Of all the teams for the Vancouver Whitecaps to have a frustrating record against, the Colorado Rapids make the least sense. Last season, the kid-heavy, Oscar Pareja-coached squad provided no end of misery (damn you, José Mari) culminating in a nearly heart-breaking nil-all draw at BC Place. I say "nearly" because, well, we all know how it really ended.
That will never get old. Ever.
Sorry, where was I? Oh, right! This evening's match. Allegedly, it took place and things happened, though you'd be hard-pressed to name a singe one of those things among the malaise of ugly, ugly "road team" soccer forced upon the BC Place crowd by Pablo Mastroeni & Co. in the first half. On the whole, this was not a good advertisement for the "beautiful game". So, let's all suffer some more as we go back and relive it, warts and all, shall we?
Carl Robinson shocked nobody with his 4-2-3-1 setup, though one assumes there were more than a few eyebrows raised at Gershon Koffie's midfield partner: Pedro Morales. Behind the Koffie-Morales duo sat the expected backline of Jordan Harvey, Tim Parker, Pa Modou Kah and Steven Beitashour. In front, a midfield of Cristian Techera, Mauro Rosales and Kekuta Manneh lined up ostensibly to feed the lone forward (poor, poor lonely forward) Octavio Rivero. On paper, this setup screams "SPEED KILLS" with the deep-lying and advanced playmakers (Morales and Rosales, respectively) able to bomb service forward. In practice, the 'Caps had three corners in the first 10 minutes with the fourth a few seconds later, so we can probably file that setup under "Solid Plan". The execution, however, still remained iffy, with none of the corners truly threatening Clint Irwin in the Rapids' goal.
After the early flurry of activity, things got less fluid and speedy, and more... not that. Chippy fouls and cheaply lost possession led to no real threats to either goal - nothing that either Irwin or David Ousted couldn't handle in their sleep, at least, assuming the shots were on target or even taken at all. In fact, with nothing to speak of for most of the half, I'm going to fill space with some select tweets:
This is exactly the type of game I expected from Mastroeni. Please let us break through. #VWFC— Greg Olaussen (@ForgetfulViking) September 10, 2015
Now I want a cookie. Thanks, Har.
While the first half was a textbook case of boring road soccer, it did have just enough activity before the whistle to force Pedro Morales out of the game with what looked to be a hamstring issue. Great. No goals, no moments of interest and now no Chilean Maestro? One of these team's coaches is executing a low-tempo-get-stuck-in-chip-chip-chippy game plan to perfection. Hint: it's Pablo Mastroeni. In response, Carl Robinson opted to insert young Canadian(!) Kianz Froese, favouring an attacking option over the more defensive-minded (in theory, anyway) Deybi Flores. What a novel idea - an attacking-minded player to break up a dull contest? Such cheek! Wonder and amazement, truly, are not dead at BC Place.
Finally, at 55', the 'Caps strung together an attacking chance worth talking about. It started deep, with Parker playing the ball long out of the back. The target was Manneh who made a half-deflection, half-dummy (totally intentionally, probably, maybe... or not) that found its way to the streaking Jordan Harvey flying up the left wing. Harvey's cross, a good one, met the head of Rivero who placed the shot well but with not nearly enough pace to make Clint Irwin break a sweat saving it. Still, it was the first sign of positive attacking soccer from the 'Caps and it precipitated another chance shortly thereafter, with Manneh recovering a ball outside the box and blasting a bending shot that missed the post by a few feet. Is this... is this what attacking soccer feels like? My goodness... it's so wonderful! Hey, now we've got a soccer game worth watching. Excellent.
