Life in the middle of the standings is often a series of small crises.
Until two weeks ago, the Vancouver Whitecaps' crisis was a series of uninspired performances that saw either gutless road losses or just-barely-rescued draws at home. Following a heartening 3-1 win against Los Angeles, the crisis for the last two matches has been the opposite: going up and then watching much-needed results melt away.
Tonight, the Whitecaps were able to come up with a result that did various things it seemed the club couldn't do recently: Win on the road. Engineer a second-half comeback that goes all the way. Play confidently with a draw and a lead. Play well up a man.
But let's start with the road win. A road win. The team's first MLS road win since a 1-0 scrapper 11 months ago in Colorado on July 4th, 2012. It certainly did not start out looking like it was going to be any different than your average Whitecaps road match.
It's hard to overstate how little Vancouver created in that first frame: they got exactly zero shots on target and were outpossessed a staggering 72 per cent to 28 per cent. One of the biggest problems was that they were just a bit sloppy when they took control of the ball. Maybe it was a focus issue — all the Whitecaps looked highly affected by the heat — but a particularly large problem was an inability to readily take control of the ball when they did have possession. Too many balls rolled two, three, five feet on first touch, and players found themselves too far out to do anything with it.
But hey! They weren't behind heading into the half, and they'd managed to put New York on edge; after the refs gave the Whitecaps the benefit of the doubt on a few consecutive fifty-fifty defensive calls, Dax McCarty responded by grabbing Camilo by the shoulders about thirty yards out of the New York goal and hauling him to earth.
Greg Klazura's own goal near the beginning of the second half was part of a tragic first start for the mascot Vancouver defender that, as well an early exit due to injury, disguised the fact that he played okay, all things considered.
It also put the team back on script for a disappointing result. See how powerful these stories can seem? It was just like a 2-0 RSL road loss in May that started downhill with a 47th minute opener, or the 2-0 Dallas road loss that opened with a conceded own goal. You'd be forgiven for calling the game a wash then and there. (Many on Twitter did.)
But sports, like life, measures us by how we react to the successes and challenges we encounter. Painfully, lately, the Whitecaps haven't been able to deal with it, whether it's being unable to come back from a goal down on the road, being unable to turn a draw into a win, as against Dallas and Salt Lake at home in April, conceding despite a red card as against Portland or, heart-breakingly, watching leads slip away last Wednesday against Montreal.
And you know what? It worked out. Jordan Harvey, of all people, smashed in a goal to put the Whitecaps level, the team was able to respond to a change in shape when New York's Jamison Olave was sent off, Kenny Miller got one (to put a nice capper on what was not a great game for him) and despite squandering a late breakaway, the Caps were able to hold in injury time. Neat.
This should be good going forward. Like the LA win, it will quell the chattering about Martin Rennie's future, because it's a lot more pleasant to come home with three points and see ourselves just four points out of the playoffs (and only two behind next week's opponents, Seattle!) than to feel perpetually on the brink of oblivion, as Vancouver sports fans are wont to do.
51' - NYRB- Greg Klazura (VAN OG)
58' - VAN - Jordan Harvey
83' - VAN - Kenny Miller
49’ - NYRB – Yellow - Jamison Olave
67’ – VAN – Yellow - Jordan Harvey
70’ – VAN – Yellow - Alain Rochat
75’ - NYRB – Red - Jamison Olave
Shots: Vancouver 7 - New York 11
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 4 - New York 3
Fouls: Vancouver 10 - New York 9
Offsides: Vancouver 4 - New York 1
Corners: Vancouver 6 - New York 1
Possession: Vancouver 34% - New York 66%
Vancouver Whitecaps FC: Brad Knighton; Greg Klazura (Young-Pyo Lee 57'), Andy O'Brien, Johnny Leveron, Jordan Harvey; Matt Watson, Jun Marques Davidson, Alain Rochat (Daigo Kobayashi 77'); Russell Teibert, Camilo Sanvezzo, Kenny Miller
Unused Subs: Joe Cannon, Erik Hurtado, Kekuta Manneh, Corey Hertzog, Tommy Heinemann
New York Red Bulls: Luis Robles; Kosuke Kimura, Markus Holgersson, Jamison Olave, Roy Miller; Eric Alexander (Llyod Sam 72'), Juninho, Dax McCarty, Jonny Steele (Heath Pearce 78'); Fabian Espindola (Peguy Luyindula 70'), Thierry Henry
Unused Subs: Ryan Meara, Brandon Barklage, Michael Bustamante, Connor Lade
- I have been, well, on the move recently, which you can discern to my lack of posts. This means that your expert analysis is coming from a neglected corner of a sports bar with the sound turned off in Fort McMurray, Alberta, and posts might be spotty depending on my schedule my new job. But I really like doing this, so I'm going to keep doing it. This post (and each post after it) is for everyone that told me they still wanted to read my columns about soccer, because I'm really glad you think I'm worth your time.
- Despite the lack of screeds, I did watch games. Failure against Portland was a really classic gap in focus after the red card that the Timbers were trying to exploit while Vancouver was still trying to rejig itself to the reality that they were up a man. Canadian MNT loss to Costa Rica was frustrating, but a really good warm up for the Gold Cup, which will be equally frustrating.
- Montreal? Buhhh. I don't have any good tactical, narrative or emotional analysis to that game. I was trying to squint at a lone screen in a bar full of hockey fans with no sound in Fort McMurray, hundreds of kilometres away from anyone that cared. I was miserable. It will be another Voyageurs Cup loss that files in with all the improbable, frustrating Voyageurs Cup losses of the past. But hey, that's sports, you know? Here's what I said on Twitter: It'll happen, one of these days, and that loss, like all the others, will make it sweeter.
- I seem to be experiencing technical difficulties at my main Little Rubber Pellets site. So expect things to be on Kinja for a while while I work it out.