You have to wonder at this point if Pa Modou Kah has some juicy blackmail hanging over Carl Robinson. How else to explain why the defender continue to draw into the starting eleven next to Kendall Waston? It certainly can't be based on merit, since Kah has been at the centre of no small number of gaffes, mistakes and errors during his tenure as a Whitecap. In fact, you could make a solid claim (or, rather, I'll make a solid claim since I'm the one writing this post-match report) that two classic Kah blunders were the reason the 'Caps found themselves on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline against D.C. United - a team that started the match with only five substitutes on their bench and finished the match with their backup goalkeeper, Travis Worra, making his Major League Soccer debut by replacing the injured Andrew Dykstra in net.
Joining Kah and Waston in the 'Caps starting lineup were the usual suspects, with Pedro Morales and Mauro Rosales the only changes from the side that defeated Real Salt Lake on the road last week, sending Gershon Koffie and Nicolas Mezquida to the bench. This meant a return to Robbo's favoured 4-2-3-1 formation and it looked like a genius decision early on. The final strains of "Boundary Road" had barely left the Southsiders when Pedro Morales opened his 2015 goalscoring account with an tricky half-lob over the head of an off-his-line Dykstra. In keeping with the theme of the evening, Kah had a role in the build-up to this goal - this time, a positive one. Staying cool under pressure, Kah sent a pass back to his goalkeeper, David Ousted, who lofted a long pass on to Steven Beitashour. Cutting in from the touchline, Beitashour then sprung Octavio Rivero on a run that ended with the Uruguayan landing a cross in front of the Vancouver captain. A sublime shot later, the ball was in the back of the net, the shirt was off Pedro's back, the yellow card was out of referee David Gantar's pocket and BC Place was in full rockin' mode.
Moments like this are what make Kah such an aggravating player to have on your team. When he's on form, Pa Modou Kah is an attack-withering, soul-melting defensive beast with the ability to turn on bursts of offensive talent. When he's not, games progress like this one did.
A final word about the goal: I find it amusing that, since the Morales-to-Rivero combination hasn't been working these past few games, of course it has to be the reverse that nets the 'Caps an early goal. Figures; if something's not working, turn it around and try it again. If only all of Vancouver's woes could be solved by applying basic troubleshooting steps! Sadly, humans don't come equipped with reset buttons or ON/OFF switches, so that's probably not going to do us a lot of good.
Seven minutes later, Sam Adekugbe started a chain of events that would end in the equalizing goal. First, after taking a heavy touch on Russell Teibert's pass, Adekugbe made a desperation, studs-exposed slide-tackle on Perry Kitchen. That was good enough for a yellow card and a lengthy discussion from Gantar, which was better than the straight red Adekugbe would have been justified in seeing had the referee been so inclined. During that lengthy chat between Gantar, Kitchen and Adekugbe, Robbo was in the fourth official's ear (then again, when is he not?) about Kitchen's retaliatory kick on Adekugbe while the young fullback was still on the ground and the play had long been dead. Kitchen would earn no discipline from the referee for his actions though the stare of death he received from Kendall Waston may have been punishment enough. As I mentioned at the start of this paragraph, Adekugbe's foul (and the lengthy, momentum-killing chat that followed) had the net effect of creating D.C. United's equalizing goal. The post-foul free kick went out for a throw, which was quickly taken and controlled by Michael Farfan. His cross found a rising Bobby Boswell, who cleanly beat Adekugbe to the header and nodded the ball past Ousted. You could make a case that Ousted should've had that one - he was in position and dove the right way - but Ousted doesn't have to make any of those efforts if Adekugbe doesn't a) foul Kitchen so clumsily and b) lose an aerial duel with Boswell.
From there, the game took some semblance of shape as the teams began to settle in and probe each other for weaknesses. D.C. favoured long balls over the top, looking to repeatedly spring the attacking tandem of Chris Rolfe and Fabian Espindola. In contrast, Vancouver kept things mostly on the deck through midfield, with Morales dropping deeper and deeper to start the play. After a stretch of fouls and aborted build-ups, Darren Mattocks made his first impact on the match. His 29th-minute charge from the left resulted in a dangerous looking cross that found no white jerseys but did earn a corner. Morales' corner landed right on the noggin of Rivero, whose strong header went right at Dykstra. Three minutes later, Rosales sent in a cross that, again, picked out Rivero with commendable accuracy. Rivero promptly delivered another strong header well off target with uncommendable inaccuracy. It's good to see Rivero is still getting chances and taking them strongly; that said, when you finish the game with six shots, two on target and zero in the back of the net, hands begin to nervously wring among the viewing public.
