That flat thud you just heard was the Whitecaps playoff hopes crashing to the floor. Sure, they're not mathematically eliminated yet, but they are settling into ninth spot in the Western Conference with two games in hand held by every team around them. The Whitecaps need wins, especially from their home games, and Saturday's 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls is one more nail in the Whitecaps' playoff coffin.
With a depleted roster due to six international call-ups Robinson reverted to his trusty 4-2-3-1 with David Ousted in goal, Tim Parker and Andrew Jacobson at CB, Jordan Smith at RB and returning after a lengthy injury leave was Jordan Harvey at LB. In front of the D sat Matias Laba and Russel Teibert, with Fraser Aird, Pedro Morales and Cristian Techera as attacking mids. All alone in the striker position with the massive burden of scoring goals for this struggling Whitecaps team sat Erik Hurtado.
The team got off to their customary slow start until around the 35-minute mark when the offense seemed to come to life. Suddenly crisp, tight passing began to weave through the NY defense while searching balls would spring the attackers. First, Techera got in on goal only to lose the ball to a timely tackle in the box. The ball hungry, destroyer Laba we all love was on display along with Teibert's relentless work beside him. The two kept NY from any truly dangerous forays. Hurtado was next with a sight on goal only to run the ball past the far post. In fact, Hurtado would get behind the defense three more times in the first half and each time he hammered the ball into the side netting or watched it skitter beyond the frame the frustration in the stands and on the pitch would bubble and boil.
The referee seemed a little extra sensitive on the day. Carl Robinson was ejected in the first half for his protestations and many players on the night received long soul-searching talks from Sorin Stoica. The ref was in no way the reason the ‘Caps lost the match but he sure did manage to suck a lot of the joy from it.
The second half picked up where the first left off with another Hurtado miss in the box. From there, the Red Bulls dictated the game and the spark and jump the ‘Caps displayed in the first half dimmed. By the 50-minute mark Bradley Wright-Phillips managed to dribble into three defenders and still strike the ball into the net. Vancouver fell back into their funk and NY carried the play for much of the second half, save for the final few minutes when the ‘Caps would regain the ball for a couple more precious cracks on net: a Hurtado header that sailed over the goal and another Hurtado side flick, flush in front of goal that he managed to send off frame.
Hurtado looks like he is playing a good game. He goes for everything and seems to hold the ball up and move the offense forward, but if he can't score when all the chances the team is generating are coming to him then what good is he doing for the team, especially as the lone striker. Right now, the net looks like a gigantic barn door to Hurtado, and try as he might he just can't hit it. I'm sure some of you will write how Hurtado is the only good thing happening on offense right now, but I ask you, what good is Hurtado if he gets seventeen clear cut cracks at goal and every one of them sails wide. The ‘Caps need goals right now, (well last week and this week, since it might be too late for them after tonight), and good hustle and plucky play is not going to get them in the playoffs.
The ‘Caps didn't play a bad game on Saturday. They just didn't score when they had the chance(s), and so they lost.