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Vikes vs. Whitecaps: Some Thoughts & Observations

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It was all Vancouver in the annual friendly with the University of Victoria Vikings, but what, if anything, did we really learn from the match?

Pedro Morales was in fine form at the annual UVic Vikes vs. Whitecaps friendly on Sunday.
Pedro Morales was in fine form at the annual UVic Vikes vs. Whitecaps friendly on Sunday.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Editor's Note: those of you who enjoy our weekly podcast From the Backline will be pleased to learn the FTBL team was busy all afternoon long at Centennial Stadium.  The podcast will air later this week and, for the first time ever, will feature an all-Eighty Six Forever round table recorded on location at the UVic campus.  In addition, Rituro is preparing another special report that will feature interviews with Carl RobinsonSam AdekugbeMarco Bustos and Marius Røvde.

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The dust may have settled on the tenth, and my first, edition of the University of Victoria Vikings versus Vancouver Whitecaps friendly yesterday, but there are many interesting observations that I took away from the match.

Of course one would expect to see a difference between a professional and university soccer teams, and no disrespect intended to Bruce Wilson and his squad here, but considering the lopsided score and the fast start for the Caps, there was never really much doubt which of the two teams was going to win this match.

Pedro Morales opened the scoring in just the third minute after Sam Adekugbe was dumped out on the left flank deep in the Vikes third.  Referee Alain Ruch awarded a free kick to the Caps and our Chilean Maestro beat Noah Pawlawski, the Vikes 'keeper, at the near post with a very sneaky free kick.

It took Vancouver just another four minutes to score when Russell Teibert pounced to double the Caps' lead in the seventh minute after the Vikes backline had trouble dealing with a cross whipped in from the right flank by Steven Beitashour.

From this point the final outcome of the match was all but formality.  I heard it said many times during the course of the afternoon that the squad that Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson had brought over to Victoria was one of, if not the strongest team that the Caps have fielded in the history of this great event.

By the time the whistle had been blown for full time the Caps had put another four goals behind Pawlawski.  Marco Bustos, Octavio Rivero, Diego Rodriguez and Kianz Froese all had markers for Vancouver.  In addition Bustos, Morales and Rivero all tallied an assist each during the match.

The Vikes, apart from the energetic and creative Cam Hundal, were somewhat devoid of ideas and didn't really threaten Paolo Tornaghi's goal all afternoon.  The Vikes did, however, have a goal waved off just before half time, but the referee's assistant had his flag up for offside.

Despite the large gap in the quality of the two sides there were still a number of items that impressed me, so let's take a look (in no particular order) of some of my observations from Sunday afternoon:

  • Pedro Morales: one of the lasting impressions I have from that playoff match against FC Dallas last October, was a tired, injured and grouchy-looking Pedro Morales.  Yesterday, however, the Pedro Morales we saw looked fit, fresh, energetic and focused. This is a very good sign for the Whitecaps
  • Kendall Waston: at 6'5" and 215lbs Waston has a few inches in height and is fifteen pounds heavier than the second biggest Cap, Christian Dean.  They call him the "Big Man" for good reason, because when you stand next to Kendall you realize, well, you realize how big this guy really is.  In my weaker moments I almost pity opposing players, who, if they are not mauled by the prowling and ever dangerous Matías Laba, then face the terrifying prospect of having to deal with Waston.
  • The Fullbacks: after only a few minutes into the match the Caps were already pressing deep into the UVic third of the pitch.  From very early on we saw Laba playing quite deep just in front of the centre back pairing of Waston and Diego Rodriguez.  Adekugbe and Beitashour were playing quite far up their respective flanks as the wide-playing Whitecaps made good use of the entire width of the pitch.  At times it almost looked as though the Caps were playing a 3-5-2 formation.
  • The Kids (and the kids who aren't really kids any more): last week when we talked to the legendary Carl Valentine on From the Backline we discussed how encouraging it is to see how many young players have graduated from the Whitecaps residency program and now have MLS contracts.  It was also interesting to see the difference in the "quality" between the UVic players and residency grads like Bustos, Teibert, Adekugbe, Froese, etc.  Later in the match Robbo made more substitutions which saw other homegrown players like Ben McKendry, Jackson Farmer, Mitch Piraux and Caleb Clarke enter the match.  It was interesting to see the difference between McKendry, who is a Whitecaps residency grad and played his collegiate soccer at the NCAA level, when compared to the CIS-level Vikes.  McKendry, who was only just recently signed by the Caps, could be an interesting, and shrewd signing by Robbo.
  • Octavio Rivero: fans and supporters alike have been eagerly awaiting the signing of a goal scorer.  It's fair to say that in 2014 the Whitecaps' scoring was inconsistent at best, but is Rivero the answer?  Of course, since it is still preseason it is too early to say, but the Young Designated Player certainly had fans on the edge of their seats yesterday afternoon.  Rivero is intelligent, makes some brilliant runs, can finish and can put power on a shot like you wouldn't believe.  If you don't trust my assessment then just ask UVic 'keeper Noah Pawlawski. Trialist Robert Earnshaw, who was a second half substitute, brought the fans to their feet with a spectacular overhead bicycle kick that was brilliantly saved by Pawlawski.  Earnshaw could provide that veteran leadership/mentorship to the younger forwards much like Kenny Miller did, but for a much lower hit to the salary cap.
  • Team Preparation/Depth: I was quite impressed with organization and obvious preparation of this Whitecaps squad.  They have only been together since preseason training started at the end of January, but they look organized and I was also very impressed with the quality of the passing on display from the XI that started the match.  WFC2 head coach Alan Koch was also in attendance, so it would be interesting to find out which players are getting a look for the ThunderCaps (and at the very least one would hope that UVic player Cam Hundal will have the opportunity to go to the try-outs in a few weeks). [Edit: an honorable mention to Sam Prette, who matched the pace of the speedy Erik Hurtado throughout the first half.]

In closing I don't think we should read too much into this victory.  This weekend the Whitecaps will participate in the Simple Invitational in Portland, OR, which will also feature the Portland Timbers, Chicago Fire and Bob Bradley's Stabæk Fotball club.  Playing against professional opposition should provide us with a better benchmark for where Caps (currently 30/1 odds in Vegas to win MLS Cup in 2015) stand as they continue their preparations for the season opener on March 7th at home to Toronto FC.

Finally, I would like to thanks the Whitecaps for making their coaches and players available to us.  As you can see our own Rituro was clearly impressed by the Caps' goalkeeping coach, Marius Røvde!