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Post Match: Montero & Co. Squeak out a Point in the Dying Moments

The Vancouver Whitecaps spoil another team's hopes of reaching the MLS Playoffs, but it wasn’t pretty.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

When asked about the early Saturday afternoon start at training on Friday, Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos told the gathered media that if it was up to him, every home match would be an afternoon start. When asked why, Dos Santos cited the lack of rest and travel acclimatization time as a distinct advantage for the home side in an early start. But having just experienced the Vancouver Whitecaps 1-1 draw against the Columbus Crew on Saturday afternoon, it certainly didn’t look like the home side had the upper hand.

The Whitecaps starting eleven remained largely unchanged from last weekend’s victory of the Houston Dynamo. While youngster Theo Bair slotted in replacing newcomer Michaell Chirinos on the wing, the rest of the lineup remained unchanged. This included Zac MacMath in goal, who was favoured over the still-recovering Canadian international Max Crepeau.

Russell Teibert had the Whitecaps first good chance of the match in the 9th minute, as he cut between two Crew defenders and fired a strong shot on target, although he was unable to beat Elroy Room. Teibert has shown flashes of offensive brilliance over his Whitecaps career, but unfortunately for both himself and the club, this is something that the Canadian has struggled to sustain for more than a moment or two here and there.

The match broke open in the 17th minute, when after a loose touch from In-Beom Hwang in the attacking half, the Crew capitalized on the counter-attack.

While Whitecaps goalkeeper Zac MacMath was able to stop the Crew’s first shot on target, he was only able to parry it right back into the centre of the box. Off the ensuing rebound, MacMath came out over aggressively to challenge Pedro Santos, and the Crew midfielder went down in a heap, drawing a Columbus Crew penalty kick. Gyasi Zardes would convert the spot kick, and the visiting Crew led by a score of 1-0 in the 18th minute.

The Whitecaps struggled to create during the remainder of the first half, and this was perhaps best exemplified by a run from Tossaint Ricketts. After some good interplay with Theo Bair, Ricketts found himself with the ball deep in the Crew’s box, but seemed unable to decide on either a passing or shooting attempt, and puzzlingly, simply let the ball run out of play.

After 45+ minutes of play, the Whitecaps were likely frustrated with their inability to dictate play in the way they have for spurts over the last few matches - especially considering this was something that was emphasized all week at training. At halftime, the Whitecaps trailed the Crew in nearly every statistical category, conceding 60% of the possession, being outshot 8-4 and completing just 81% of their passes.

Despite their stuggles, the Whitecaps nearly found an equalizer in the 55th minute when Theo Bair whipped a cross into the box and the Crew’s Aboubakar Keita nearly deflected the ball into his own goal. The ball went off the inside of the post and then off Elroy Room, but managed to stay if front of the goalline, and the Whitecaps found themselves still trailing as the second half progressed into its final half hour.

The Whitecaps made a pair of changes just after the hour mark, as Fredy Montero replaced Tossaint Ricketts, and Michaell Chirinos replaced the aforementioned Theo Bair, who was perhaps the Whitecaps’ most consistent creator of the afternoon.

As the second half went on, the interactions between left-side midfielder Russell Teibert and left back Ali Adnan were noticeable. Teibert was often forced to cover for Adnan at his left back spot, and both Adnan and Michaell Chirinos failed to track back and occupy the centre of the park, leaving a rather large gulf on the left-hand side. Teibert dismissed any friction between himself and the Iraqi defender post-match, but the high-priced designated player’s workrate continues to be a point of contention amongst Whitecaps fans and pundits alike.

After producing very little offensively over the entire course of the match, the Whitecaps finally broke the ice in Extra Time. On what initially looked to be a fairly innocent play, Adnan hoofed a high cross into the box. Confoundingly enough, the Crew defenders did very little to mark Montero in the centre of the box, and he had all the time in the world to place a cushioned header back across the face of goal and over a frozen Elroy Room. With the last touch of the match, the Whitecaps tied the score at 1-1 and earned an unexpected, and thoroughly underserved, home draw.

Other than as a feel good story, a solitary point is meaningless for the Whitecaps at this point in the season. What’s more important at this juncture is the style in which the Whitecaps play, and on that basis, this was a very disappointing match for the home side.

Despite Dos Santos’ post match comments to the contrary, the Whitecaps almost entirely failed to build on the positive possession play they enjoyed for spurts over their past few matches, instead reverting to a rather aimless, and depressingly defensive brand of football. Equally, most of the Whitecaps players looked listless and undermotivated throughout the match. While Dos Santos and his players can continue to trot out the “competing for jobs” trope, a “competing for jobs” level of urgency was rarely seen on Saturday afternoon, other than for a few fleeting moments.

What were your thoughts on the match? Does it even matter at this point in the year? What are you looking for out of the Whitecaps’ last two matches?

I think this tweet from halftime pretty much sums things up: