After the hangover that was the last-second loss to Toronto FC in Wednesday's ACC final, the Vancouver Whitecaps returned to MLS action with a, to put it mildly, reasonable-yet-unfulfilling 2-0 loss away to the LA Galaxy.
CascadianLion summed up well last Thursday the heartbreak of the cup final loss, with the first three quotes included in his article, so there was certainly going to be concern as to where the Whitecaps' collective head would be in returning to the slog of the MLS regular season.
Would there be newly ignited maelstrom of redemption? A lingering despair and melancholy? No, instead it was a familiar game place of maintaining possession as best as possible while finding an opportunity to strike downfield.
Getting back to basics is all well and good, especially after last week's heartbreak, but the ever-present lack of finish was strong in this match.
Nicolás Mezquida drew back into the starting eleven in place of a conspicuously absent Kekuta Manneh, while Andrew Jacobson moved into the central midfield, pushing Pedro Morales to the left flank while opening a spot at right back for Jordan Smith. This moved Tim Parker into his regular center back pairing with Kendall Waston.
At the other end of the pitch, the Galaxy were forced into a revamped backline, with Ashley Cole (red card suspension), Jelle Van Damme (yellow card accumulation), and Robbie Rogers (injury) all unavailable. Conversely, this was the first time the Whitecaps had seen Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, and Giovani dos Santos all on the pitch simultaneously.
The match got off to a slow start amidst a smoky haze of Fourth of July fireworks and red, white, and blue confetti, though the Blue & White nearly nicked an early lead, first off a Jordan Harvey cross with no recipient and Mezquida nearly deflecting home a Brian Rowe clearance.
Despite the strong start from the Whitecaps, the Galaxy were the ones to mark an early tally. Off a long Gerrard through-ball, Robbie Keane was able to do, well, this:
And with that, the Whitecaps have now conceded five goals within the first thirty minutes of their last five games, six if you count London Woodberry's 31st minute strike on June 18th.
The remainder of the half played out rather evenly in terms of possession, though the Whitecaps were able to get off 11 shots (to LA's 3) in the remaining thirty-three minutes, albeit only one was on net and two were blocked.
If there was any hope for a Whitecaps comeback in the second half, it was quickly squashed:
In the video you can see the hands of Jeff Larentowicz come up on Jordan Harvey's shoulder, with Harvey stumbling back after contact is made. However, that hardly seems like the monster push-off Harvey makes it out to be, as opposed to less-than-staunch defending.
Incidentally, the Galaxy did nothing but defend well from the 48th minute onward. In the second half alone, the Whitecaps were credited with 14 shots, the majority of which came after this classic Nigel de Jong moment:
Nevertheless, 14 shots don't mean much when eight of them are blocked, and the only shots on net were taken from 24 yards out or further. Brian Rowe did need to react well on two of them, but all credit to the makeshift Galaxy defense in front of him as they made 10 blocks overall and weren't troubled by Vancouver's 10 corner kicks.
All this talk about LA's defense should be interpreted to mean that, even if the Whitecaps are 11 v 10, they still need that killer finishing in the final third of the pitch. Substitutions of Blas Perez for Mezquida and Cristian Techera for Hurtado prior to the red card, and Kianz Froese (for the first time in a while) for Matías Laba shortly afterwards, did little to help the Whitecaps find the breakthrough they so desperately desired.
Tonight's match ultimately ran out with Vancouver carrying possession for long swaths of the second half after falling behind early, but with no finish against LA's defensive stalwarts. Incidentally, it was soft defending that allowed LA to bury two of their few (in comparison to Vancouver's) chances.
That's starting to sound far too familiar this late into the season. As that's the case, the Whitecaps will hopefully reverse course once they return home to host the Western Conference-leading Colorado Rapids next Saturday.