For their third game in eight congested days, the Vancouver Whitecaps met the San Jose Earthquakes for the first time at Avaya Stadium, however succumbed to defeat for only the second time this season. The Caps sat atop the Western Conference with the best point haul in the league through six games and were the topic of much discussion coming into the fixture, while the Quakes themselves have garnered a lot of attention since relocating to their new $100,000,000 home. Dominic Kinnear is back at the helm after a nine-year spell with the Houston Dynamo and the current outfit certainly represents a different proposition to the sides fielded within the enclosed confines of Buck Shaw Stadium. Unfortunately, the Blue and White learnt that a change in surroundings doesn’t always ensure a change in outcome when visiting the Bay Area, as they are still yet to beat the MLS incarnation of their former NASL rivals away from BC Place. I guess, in the immortal words of Reginald Ledoux, "time is a flat circle".
Head Coach Carl Robinson made four changes to Wednesday’s line-up against Columbus Crew SC in an attempt to rest certain members of the roster. Pa-Modou Kah replaced Diego Rodriguez, Jordan Harvey replaced Sam Adekugbe, Deybi Flores replaced Russell Teibert, and Kekuta Manneh started in place of Nico Mezquida. Kinnear went with David Bingham between the sticks; Marvell Wynne, Victor Bernardez, Clarence Goodson, and Cordell Cato in the back-line; Chris Wondolowski, Fatai Alashe, and Matias Perez Garcia in the midfield; Sanna Nyassi and Shea Salinas on the flanks; and elected Adam Jahn to lead the line. DP Innocent Emeghara was absent from proceedings after being dealt a one-game suspension for a particularly poor tackle during last week’s 1-0 home loss to Real Salt Lake on Luke Mulholland.
Darren Mattocks set the tone rather emphatically in the early goings, delivering the People’s Elbow to this year’s fourth overall SuperDraft selection Fatai Alashe. The often maligned Jamaican international was cautioned for the incident and referee Edvin Jurisevic would go on to dispatch his yellow card on three more occasions during the opening 45, booking Bingham for handling the ball outside of his area along with Manneh and Kah for mistimed challenges. It was largely uneventful heading into the interval, although in some respects the sloppy discipline reflected the soccer on show. Case in point: the careless play which led to Jahn’s disallowed opener. Kah was lackadaisical in possession and didn’t place nearly enough power behind his lateral pass to Kendall Waston. San Jose’s pressing game punished the former Portland Timbers center-back and were it not for the assistant’s flag would have taken the lead in the ninth minute.
It was hoped that WFC would come out of the break with a newfound sense of urgency, but it became clear pretty quickly in the second half that this sudden injection of energy was not going to materialize. As the passing game continued to deteriorate, the Earthquakes discovered the blood in the water and abandoned their previous policy of hesitation in order to feast on their now vulnerable prey. For large periods of time the experience could only be compared to watching an excruciatingly underwhelming Vine on a seemingly endless loop; Vancouver would narrowly avoid going a goal down and look to start an attack of their own, only to wastefully lose the ball and repeat the exact same series of events seconds later. It became abundantly clear that this approach was not sustainable and Sanna Nyassi would ultimately validate such fears by breaking the deadlock 75 minutes in. Steven Beitashour, returning to his hometown and former team, and Pa-Modou both made terrific blocks in the build-up to Nyassi’s strike, but the inevitable could only be delayed not prevented.
Before Jurosevic could blow the final whistle, an abject night concluded in typically abject fashion as Pedro Morales and Jahn both saw red for a confrontation in the 88th, ostensibly spawned from misinterpretation. Teibert hacked the 24-year-old to the ground and the man in charge correctly gave San Jose a free-kick, but the Chilean maestro failed to register the call and proceeded as if the play remained live. In his eyes, he was making an honest attempt to regain possession as Jahn obstructed play on the deck and he went on to contest that his perceived transgression came without any semblance of malice. Jahn understandably didn’t see things that way and chose to kick out at the ex-Malaga playmaker, placing the officiating crew in a rather awkward and indeed precarious position. After consultation, Jurosevic went on to dismiss both men. For me, and this is my personal opinion, the referee should have attempted to hear both sides of the story and reach a more amicable solution considering the far-reaching consequences suspensions can yield along with the context of the game. Nonetheless, given the precedent for trigger happy decision-making over the course of the match, the treatment of the whole situation should not have come as a shock to anyone.
Matias Laba’s endeavours amid the lackluster effort surrounding him were recognized with the Budweiser Man of the Match award. For two games running the 23-year-old has been by far the most impressive player in a Whitecaps jersey, but this is nothing new or the least bit surprising. The freakish consistency is what sets him apart from many of his counterparts in Major League Soccer and for an individual with a lot of potential left to realize that’s nothing short of remarkable. Kianz Froese was also given his fair share of appreciation from the fan base, seizing the opportunity to impress in his third cameo appearance of 2015. Perhaps no other member of the squad gained as much from this trip as the 18-year-old, once again changing the dynamic of the match coming off the bench. There’s a special intelligence in the homegrown product, he goes about his business unfazed by pressure or expectation and should see the pitch with increasing regularity in coming weeks after yet another promising showing in less than ideal circumstances.
If we’re being frank, or trying to somehow justify the display, three games in eight days is something that could frequently trip up the Caps moving forward, at least in the meantime. The performances vs LA Galaxy and Crew SC exhibited the exhilarating high-tempo counter-attacking play that is turning into a tactical hallmark under Robbo and yielded four very valuable points out of a possible six. To achieve this, though, a lot of physical and mental effort was demanded of the likes of Octavio Rivero, Morales, Manneh and Mattocks. Depth has been heavily promoted this year for good reason, yet it remains a precious asset just over a month into the campaign and, more so, on the back of four successive wins and a resilient draw. As Robinson continues to develop as a coach he will learn how to perfect the balance between rotation and sustaining momentum, it’s an enormously challenging science but one he has in his capabilities to master. In the long run, the lessons he will learn from this game as a young, forward-thinking manager will be an outstanding positive out of this bleak weekend.
Be sure to check out more fallout from Quakes vs Whitecaps here, at Eighty Six Forever.