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Report Card: Whitecaps @ Sounders, Semi-Final 2nd Leg

Breaking down the player performances in what inevitably became the last Whitecaps match of 2017

MLS: Western Conference Semifinal-Vancouver Whitecaps at Seattle Sounders Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the second leg of their Western Conference semi-final against the Seattle Sounders, any semblance of a positive result would have put the Vancouver Whitecaps into the conference final against either Portland or Houston.

Despite the apparent injuries to Yordy Reyna and Cristian Techera, Carl Robinson started his arguably best eleven, in what appeared to be the push Vancouver needed to reach the conference final for the first time.

But the game plan executed by what proved to be an unexpected starting lineup became a what-should-have-been expected result: let the opposing team come to us, counter, and wait for an opportunity. Passive, to say the least.

I wish I didn’t have to burden everyone with a Joe Buck-ism, but this was a game where the Whitecaps needed to turn up and prove they deserved to advance in the playoffs.

Instead, well...

That sums up the match rather succinctly and, in contrast to the Sounders’ performance, it too often felt like the Whitecaps were just trying not to lose.

Stefan Marinovic - C

Made the saves he needed to make and didn’t really have a chance on either goal, but nearly every ball he played past center was won by the Sounders, whereas his short balls reinforced the Whitecaps’ need to maintain any semblance of possession to build an attack, even if that played into Seattle’s game plan of continuing to play strong defensively while knowing Vancouver doesn’t like playing possession soccer.

I know that sounds contradictory, but on the night it felt more like coincidence than skilled attack whenever any Whitecap put an over-the-top ball to Montero, where the striker was actually able to successfully slip in behind Chad Marshall and Roman Torres. Sometimes the goalie needs to punt it, but perhaps Marinovic could have played it short a little more often.

And yet, if the keeper were to play the ball with his feet, it cannot be as bumbling as Marinovic was in the 26th minute. The winning goal would be conceded eventually, but I’m certainly glad it didn’t come from the goalie being stripped of the ball.

Kendall Waston/Tim Parker - B-/C-

Waston was one of the few bright spots on the night. He looked comfortable with the ball at his feet, though that could also be attributed to Seattle not playing as press-heavy as they had in the past. His deep balls up field added to Nevertheless, he led the way in clearances, with eight on the night, while adding four recoveries, two interceptions, and a blocked shot.

Parker had his share of positive defensive stats (six clearances, three recoveries, three blocks, and an interception), but he looked far less assured than his partner in the back. He maybe could have better covered Clint Dempsey on the latter’s volley late in the first half, but what was he thinking on this giveaway in the 61st minute?

The first two seconds of that video were a great example of Vancouver’s passing on the night, where balls were needlessly given away, forcing the ‘Caps to fight back for possession rather than have a meaningful build up. In this case, Parker should consider himself lucky that Will Bruin couldn’t finish.

Marcel de Jong/Jake Nerwinski - C+/C+

Like Waston, de Jong was one of the brighter stars of the night. He put in work defensively (five clearances, two recoveries, a block, and an interception), and it felt like his crosses were the only way Vancouver could make headway offensively, like his long ball to Montero in the 10th minute, or a quality ball into the box for Bolanos in the 66th. Plus, it never felt like he was pinned as deep defensively as his counterparts on the right flank, allowing him to play those crosses closer to/in the attacking zone.

Nerwinski’s time on the field was short due to the hamstring injury he suffered, but it’s certainly worth some level of appraisal. He obviously could not get a large number of touches on the ball before his substitution, but his passing and touch were decent, while he did well to keep the speedy Nouhou Tolo to the outside. For the most part, anyway.

It worked well in the 22nd minute, resulting in a terrible cross; less so in the 33rd minute, where he nearly conceded penalty.

And for what it’s worth, Nerwinski did foul Tolo in the 33rd minute, and it should have been a penalty, per the description of grabby hands in the penalty area given in the Fouls & Misconduct section of the FIFA rule book. However, can anyone suggest why it may not have been a PK beyond saying something like #BecauseToledo?

No clear possession? No definitive advantage/disadvantage once they were in the box? Because Nerwinski somewhat quickly let go once he bailed?

Jordan Harvey - C

Harvey did well enough to come in quickly for the injured Nerwinski, at right back rather than his preferred left, but his arrival made no impact in quelling the Seattle attack down the right side. He maybe could have done better on the opening goal...

...but even if he did let Roldan get in behind him to receive the pass from Lodeiro, the entire sequence following the tame corner kick clearance was a team-clustercuss.

