There was added value attached to the points available to the Whitecaps and the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday. Top-six neighbours Portland, Seattle, LA and SKC had all suffered defeat in the days preceding the much anticipated contest in Upper Cascadia, presenting the opportunity to climb the extremely tight standings. There was also the matter of rectifying the 1-0 loss sustained at the hands of the Northern Californians back in April, where Carl Robinson's side exhibited an uncharacteristic lack of cohesion at Avaya Stadium. Since then, the Caps have found their groove and have shown an abundance of promising signs in recent meetings with Sporting KC and the Timbers, despite going without a victory since the backend of June. As has so often been the case, the only obstacle denying maximum points in both outings was dismal end product in front of goal. The Blue and White simply couldn't afford another day with the shooting boots missing, and this campaign's well-documented home form only added to the pressure placed on the guys. Many factors and narratives had accumulated to create a comprehensive test of character; the result of which representing a useful barometer to measure where this group are right now with suspicions of another summer slump arising.
Robbo elected to switch the centre-back pairing from the 1-1 draw at Providence Park, starting Kendall Waston alongside Pa Modou Kah in what has been the first choice partnership this year. Christian Dean impressed many against Fanendo Adi and made the line-up again, this time deputizing for the suspended Jordan Harvey at left-back. Mati Laba and Gershon Koffie were rewarded with the nod again in the double-pivot for what was perhaps their most complete performance together all season in PDX. Octavio Rivero was surrounded by Mauro Rosales, Nico Mezquida and Kekuta Manneh for the second successive match, while Pedro Morales made the eighteen after missing the previous five fixtures with a calf injury. Dominic Kinnear's XI read: David Bingham; Marvell Wynne, Victor Bernardez, Clarence Goodson, Jordan Stewart; Fatai Alashe, Matias Perez Garcia, Chris Wondolowski; Cordell Cato, Quincy Amarikwa, Shea Salinas. Wondo played 60 minutes in the USMNT's third place game with Panama on Saturday and flew in from Philadelphia on Sunday morning in a move that reeked of desperation. Amarikwa netted a brace last Friday in San Jose's 5-2 defeat to the Galaxy - arriving in a trade from Chicago last month for a second spell with the club - and was identified as a significant threat with service from MPG in behind.
With the sunshine illuminating the field the Caps made an urgent start to proceedings, with Rivero and Mezquida working together to great effect across the final third. Soon enough the early positivity translated into the opener at the 5th minute mark - Mauro Rosales bagging his first goal for Vancouver since joining the squad last summer. Kekuta found space and sprinted at the back-line, stopped by Goodson after a poor touch only for the ball to escape to the wily Argentine veteran in space. Rosales showed immense composure and calmly slotted home to the delight of the rather surprised home crowd. Making such an adventurous start is by no means unfamiliar to the hosts, however converting that encouraging tempo into goals has been, so Mauro's strike came with further incentive for celebration. This break of good fortune didn't inspire a more reserved approach though, and Octavio's admirable industry pressing the defence and goalkeeper very nearly paid dividends after latching onto a terrific long-field pass from Laba. Fans have scrutinized the Uruguayan DP for his failure to score with regularity over the last few months, but without his tireless intensity disrupting the opposition's rhythm the team wouldn't be able to perform at such a lethal speed week-in, week-out.
Goodson sustained a knock thirteen minutes in and was duly replaced by Paulo Renato for the Quakes. Renato was welcomed to the game abruptly with an elbow from Kah - defending an MPG free-kick - but the offence was merely a product of the delivery's trajectory rather than malice on the part of the former Norwegian international. One thing immediately noticeable during the early goings was how collected Dean appeared starting in his second position, regularly frustrating Cato down the right flank with patient defending. Kendall Waston wasn't available to his head coach last Saturday thanks to his late call-up to the Gold Cup, but returned to his club side rejuvenated. That much was evident when he climbed above the similarly imposing Victor Bernardez to meet Rosales' corner-kick before directing the ball between shot-stopper David Bingham and the left post. Production on set-pieces has become something of a myth this term, so to witness such intelligent movement from the mammoth Costa Rican on his way to connecting with the cross was incredibly refreshing. To quote Verbal Kint, "the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist,". Waston's superb aerial effort was a timely reminder of that prophecy and is hopefully indicative of more to come inside the eighteen-yard box from the 27-year-old and his peers.
Although the hosts threatened to add to their lead, the first half concluded with a 2-0 score-line. VWFC were unquestionably good value for their advantage at the interval, emphasizing their technical superiority over the Earthquakes throughout the opening 45. Waston cleared the danger on yet another set-piece from Perez Garcia to set in motion a beautifully fluid counter-attack. Mezquida then dribbled out of the defensive third before passing to Manneh with acres of vacated room ahead. Kekuta's recently improved decision-making was on show when he made a well-weighted ball to Rivero instead of keeping hold of possession, yet El Cabeza couldn't direct his attempt on target after receiving contact inside the area. Shortly thereafter, however, the former O'Higgins frontman won that elusive spot-kick after substitute Renato clumsily bundled him over. Octavio stepped up to face Bingham and placed his penalty in the bottom left corner immaculately, scoring his first since the 2-1 win over the New England Revolution last month. The 23-year-old striker has been superb off the ball and in terms of his hold-up play while he's struggled in front of goal lately, but hitting the back of the net will nonetheless boost his confidence. One can only hope that he returns to his lights out scoring momentum from March and April in short order to complement what he offers to his colleagues beyond that.
3-0 and the Caps were cruising. That third goal was all the more significant in that it was converted at a time where the guys have typically struggled coming out of the break. This really was a game of defying stereotypes and exceeding pessimistic expectations. Robbo made all three of his allotted changes in the space of seven minutes; Teibert replacing Koffie, on a yellow, in the engine-room, Morales making his long awaited return to action in place of Mezquida, and Erik Hurtado entering the match for Rosales. The Welsh tactician couldn't have asked for better circumstances to reintroduce the Chilean Maestro to first team action with the outcome essentially secured and the opposition with confidence in short reply. The somewhat bizarre decision to start Wondo on the back of his international action didn't exactly pay off and he was subbed out for Marco Pelosi in the 70th. David Ousted faced his first real activity of the day, saving Cato's effort from outside the box with conviction. The Great Dane was given a scare when former Whitecap Shea Salinas unleashed a rocket from distance that cannoned back off the crossbar onto the line, and eventually out of harm's way. On the verge of added time Amarikwa stole a consolation goal thanks to some lackadaisical defending, though it proved too little, too late for San Jose.
The Caps obtained the three points they needed playing to pretty much the same standard they had done in their last two fixtures. It was the return of the final product that earned the goods though, proving to everyone that this group of players can contend with the addition of that so important production. Whether they can continue that into August - a month that could make or break their season - remains to be seen, however supporters can only be encouraged with what they saw at BC Place. If I had to name a man of the match I'd award Mauro Rosales the honour for breaking the deadlock and creating the second to take the game by control. He's been nothing short of exceptional this year and has proven his worth every week without fail; this performance just another example of why the club were so wise to renew his contract in the offseason. The win takes Vancouver to second place in the West, trailing FC Dallas by two points having played a game more, and puts them two points clear of LA who themselves have played a game more than the rising Kings of Cascadia. Stay tuned to Eighty Six Forever for more reaction, fallout and analysis.