Vancouver Whitecaps 4 Toronto FC 2: The Reds Start Season with Stinging DefeatBy: Sairax | March 21st, 2011
It was the first time two Canadian teams have faced off in Major League Soccer. As a spectacle, it was an exciting game to watch for the neutral, and a great advert for soccer in this country. On top of that, we saw many Canadian players on display. The Whitecaps featured two Canadian players and Toronto FC had 5 Canadians take the field. A moment in history for Canadian soccer, but alas, a painful night for fans of TFC. On Saturday night, TFC fans saw that this was going to be another long and potentially painful season; one of rebuilding and restarting from scratch. While the Whitecaps enjoy their expansion season, TFC would be undergoing a fifth “expansion” season of their own.
Vancouver Whitecaps: Starters: Jay Nolly, Jonathan Leathers, Michael Boxall, Jay DeMerit, Alain Rochat, Gershon Koffie, Davide Chiumiento (46′), Terry Dunfield, Russell Teibert (69′), Atiba Harris, Eric Hassli (83′). Bench: Joe Cannon, Greg Janicki, Wes Knight (69′), Jeb Brovsky, Nizar Khalfan (46′), Long Tan, Camilo (83′)
Toronto FC: Starters: Stefan Frei, Dan Gargan, Nana Attakora, Ty Harden, Adrian Cann, Nathan Sturgis (69′), Dwayne De Rosario, Jacob Peterson (71′), Nick Soolsma (46′), Maicon Santos, Javier Martina Bench: Oscar Cordon, Matt Gold*, Keith Makubuya (46′), Ashtone Morgan, Gianluca Zavarise (69′), Milos Kocic, Mikael Yourassowsky* (71′)
I guess I should start at the beginning. A very good place to start, especially since we looked decent in the opening minutes. Both teams were lively and ready for action. It was all a bit frenetic, but then Toronto enjoyed some spells of possession. Our build up play was a bit slow, but Martina was trying to get something happening out wide on the left. It was nice to see us passing the ball around instead of being the team chasing it. Of course this meant we were the first to concede. That’s right. TFC waited four games into its expansion year to score a goal, but it took Vancouver all but 15 minutes. Eric Hassli, the Whitecaps new DP signing, wrote his place into club history by hammering home their first-ever goal with his left foot. While the fans flung plastic rain ponchos onto the pitch and had the game stopped for a few minutes to clean up the pitch, I sat there thinking that we might be in for a goalfest that night. My only worry was if we would have any share in the spoils.
It only took five minutes for us to respond. Maicon sent a nice ball in behind the ‘Caps defense. DeRo picked it up and finished it off nicely into the far corner with his right foot. But wouldn’t you know it? Vancouver almost immediately came back from that in the 30th minute when they found their way through our meek defending and Terry Dunfield who put the ball in the back of the net with an assured strike. Only 20 minutes had gone and we already had seen 3 goals. Was this going to end 5-5?
I can’t really put my finger on when we started to fall apart, but after a half hour you could see that the Whitecaps were starting to enjoy the better of the game. They had pace on the break and took advantage of our defensive weaknesses. The fact that Adrian Cann was used at leftback was not helping at all. He just could not deal with Chiumiento on the wings and we were constantly being exposed there. Our central defensive pairing of Harden and Attakora was not doing well either. Both looked out of sorts and made bad decisions all night long. If we are going to play a high line, then our backline needs to have a good understanding of one another. Vancouver was easily beating our offside trap and getting the best of our defenders. When I saw the lineup at first I thought, ok, maybe Winter wanted four at the back who have some MLS experience and have played together. Unfortunately, with Harden in the centre and Cann at leftback, there was just no solidity. Hopefully we will never see the back four start like this again and we will have Nana and Cann at the heart of our defense. They worked well enough together last season and I suspect we might see them together again for the upcoming home opener.
Do I really have to talk about the second half? Things just went from bad to worse. I thought by taking off the ineffective Soolsma at halftime for Makabuya, we would see a bit of a difference. Really, all I saw was just a painful display from our team. If Vancouver was playing with passion, determination, and spirit, then we were playing with anything but. I remember in preseason de Klerk saying that he wants to see our players playing with passion, so it was disappointing to see that they had such little fight in them in the second half.
