The Vancouver Whitecaps have won two tough road matches in a row, and sit tied with the Seattle Sounders atop the Western Conference Standings. In fact, they're only two points behind DC United for first place overall. However, it's tough to determine whether this club truly belongs there, if they can be counted among the upper echelon of MLS teams after performances like the one over the weekend.
Yes, the Whitecaps emerged with the victory, but it very well could have been a blowout going the other way. What if the club didn't have David Ousted to bail them out with a penalty save in the 5th minute? The 'Caps would have been down 1-0 on the road, something that's not easy to come back from. Instead, it was the Red Bulls that were put into recovery mode when Kekuta Manneh scored in the 15th minute.
The Whitecaps disjointed, sloppy play was far cry from what has been their crown jewel performance of the season so far, the 1-0 defensive domination of the LA Galaxy just a few weeks ago. In that match, the backline was unbelievably cohesive. Pa Modou Kah, for example, was a pillar of strength, but against the Red Bulls he reverted back to his bull-in-a-china shop mentality and was lucky to escape without a card.
In the 65th minute, the Whitecaps shot themselves in the foot with another penalty, but were saved by David Ousted and his superhuman effort on the night. I mean, it's terrific knowing the Whitecaps have one of the best Goal Keepers in MLS on their roster, but surely they can't keep hanging him out to dry. The Whitecaps less than stellar defensive play this season has allowed us to see the true value of Ousted in net, but hopefully he can get a bit more help moving forward.
The attack has been better lately, but there are some worrying trends. Octavio Rivero assisted on the Kekuta Manneh goal, but hasn't scored himself since early April. Rivero may have set expectations too high with his scorching scoring start to the season and it's not fair to expect him to score every match, but the club still needs him on the scoresheet more often than not for what he's getting paid. Still, he is still a valuable piece on the pitch that gets involved even when he's not scoring, and I think the Whitecaps are lucky to have him.
I am being very hard on the Whitecaps, when you consider they carried play for most of the 90+ minutes, and did so without two of their offensive wizards in the lineup in Pedro Morales and Mauro Rosales. They showed great attacking prowess, and Kekuta Manneh's goal was a beautiful piece of team creativity.
The Whitecaps are a dangerous club, no doubt. They're competing for the Supporters Shield despite not truly hitting their stride as a team yet, and could be unstoppable if all facets of their game gets going. If the rest of the team can start playing at the level of their goalkeeper, they could be the best team in MLS.
That means they need more consistency from their backline, and for the big dogs to start scoring more often. I believe they have the personnel to do it, and there's still plenty of time in the regular season for them to figure it out.
Think I'm being unfair? Let me know in the comments.