of form in recent weeks. It was a good road performance by the blue and white, but after Techera's goal the Whitecaps did not have another good opportunity to take all three points until Kekuta Manneh and Techera raced in on goal in the third minute of second half stoppage time. Manneh, who's touch on the ball is either sublime or horrible, over hit the ball and knocked it right into the feet of 'Quakes goalkeeper David Bingham, who was well off his line in a desperate attempt to prevent Vancouver stealing a victory in the dying moments of the match.
With all that considered let us assess the performance of a selection of the Whitecaps from Saturday evening's matches:
David Ousted (GK) C - by and large Ousted was not called upon to make too many saves, especially in the first half, but he was unable to hang on to Cordell Cato's shot and Wondolowski punished the usually reliable Vancouver shot stopper. Ousted will likely accept full responsibility for failing to hang on to Cato's shot, but the Caps' midfielders and defenders must take their share of the responsibility because the dangerous Wondolowski ran at least half the length of the pitch unmarked before scoring the equalizer. Despite allowing a goal this evening, if Ousted can earn two clean sheets from the remaining three matches then he will tie his record 13 clean sheets from 2014.
Tim Parker (D) B - once again the young center half had a solid outing on the back line for Vancouver. Robbo insisted upon selecting Parker in this season's MLS SuperDraft that the St. John's University product was ready for MLS minutes, and Parker has proven his boss correct time and time again over the course of the season. However, points were deducted because Parker, like his teammates Kendall Waston and Jordan Harvey, was also caught off-guard by Ousted's mishandling of the ball on the Wondoloski goal and could only watch as the ball sailed into the back of the net.
Steven Beitashour (D) C+ - Beitashour missed the past two matches against New York City FC and the Seattle Sounders through injury and the 'Caps certainly missed his presence at right back. Newcomer Jordan Smith, who filled in for Beitashour during his absence, may eventually press Steven for a starting role, but largely struggled in his first few matches for Vancouver. Beitashour provided more stability at right back on Saturday and did not turn possession of the ball over nearly as much, or as often as Smith did previously. Beitashour did his team a disservice for picking up his fifth yellow card of the season, and will now watch Wednesday's crucial match against FC Dallas from the touchline.
Gershon Koffie (MF) C+ - Koffie again partnered well alongside Matias Laba in Vancouver's midfield, but Gershon turned the ball over a couple of times, and did not pick up Wondolowski's run that eventually led to the goal. In general Vancouver's back six had a fairly good match, but the margin for errors in MLS are very small, and predators like Wondo must be kept in check at all times.
Kekuta Manneh (F) B - sadly Manneh's lead-footed touch when he was clear in on goal deep in second half stoppage time will haunt many Whitecaps fans as an opportunity gone to waste. While Manneh has undoubtedly made the step from substitute to MLS regular this season, his touch on the ball leaves much to be desired. On Saturday evening the lack of Manneh's touch was on display at both it's brilliant best and it's disappointing worst. The best: a lovely weighted and perfectly placed ball which led to a quality shot on the goal by Jordan Harvey in the fifth minute and the worst being Manneh's heavy touch with only Bingham as the lone obstacle to the Caps ' first ever MLS victory in San Jose. The rest of the evening Manneh was a constant spark to the Caps' attack and had several quality shots on goal. Another observation that deserves further attention is the budding chemistry that Manneh is beginning to form with striker Octavio Rivero. Could this be a dynamic goal scoring duo in the making?
Octavio Rivero (F) C - Rivero, who is still unable to find the back of the net with any regularity, came into the match nursing an injury to his Achilles tendon. While it did appear that Rivero's stride was somewhat shorter and choppier than usual, the Uruguayan front man managed to endure for the entire ninety minutes. While Robinson's team supposedly lined up in the familiar 4-2-3-1, Rivero was spotted in several areas of the pitch that are perhaps not the preferred location for a lone striker: out wide on the flanks and deep in the midfield (a.k.a. "Laba Country"). Rivero did provide for his teammates and had a couple of good chances when in front of goal himself, but he was once again unable to improve on his team leading ten goals. With the playoffs hopefully just around the corner Whitecaps fans hope that Rivero will be able rediscover the same lethal form he enjoyed in the opening months of the season. Also interesting to note that all three yellow card cautions that were shown to various San Jose players were all drawn on fouls on Rivero.
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