Speaking of hands, after watching and re-watching the replays, I still think Matias Laba's 34th-minute handball was a load of bunk. At near-point-blank range while mid-lunge, Laba had hardly any time to react - ball-to-hand says I, yellow card said Gantar. People may be more upset with the events nine minutes later; me, I'm more inclined to take umbrage with this alleged infraction.
I also took umbrage with the play of Mauro Rosales, though to a lesser extent. The Argentine alternatively looked like a great attacking threat or completely lost as to the rhythm of the team. Through-balls landing between the runs of attacks and misreads on incoming passes and breakouts weighed up against positive runs and dangerous crosses. His performance on the day may not have been overly offensive but it may not have been enough to keep his starting place for next week's trip to Lower Cascadia to take on the Portland Timbers.
Now we get to the part in my notes where, in all-caps, phrases like "STOP DOING THAT, KAH" show up more and more. In the 38th minute, Kah gaps out on where his teammates are and sends a bizarre pass to absolutely nobody behind him. It's an astoundingly unaware play and Espindola wastes no time in charging the goal. Thankfully, some fire-drill defending and a lucky miss by Farfan - not gonna lie, my heart skipped a beat when the mesh atop Ousted's net rippled - kept the score at 1-1. Four minutes later, Kah added another entry in my log of all-caps rants by making an ugly attempted clearance to stop a D.C. counter. This error would prove fatal - with only Waston back to stop Espindola, Laba turns on the jets to catch the D.C. striker and ever so slightly nicks the heel of Espindola, who does a half-gainer dive and sells the contact like a deceptively priced insurance policy. No question about the legitimacy of the call here and Laba's evening is over with his second yellow. It's a no-win situation to be in for Laba in: had Kah disposed of or, heck, just controlled the ball initially, Laba doesn't need to foul Espindola, intentionally or not. (Then again, if Laba doesn't get a bogus early yellow earlier, nobody minds that he stopped Espindola from going one-on-one with Waston.) It's a devastating blow for the 'Caps both short-term and long-term, as it removes the defensive spine of the team for not just this match but next week in Portland. That, folks, is what we call "not good". I'll throw it out there: are we sure Kah isn't secretly still working for Portland?
Undeterred, former red card recipient Pedro Morales attempts to steal a goal with a long-distance bomb of a shot but Dykstra is quick to backpedal and get on his line to prevent what would've been an embarrassing goal to concede. After some threatening but ultimately harmless pressure, the half ends all square at 1-1.
Carl Robinson made one half-time substitution, an obvious one: Gershon Koffie on for Darren Mattocks. Makes sense: lose one defensive midfielder, bring on another - a forward-trending, box-to-box one at that - and try to punish any overly aggressive pressure with a quick counter. It doesn't quite work, as D.C. use their numerical advantage to hound the 'Caps defense early. In response, Octavio Rivero attempts to win the game himself, doing all the work to try and get himself into position after receiving hopeful long outlet passes. It's not pretty or effective but it highlights just how much work Rivero is willing to do to try and keep his team in the game. Also working hard to keep his team in the game: David Ousted, who makes two incredible saves less than ten minutes into the half. First, after a Gershon Koffie backpass misses Teibert and Kah is beaten to it (aaaargh), Fabian Espindola bursts downfield and blasts a shot at the far post, which Ousted just gets enough of to push wide for a corner kick. The corner is taken short and an unmarked Chris Rolfe has time and space to tee up a wicked bending shot which a flying Ousted parries at full stretch.
Ousted's heroics trigger a response from the 'Caps, who stream downfield and nearly get their go-ahead goal. Morales is given time on the ball - you'd think opposing teams would know not to do that by now - and puts a delicious through-ball along the ground for Rosales, who shakes his defender and rips off a teasing shot that beats Dykstra but not the post, bouncing back out. Morales charges up on the rebound and slams a shot of his own at the gaping net but is foiled by a flailing combination of Dykstra and defender Sean Franklin. While no goals were scored, the result is promising: Franklin's last-ditch effort injured Dykstra forcing him out of the game and ushering in backup goalkeeper Travis Worra for his MLS debut. A glimmer of hope can be seen on the horizon, but it's just a glimmer amidst the constant offensive pressure led by Espindola and Rolfe and the suffocating defense that refuses to allow a shot to even reach Worra, let alone test the debutant.