Again, Vancouver did well to exploit the space on the flanks and keep our side under pressure. Atiba Harris had a good chance when he found himself in space, but some last-ditch defending and a frantic hoof of the ball saved our blushes. The Whitecaps were able to put themselves ahead with their third goal of the night through a set piece in the 63rd minute. Teibert took the corner and there was a bit of a scramble before Harris slotted it in the back of the net. Terrible defending from us and they punished us for it. Another note to make about our defense. I know Winter wants us to play out from the back, but there are some times when you just need to clear your lines. We’ve given away too many balls in dangerous areas by simply dwelling on the ball too long or making loose passes at the back. The back four did not look comfortable and often gave the ball back to Frei when they were too nervous to play the ball forward or found themselves confronted with an opposing attacker. We needed composure and were sorely lacking on the day.
In the midfield we were just getting bossed. We weren’t keeping possession well, and when we did, we were doing very little with it. Vancouver were being much more direct and were effective in getting the ball up the pitch to create scoring opportunities. Physically, we were losing the battle. Someone needs to tell Winter that MLS can be rough at times and the refs aren’t going to give you calls for a lot of challenges that would be considered fouls in other leagues. Our players aren’t tiny, but they need to be much stronger and hold their own. Otherwise we are going to get crushed this season.
Vancouver were really starting to rub salt in the wound when they put themselves up 4-1 in the 72nd minute. Knight beat the offside trap and found himself in tons of space. He found Hassli, who was also in acres of space, who just needed a simple tap-in for the finish. It was getting embarrassing. Where were our defenders? No one should have that much time and space to score, but they did. We were getting hammered and a lot of it was our own fault. Maicon tried to salvage something for us with a beautiful strike two minutes later, but it wasn’t enough. Some more stuff happened in the last fifteen minutes, but I’ve blocked out much of it and don’t really feel like trying to recall the rest of the awfulness. A good day for Canadian soccer and MLS. A bad day for TFC fans everywhere.
Full Time Stats (via @OptaJack): Vancouver Whitecaps v Toronto FC
On target 8-6
Passing accuracy 78%-86%
Frankly, there were not a lot of positives to take from the game. DeRo was ok and even tried a few of his I’m-going-to-do-this-on-my-own moments that came to nothing. Frei did pretty well considering the defense he was working with. I was surprised I didn’t see him rip off his shoelaces and strangle a couple of them during the match. At least he’ll give them an earful every time they make a mistake. Sturgis was almost non-existent. In fact, I don’t even remember anything he did. If his role was to protect the backline, well, he did a terrible job. Petersen doesn’t really work in the middle, but we didn’t have a lot of choices, I suppose. I’m hoping de Guzman will make a difference here, but we definitely look lightweight in the middle and lacking in players who are able to move the ball around well. Martina looks good on the wing, but I didn’t really see much of a threat coming from him in the second half. Gargan was having a nightmare and ended up just fouling people in the last quarter of the game. Overall, the team performance was poor, and that’s putting it lightly.
If there is an upside, it is that I am not sure if we can look any worse this season. I’m sure it’s possible, but I think Winter is smart enough to see where he went wrong and what he needs to adjust to make it so that we don’t completely implode every match. Yes, we need some better players, but the ones we do have need to step it up as well. I know fans are very frustrated right now, but I implore you to please give the team a couple of months. We can look back at this match in context among a number of games to see if we are at all improving, or if we are heading down a dead-end path with our new strategy. We have a game against Portland on Saturday, another expansion team. It is at home and there is a great chance here for us to bounce back in front of a home crowd. We have only played one game, and, fair enough, it was a shocker. The important thing is that the players get a kick up their backside and pick themselves up. They need to show everyone that they are ready to work hard this season and that we don’t suck as bad as our performance this weekend suggested. It’s going to be difficult for all of us to watch, and progress might not come as quickly as we would like. That’s where we are now, unfortunately, so we may as well get behind the team and at least hope for the best. Or just consume alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol.
*Yourassowsky and Gold were officially signed on Friday night and added to the team roster
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