Despite the shaky performances at BC Place, the Vancouver Whitecaps were once again able to prove why they are the best away team in Major League Soccer over the past few seasons, handing the Columbus Crew their first home loss in their last 14 matches. A bit of a side note, but it seems we have heard several times, over the past year, of the Whitecaps breaking someone’s long home unbeaten streak.
We have oscillated between using letter grades and 1-10 ratings this season. I like the idea of a number rating, so I am going to go with that. In addition, I am going to try to use the entire scale, with 5 being average. Let’s see how this works out.
We start at the back, with the defense.
Stefan Marinovic (6): I felt that Marinovic was solid, but unspectacular. He really should not have let that ball spill that led to Gyasi Zardes goal in the 29th minute. I am a bit nervous as he has had a few shaky moments already this season. Remember the goal against Montreal. However, I give him a bit above average as I felt that he commanded his box well and had good judgement on when to come out and challenge for balls. He snuffed out several crosses or balls into the box because he was strong in attacking the play. If he sits back on a few of those, the Columbus attackers might have had an opportunity to put one past him.
Here is a cute April Fools trick played on Marinovic by Nerwinski. Worth a watch!
Jake Nerwinski (6): Speaking of Jake, he had an alright game. Nothing spectacular. Although he seemed to stymie the Columbus attack from the flanks well enough. He was not active offensively as we have seen him, but I suspect that is down to the tactics of the match: bunker and counter.
Kendall Waston (6): It was nice to have the Captain back in his usual role, at the heart of the defense. The defense certainly does run smoothly when he is there. Like with Nerwinski, he was solid, but not spectacular; which is perfectly fine.
Jose Aja (6.5): I felt that Aja had another good game and he is certainly giving Robbo reasons to select him over Henry, when Henry is able to go 90. He certainly is not Parker, but has been solid and even contributing on the offensive side. He had a great chance on a Felipe free kick that he ducked down to head on to Steffen. He was called offside, so it would not have counted, but on replays it showed that he was fine (and that Shea was the one offside).
Marcel de Jong (5): Like with the rest of the defense, he was strong in the bend-but-don’t-break mindset. He picked up an early yellow card, with a bit of a studs-up challenge, but otherwise was solid.
Now, on to the midfield.
Jordon Mutch (6.5): I was excited to see Mutch get a start, as I was impressed by his strong play against Nagbe and his beautiful pass to a streaking Erik Hurtado against Atlanta. When Mutch arrived in Vancouver, I was not sure how he fit into the club. In addition, I wasn’t too sure about his usefulness in general. Yes, he is technically an EPL player, but he has not suited up for Crystal Palace all season, so does he really fit that title? Must say, he has been a good pickup and I am excited to see what he can do; although Robbo will manage his minutes, given that he has been playing since August.
Felipe Martins (8.5): While the Whitecaps were unsuccessful in their home match, against L.A. Galaxy, Felipe had a strong match. However, by the comments I saw from fans after the match, it seems they saw something completely different.
Wut. Ppl were down on him?!— Patrick Johnston (@risingaction) March 31, 2018
Regardless of the opinions of some, Felipe had yet another strong match. He is clearly getting more comfortable and each one of his passes into the box were precise and threatening. If he can get on the same page as the attacking trio of the Whitecaps, he could be very dangerous. With Ghazal (and Juarez) being healthy, we could see him move further up the pitch, which can only be a good thing. No more of this Morales deep-lying midfield playmaker thing!
Russell Teibert (6.5): I initially had a ‘7’, but felt that was me giving him the Canadian 0.5 boost! Teibert saw himself in a different role in Saturday’s match, playing a more advanced role than he has for several years. It was nice to see, but he wasn’t that threatening. Maybe that is why he has been relegated to a more defensive role. For all the talent that we have seen from Teibert, maybe the offensive skill-level of MLS has passed him by (or maybe not). He wasn’t a major threat going forward, but some of that can probably be attributed to his lack of playing time in an offensive position. Like Hurtado, I see Teibert being a very valuable, and important, bench piece this season for the Caps to be successful.
The attack three.
Brek Shea (8): Sometimes it is maddening, and a little bit saddening, to watch Shea play. He has so much skill, and when he turns it on, he is so dangerous. Shea is someone that just seems to coast a lot of time, as he is good enough that he can do that and still have an impact. As a fan, that is disappointing, but as a person, I get it. Shea has noted several times in the past that soccer is not everything to him. It is how he pays his bills. Some people are driven to be the best at their profession and some people coast or are content at just being good. Think about your own job. You could work all the time and probably become very successful, but maybe you prefer balance and enjoying certain aspects of life. Shea strikes me as that person, and I can accept that. With that in mind though, he is great at capitalizing on his chances. Once again, we saw that on display against Columbus. Great goal, especially the force that he laid into the shot. That takes confidence as he increases the risk of it sailing over he net. Again, when Shea is on, he is exciting to watch run down the line and score!
