Coming off a disappointing homestand, the Vancouver Whitecaps started a three-game road trip (four games if you count the August 2nd CCL jaunt to Trinidad) on Saturday against the Houston Dynamo, in need of points against a team who's yielded very little at home in 2016. And despite Vancouver having gone 0-for-MLS in Texas over the past 5+ years, the Whitecaps gutted out a 0-0 draw.
Given their history in Texas against both Houston and FC Dallas, a road loss wouldn't have been an unreasonable guess, but there were a number of factors going into the match that suggested the result could be a button-down scoreless draw:
- Both sides were missing significant players: Kekuta Manneh for Vancouver, and Tyler Deric & DeMarcus Beasley for Houston;
- Houston have only conceded eight goals in nine games at home this season (with four coming in a loss to LA Galaxy), while we'll ALWAYS make the argument that the Whitecaps should be scoring more, particularly on the road.
- We're only a week away from the MLS All-Star Break, aka, upcoming downtime for everyone at BBVA Compass Stadium except Kendall Waston;
- The 32° heat with humidity to make it feel nearly 40° (resulting in the two, mid-game water breaks).
Still, the match needed playing and if there was anyone who would have been happy to be out in the Texas heat, it was Cole Seiler, who made his first MLS start for the team Whitecaps. Aside from Seiler, Carl Robinson sent out the same 4-2-3-1 roster as he had last week against Orlando City.
The match started out at a tepid pace, with both sides content to sit back with possession and wait to spring forward. Even then, neither team proved to have a formidable attack early in the first half, combining for a total of 4 shots in the first 15 minutes.
A perfect example came for the Whitecaps in the 10th minute, where Nicolás Mezquida led Christian Bolanos with a perfectly weighted pass into the right corner, only for Bolanos to miss an opportunity to do the same for Masato Kudo, putting his through-ball roughly five yards too far forward, having it carry harmlessly out the far end line.
The only real advantage gained by the Whitecaps was the early substitution of Raul Rodriguez for Abdoulie Mansally due to injury, pushing Jalil Anibaba from left back to the center. Vancouver quickly tried to attack the newcomer Mansally, but was rebutted and the game returned to its staunch defending.
Keep in mind that "staunch" only refers to the level of threat posed to either goaltender. Houston finished the half with 10 attempts on net, with only 2 making their way to Ousted, though one was this tricky "hip shot" from Will Bruin:
The Dynamo were able to achieve this with only 43% percent of 1st half possession, compared to the Whitecaps 57%, yet Vancouver could only muster 4 attempts total and 2 on-target.
In fact, in the first half alone the teams combined for 22 clearances and 5 blocks (4 of which belonged to Vancouver), so did either team benefit from great defending, or suffer from poor finishing?
Although the majority of the Whitecaps successes on the day came from their defenders, the 0-0 finish was truly preserved by David Ousted, as the Dane came up big when he was needed most:
That second save truly earned Ousted the Man of the Match, as that effort from David Horst is the type of attempt on goal that's been plaguing the Whitecaps over the past month. Though, when those saves are made, or when shots like this Boniek Garcia effort stay out, you could argue that Vancouver's luck may be starting to turn for the better.
The Whitecaps had a number of positives throughout, with Pedro Morales doing his usual thing of locating far-off players with precision passing, Mezquida and Bolanos linking up well when advancing the ball up-field, and getting Seiler and Jordan Harvey involved deep in the Dynamo end, particularly in the lead-up to this Seiler cross to Mezquida:
However, that was the one solid cross by the Whitecaps into the penalty area, and despite Waston starting to resemble his old All-Star self, a number of his deep balls would isolate Kudo, or any others venturing forward, leaving the team with tough, tight-angle shots on net.
The one exception to this that I can think of came in the 84th minute when Morales looped a ball over the top to Erik Hurtado, who chested the ball down and beat Joe Willis... but, he didn't? The far linesman's flag was raised for an offside, despite replays showing Hurtado was easily on. This wasn't the only time he got it wrong as, luckily, Erick "Cubo" Torres was whistled for the same infraction in the 34th minute.
Instead the boxscore shows Hurtado as having received a yellow card for a "handball" at that moment. Apparently, the glancing control touch he took was a handball, let alone one that deserved a card.
Otherwise, the Dynamo did well to get compact defensively as there was no real ingenuity to Vancouver's offense by which they were threatened. Vancouver did nearly as well on the defensive end, though truly benefited from timely goaltending and the occasion rattle off the word work.