Sadly, that glimmer lasts all of ten minutes. After another Vancouver attack breaks down - one that leaves Steven Beitashour furious with Koffie as the fullback's wide-open overlapping run went undetected by the midfielder - D.C. begin their breakout. Using their extra player to dominate possession, United play the ball from box to box, holding possession masterfully and crumbling the Vancouver defense before sending in Espindola. Beitashour makes a nice tackle but the ball falls to an unmarked Rolfe whose shot beats Ousted from distance. Kah wasn't the only player at fault this time; Koffie, Teibert and Waston all shoulder blame along with Kah for making questionable positional calls and simply being outworked by D.C.'s passing game. Koffie in particular was left looking for the boots he was deked out of near the midfield circle.
Undaunted, Rivero continued his one-man attempt to force the game back in Vancouver's favour in the 68th minute. Putting in an amazing amount of skill and sheer strength against the United defenders, Rivero was brought to ground with what looked like a fairly blatant charge in the penalty area but referee David Gantar was unmoved. At this point in the season, it looks like nothing that happens to Rivero short of being bludgeoned with a lead pipe by Colonel Mustard in the penalty area will result in a foul being called. Perhaps sensing Rivero's frustration, Robbo's final two subs were geared to try and generate more action in offensive end. Kekuta Manneh and Cristian Techera came in for Teibert and Rosales, respectively. While offense was generated - a clumsy backpass between Kofi Opare and Travis Worra being the catalyst - it would ultimate come to nothing as the collapsing D.C. defense ensured headers were either blocked or deflected out. This is what you hate to see as the team trying to attack, from behind, at home, down a man: the opposition doing exactly what they should do and clinically retain possession, attacking only when it suits them and snuffing out any opposing opportunities that might prove dangerous. It's tough to exploit an untested goalkeeper when you can't get a shot anywhere near him.
My final "Kah gives the ball away AGAIN" note says he gifted Chris Pontius a chance in the 85th minute which was handled by Ousted. Guess how my opinion of Kah is right around now.
To their credit, Vancouver kept fighting to the end, with Rivero finally drawing a foul and a yellow card (albeit on Kitchen for persistent fouling, not specifically to Rivero's run) and Techera's efforts putting Farfan in the book four minutes later. This latter incident gave us the soul-crushing "Pedro Morales Blooper of the Week", where the Vancouver captain shockingly shanked his free kick off into the Southsiders. This signalled the beginning of six(!) minutes of stoppage time, in which the Whitecaps finally managed to test Worra courtesy a weak, at-the-keeper effort by Techera. This six-minute frenzy served as the David Ousted Fitness Challenge, as the goalkeeper sprinted up to join the attack for every set piece before sprinting right back to his goal. It was a commendable effort but by the end of stoppage time the closest the 'Caps came to equalizing was a head-in-hands miss by Rivero miss from six yards out. Despite being unmarked at the far post, the Chilean sent his shot back across the face of goal, wide and out for a goal kick. When you're close enough to count the fibers in the towel hung in the net, not hitting the target is inexcusable.
Also inexcusable: giving up another three points to a beatable visiting team after taking an early lead. I thought lessons had been learned after Toronto humiliated Vancouver on opening day; evidently not.
2' - (VAN) Pedro Morales (Octavio Rivero, Steven Beitashour)
9' - (DC) Bobby Boswell (Michael Farfan)
64' - (DC) Chris Rolfe
2' - (VAN) Pedro Morales
9' - (VAN) Sam Adekugbe
34' - (VAN) Matias Laba
42' - (VAN) Matias Laba
84' - (DC) Perry Kitchen
88' - (DC) Michael Farfan
45' (VAN) Gershon Koffie for Darren Mattocks
58' (DC) Travis Worra for Andrew Dykstra
70' (VAN) Kekuta Manneh for Russell Teibert
76' (VAN) Cristian Techera for Mauro Rosales
76' (DC) Luis Silva for Chris Rolfe
90' (DC) Conor Doyle for Chris Pontius