Bernie Ibini (7): In comparison to Teibert, I had initially given Ibini a ‘6.5’, but felt that I was giving him a 0.5 deduction for me not being a fan of his. In my eyes, Bernie certainly had his moments. He put in a few good crosses and had some strong runs down the flank, but that was about it from him. He seems to have his moments but is not consistent. The problem with Ibini is that unlike Shea, it seems he doesn’t have that next gear that allows him to have those moments of brilliance that we see from Shea.
Am I being too harsh on Ibini? I would love to get your perspectives and see if you view him differently than me.
Bernie! I pegged him for a better year this season once upon a time— Sean Kawakami (@KawakamiSean) March 31, 2018
Kei Kamara (8.5): Despite what he said prior to the match, we know that Kamara was up for this one and really wanted to score against Columbus. It is fitting then that after Davies disallowed goal, that he would slot home the game winner. Loved the all-around play from Kamara and his attitude after scoring the goal; calling out VAR.
Speaking of Kamara’s goal, it was fantastic. The way he dipped his head down and angled it in. Spectacular. While this is about Kamara, it has to be noted as well that Felipe put in a great ball that only Kamara would have been able to get. That is, he kept it away from the Columbus defense, ensuring that it would be a Kamara header or nothing. Great job from the two of them. They have certainly been big off-season additions and will play a big role in how far this club goes this season.
Carl Robinson (9): I have been a vocal critic of Robinson at times. As a result, I feel it is important to acknowledge when he gets things right. The first half was certainly a let-down. I was tempted to write a poll and ask fans why they watch Whitecaps matches. I suspected the reason would be because they are long time fans, not because the club is entertaining to watch.
I'll be watching my team even though they're making it hard to do so. #VWFC— Shoe Thief (@StuckontheSofa) March 31, 2018
One of Robinson’s limitations that I have highlighted in the past is his inability to adjust at the half. I have noted that many teams seem to make the proper adjustments at halftime, while the Caps make none, and that leads to the club being run-over in the second half. On Saturday afternoon though, things were different.
Robinson first brought in Alphonso Davies in the 67th minute, then Aly Ghazal, for his first 2018 appearance, in the 74th minute. This seemed to elevate the club and gave them the drive to get the called-off Davies winner, and then the real winner by Kamara in the 78th minute.
Aly Ghazal (8): I feel that ‘8’ might be a bit too high, as he did not play that long. However, at the same time, I would be okay with giving him an even higher mark. Was his play anything special? No, but his solid play in the single holding midfielder role allowed Felipe and others to push forward more and join the attack. His passing has some issues, but he is smart and knows how to defend. He is great at sucking in opponents, but doesn’t get pulled out chasing, like Laba was prone to doing. With Juarez and others in the midfield, I was curious if it would mean that Ghazal would be on the outside looking in for most of the season. However, his substitute appearance showed why he is key to this team performing going forward. The club certainly did not park the bus upon his insertion.
I think Davies for sure. If Ghazal comes in we're parking the bus. But Blondell could come on as well.— Whitecaps Fancast (@CapsFancast) March 31, 2018
I suspect that we will see Ghazal, Juarez, and Felipe in the midfield, with Mutch slotting in from time-to-time.
Alphonso Davies (8): What can you say about the kid that hasn’t already been said. He didn’t start this match, to give him a bit of a rest. I get it, but it is hard to keep doing that (even though it needs to happen!) given how he plays. He came on and immediately made a difference. He scored the initial winner, but had it called back for a handball. Was it a handball? Yes. Was it ball to hand? Maybe. I could see that go either way, as I have seen that get called numerous times in matches. However, it didn’t phase him, or the club. He continued to press forward and make a difference, and was in on the eventual game winner from Kamara. Another great match! Shame this will be his last season with the Whitecaps :(.
That is it from me. What were your takes on the match? Agree with my ratings? See things differently? Would especially love to get you’re your take on Nerwinski (and any sophomore slump), whether I am viewing Ibini differently than you, where you see Mutch, Ghazal, and Teibert fitting into the team going forward, and Reyna (almost forgot he was part of the team!).