My biggest problem with Harvey on the night? With the ball at his feet, he would take a few steps towards the sideline, and immediately turn to play it back to his center backs, despite having open passes up the wing. In the 54th minute, there was a switch to a pitch-level camera angle that showed Techera making space for himself up the wing, but Harvey was too busy turning his back to the winger so he could lay it back to Waston. The first pass would have put the ‘Caps past half, but instead the ball gets lumped straight at Joevin Jones.

Maybe Harvey was simply being a good soldier (as he made the pass back a few times), but then that speaks to the tactics set forth that were just not working:

Aly Ghazal/Nosa Igiebor - C-/C

I thought Ghazal looked good defensively, but for every five or six great tackles, blocks, track backs, there’d be a pass to no one or a simply poor clearance. Or even passing a ball to absolutely no one but the other team in the center of the pitch, maybe 10 yards outside of the penalty area. That 55th minute goof didn’t result in a goal (though it did precede one), but was a little bit of “soccer antithesis” that added up to why the ‘Caps did not deserve to advance.

Nosa’s performance was also hit-or-miss, but slightly more exaggerated. Statistically, he may have been the best Whitecap on the pitch, where he had the most touches on the ball (89), the best passing accuracy at 90.5% while attempting the highest number of passes.

But for every time he’d make a great step forward to recover the ball, he’d play an overly ambitious ball up the pitch. Or string together a number of great passes only to lazily play it off the sideline. Or continue to go in strongly for balls, only to nearly leave a boot print on the top of Harry Shipp’s head:

I guess he kind of got the ball first, and it doesn’t help that he’s bringing his foot up to play a ball while the other player decided to go low. But live? The whole thing looked crazy and reckless.

Then again, borderline reckless is what the Whitecaps needed. It was a playoff game after all: if you’re short on tactics, why not up the ante on intensity?

Christian Bolanos/Cristian Techera - D/C-

Speaking of intensity, or a lack thereof, Bolanos looked detached. One of many on the night who’d follow up a good play with a bad one, Bolanos tended to recover from a bad play with a good one, but then would “recover” with a bad one again. For example, he did well to poach an errant Dempsey pass in the 46th minute, but proceeded to give it right back to Cristian Roldan with no Whitecap in the vicinity. And once he finally had his first free kick in the 94th minute? He hit the nearest Sounder with his cross. For a winger, he stayed remarkably close to the center of the pitch.

By comparison, Techera’s play was far more favorable on the night, which makes his 64th minute substitution instead of Bolanos a head-scratcher. It’s possible the sub was meant to negate Tolo’s control of the wing, but then why bring in Davies at that point?

Either way, at the very least Techera was moving up and down the wing, getting crosses towards, but maybe not quite at, the net. Just didn’t add enough.

Yordy Reyna - C-

It’s unfortunate that Reyna could not have made as big an impact last night as he has for most of his time spent in Vancouver, but his performance was simply another example of the ‘Caps not having an answer for Seattle. As with Techera, it may have been because of the “knocks” that nearly kept both out of the lineup, or Seattle scouting well and negating any Whitecap attack. Regardless, there was enough of “it” to force Reyna into bad passes or to dribble straight into a crowd, where he typically would not.

Fredy Montero - C

Like Reyna, it felt like the Seattle defense did their best to focus on the striker’s strengths, and overpower him when possible. For example, he did well very early to bring down the 10th minute ball from de Jong, but Torres had the right amount of pace to turn the bouncing ball into a 50/50 opportunity, while shouldering Montero into the turf.

Good on him for staring down the physical play, but he was lucky not to pick up a card for his stomp on Nicolas Lodeiro in the 27th, while deserving of a yellow in the 49th with a needless foul on Torres. However, he did draw a card out of Torres twenty minutes later while the Whitecaps still were in the match (despite being down a goal). The intensity was there, or at the very least it was reasonable compared to some teammates, but without better service he was somewhat left to drown in a sea of Sounders.

Out of all of this, I’m very tempted to drop a grade on everyone (or at the very least everyone on the pitch) for that second Seattle goal:

The amount of space and time Victor Rodriguez had to receive the corner kick and turn to his good foot to find Dempsey at the back post was downright embarrassing. Seattle certainly had the lead, and there was not much time remaining to equalize. But, as it was made abundantly clear by the league, a 1-1 draw would see Vancouver through to the conference finals.

Instead, there was a collective mental lapse on Lodeiro’s corner kick. Maybe the team thought the Sounders would play keep-ball in the corner to wind down the clock, but they very clearly forgot what “assumption” is the mother of. Instead, we’re left with seven Whitecaps with dumbstruck expressions and a very angry Marinovic, as Dempsey beat everyone to the back post. So much for any chance at a last gasp breakthrough.