The past few weeks have been tumultuous for the Vancouver Whitecaps with transfer and signing rumors flying amidst more late-game collapses than any team should endure, not to mention the consistent questioning (certainly at this blog, though I doubt we're alone) of tactics, formation, player selection, or any other facet of game play we've witnessed.
That said, it was incredibly encouraging to see such a thorough rebound Wednesday night, in the face of all the recent setbacks and panic attacks, with the Whitecaps 2-0 defeat of Real Salt Lake at BC Place.
After last Saturday's 2-2 draw against the Colorado Rapids, Carl Robinson went away from the 4-4-2 formation, back to his 4-2-3-1. In doing so, Pedro Morales (available sub), Kekuta Manneh (injury), and Blas Perez (???) dropped out of the lineup. The trade off? Nicolas Mezquida, Cristian Techera, and... what? Masato Kudo??
That's right, Kudo started up top after having his jaw fractured two months ago, and this tweet sums up well the crowd reaction:
Definitely encouraging to see Kudo back in the lineup, whereas RSL looked to be suffering from a rash of injuries (Jamison Olave, Demar Phillips, Joao Plata, and Sunday Stephen). Captain Kyle Beckerman was also unavailable due to suspension, while Juan Manuel Martinez, Javier Morales, and Save of the Week machine Nick Rimando were all on the bench, most likely to remain rested for their upcoming weekend game.
As a result, the game got off to a less-than-smooth start. In fact, the first 10 minutes saw six different players hit the turf in quick succession, so it's not really a surprise that seven yellow cards were distributed among thirty-seven fouls throughout the game.
Once the game settled the Whitecaps got the first early look, with this Mezquida over-the-top feed to Techera:
That didn't mean the Whitecaps had EVERYTHING on lock down this early, and David Ousted had to be ready:
After a good build-up, RSL had another chance a short time later, but newcomer Omar Holness lofted the ball into the supporter's section of the crowd. This would be the last decent chance before the half for RSL, as Vancouver began to dominate possession and were ultimately rewarded in the 34th minute.
Christian Bolanos got the play started with a hard run to the right corner and, after a give-and-go with Jordan Smith opened up space, Bolanos fed Matias Laba on an inside run, allowing Laba to fire a pass into a whole mess of bodies:
For a moment, I thought Kudo was to be rewarded for his triumphant return from injury, but alas, Tony Beltran cleared the ball off Justen Glad & into the RSL net. Oh well, a goal is a goal, right?
Maybe, but when they look like this, they feel like they're worth SO MUCH MORE:
After a free kick into the RSL penalty area was cleared, Bolanos deflected the ball into the path of Techera, who banana'd the ball past Jeff Attinella, for a very succinct and emphatic two goal lead.
The second half started much like the first ended for the Whitecaps, maintaining possession and moving up field when an opportunity presented itself. In fact, per the posted MLS stats for the game, 43% of the Whitecaps completed passes were made in their own half (compared to 30% for RSL), so I'd think that may suggest the 'Caps were comfortable with working the ball around their backline before advancing into the attacking area.
Nevertheless, that didn't keep Mezquida from nearly poaching & scoring, or Techera from almost mimicking his first-half volley magic. From that point on, however, the majority of the action was in front of the Whitecaps' net.
This may have had something to do with Morales and Martinez entering the game in the 65th minute, but a majority of the play went through striker Yura Movsisyan. Some of the efforts were less troublesome, but that didn't mean Ousted wasn't ready:
And this isn't even considering the shot Movsisyan rattled one off the crossbar during injury time!
In any event, RSL was able to put seven shots towards the Whitecaps' goal in the last forty minutes, compared to Vancouver's lone attempt. There were moments where the defense bent, but never did it truly break.
This isn't to say that the recent signings of David Edgar (who was in attendance) and Marcel De Jong (who entered the match in the 66th minute and, as Robinson noted afterwards, "looked tired") are now superfluous.
Rather, it shows that a team that's suffered from the recent bitterness of last-second losses (or draws) can dig in, even for one afternoon, and find its resolve against a team who had previously been sitting in fourth in the Supporters' Shield standings at the start of the day.
Though the 'Caps themselves did not yet move up in the standings with this win (tied for fifth, with a game in hand), they can now move on to Saturday's game against Orlando City on a much more positive note.