Ten minutes later (ten long, interminable minutes of agony), Froese got himself onto the stat sheet with a good looking shot on goal that was deflected out for a corner. The setup was quite nice; the entire front four of the 'Caps attack corps got a foot on the ball one way or another, setting up Froese at the top of the penalty area for his strike. Unfortunately, for all that effort, the Rapids were still in "bunker like you mean it" mode and Froese had about two picoseconds of free time before his shooting lane was removed. Oh, and the corner came to nothing. So, yeah. Back to playing for the dr-
-HOLY CRAP where did that chance come from?! Who told Kevin Doyle (who came in for Gabriel Torres just before the hour mark) that he could, against the run of play, get a head to a hopeful cross and send a nasty header down towards the far post? I sure didn't. I doubt Mastroeni did. Regardless, Ousted made the lunging dive across the goalmouth and just barely kept the ball on the correct side of the goal line.
It would prove to be a vital save, too, as not long afterwards Vancouver finally made my now-present interest in this game worthwhile with a goal. The play starts with Koffie intercepting a flick-header by Lucas Pittinari. Under pressure deep in Vancouver territory, Koffie takes a few steps away from his marker to send a simple pass to Manneh. Under pressure on the very edge of the touchline, Manneh still manages to thread the ball through to a surging Rosales, who takes off up the left side. His second touch is a short pass to Rivero who stops, turns, takes a look and lays off to an onrushing Froese. After a clumsy first (and second) touch, Froese controls the ball long enough to get a clean pass to Techera who has both time and space. After seventy-odd minutes of frustrating soccer, Colorado picked the worst time, place and arguably player to give time and space to. El Bicho picks his head up, floats a gorgeous cross into the box where a charging Rivero has timed his run beautifully to meet it. One flick-header of his own later, El Cabeza has a goal with his head from the run of play (and a yellow card for removing his shirt to celebrate). Rewatching the play, it's a trademark 2015 Whitecaps goal on the counter (a.k.a. "SPEED KILLS"). Koffie, having broken up a dodgy Colorado clearance, is the first of six 'Caps to touch the ball and spends the most time of all of them in possession with it. Manneh to Rosales to Rivero to Froese to Techera back to Rivero - quick as you like, deadly as you like and not even Froese's missteps could undo the magic. In fact, the young Canadian should be credited with the second assist on the goal, since he clearly and cleanly gets the ball to Techera before the cross. Hmph.
Paradoxically, on the second Vancouver goal a mere four minutes later, Froese had a far more important role to play in the setup but, owing to the sequence of events, has no claim on a secondary assist whatsoever. After a few blocked clearances, the play began with the ball falling to Rosales. Since backheels are still the rage in Whitecaps-land, Rosales promptly mule-kicked a cheeky ball to the nearby Froese who took a much more confident first touch than the last goal-scoring play before threading a sublime through-ball downfield to an in-full-flight Manneh. (No, seriously, it was a killer ball. Go watch it again. Gorgeous stuff.) With a head full of steam, daylight ahead of him and time to think about what to do, Manneh opted to cross the ball in to Techera. The size mismatch between defender Marc Burch and Techera made this a poor idea initially as Burch heads the ball away; however, the header was a poor one and the follow-up from another Colorado defender was even worse, landing right at Manneh's feet. Attempt #2 by Manneh was much better, finding a wide-open Techera with a ball on the deck. Techera then did something un-Techera-like and attempted to bully his way past the Colorado defense. It's a bold plan - one might say stupid if you're 5'2" - and one that only works thanks to a ricochet off defender James Riley that serves as a de facto one-two pass. Hey, if it works, count it; a blink of an eye later, El Bicho rips a shot past Irwin and it's 2-0.
At that point, all the game-killing tactics and extended scuffles after the whistle couldn't save Colorado's bacon, though all us wags on Twitter got a chuckle out of Pa Modou "The Dipomat" Kah having a few select words and facial expressions to calm down the rowdier people on the pitch. Can you imagine world peace being brokered by Kah? A menacing stare, probable and believable threats... followed by hugs and handshakes. Bizarre.
It'd still be 100x more exciting than the first hour of this game, though. Yeesh. Take that, bunkerball. May you die a dismal death somewhere until Vancouver needs you to win a CONCACAF Champions League match or MLS Cup. #Pragmatism