Heading into Saturday’s game in KC, you felt it would be tough for the Whitecaps to get much from the match. Tough, but by no means impossible.
The ‘Caps have best away form In MLS after all. Factor in that Vancouver had managed to rest eight of their starters for the midweek draw in Montreal, while the home side played full strength line-ups in their Sat/Wed games and it gave some hope.
On the other hand, KC were unbeaten at home this year and on an eleven MLS game unbeaten streak at Sporting Park – 16 in all competitions.
I’d have taken a draw at kickoff. Hell, I’d have taken a draw at the 90 minute mark the way the game was going. But at half-time? Well it was a case of getting that time off booked for the week of MLS Cup festivities that would be held in Vancouver.
The Whitecaps looked to be home and dry. Coasting to first place in the race to the Supporters’ Shield. Stamping their credentials as title contenders. Then came that last ten minutes.
You can put that late collapse down to a number of things, but first and foremost, full credit has to go to the immense fight from Kansas City. That was a comeback of epic proportions. I wish I had been a neutral to enjoy it. It was stunning stuff.
Aside from that, Vancouver’s defending during that spell was dreadful. Missed marks all over the shop, somewhat hindered by Pa Modou Kah’s cheekbone injury and the lack of Kendall Waston.
Would the big Costa Rican have made a difference? Probably, with three of the goals coming from headers from a position he was likely to be in. Would he have stopped the late collapse? Possibly, but remember he was in that backline that gave up two late goals to Montreal on Wednesday. He’s excellent, but he’s not invincible.
The ‘Caps will pick over the bones of the game video. The management will see the missed tackles, the poor marking, the inability to head the ball clear. The players will see and know where they went wrong.
But with two late, and who knows how costly, collapses in the last two games, one of the heavy topics over the weekend was – anomaly or a worrying new trend?
It’s hard to say the latter. You’re talking about the second best defence in MLS when it comes to clean sheets and two (fairly) different defensive line-ups for the two games. That said, three-quarters of Saturday’s back four was strong and very experienced. It’s a comeback they shouldn’t have let happen.
There’s also an argument to be made that this has been in the making for a while, with David Ousted saving the team from a number of goals this season and making the ‘Caps defence look better than they actually are.
But let’s go with more anomalies than an episode of Primeval. For now at least.
For me, that was an alarming aspect of Saturday’s loss but not the most worrisome.
Carl Robinson clearly tried to deflect the attention from his players, as he always will, with his postgame rant about the officials. There’s a lot of blame you can lay at the door of MLS officials for a number of things, but it’s hard to agree to make that the main talking point after the KC loss.
Robbo himself even admitted it had little to do with the loss. There were some bizarre comments in there, which felt more like they were coming from weeks of pent up frustration at the officials than anything else.
The main gripe was on the decision not to give Vancouver a stoppage time penalty when Octavio Rivero went down in the box. Clean tackle or was there a follow through that cleaned out the man?
Lots of debate. And lots of uneducated debate about winning the ball. It should have been a penalty. Rivero was likely to have picked himself up and buried it. The ‘Caps would have had a win and the amount of inward analysis would be lessened. Robbo’s wallet would also likely be slightly fatter.
There was also talk of tiredness and while I fully understand how playing in such conditions will take a toll on a player’s body, these were mostly fresh players, with Jordan Harvey maybe the main exception from the backline.
But enough of the could have beens. Let’s get the nitty gritty of what was, and that was some terrible finishing that would have put the ‘Caps out of sight.
Tim Melia was outstanding in goal for KC and does deserve great credit for a number of stops, but they were saves that Vancouver should never have allowed him the chance to make.
Pick a worst.
Kekuta Manneh being clean through one on one after a sublime lob from Pedro Morales is up there at the top. He said after the game that he thought he was offside, but you’re taught from an early age (or should be) to play to the whistle. Don’t want to knock him too hard as he did get the two goals, but it’s being clinical in those kind of situations that is the difference between a player plying his trade in MLS and getting the coveted move to the higher level.
Which brings me to Rivero, who came here with that very purpose in mind.
I’ve been supportive of the Uruguayan in his recent slump. You don’t become a bad goalscorer overnight. His early season form shows he can finish and his workrate is phenomenal. He’s arguably the best non-scoring striker in MLS. But he’s a striker and is ultimately judged on goals.
Rivero’s confidence in front of goal is what appears to be shot, not the ball.
He doesn’t look confident when he’s lining up a shot. It’s playing on his mind and he is visibly taking too long to weight up his options, allowing defenders and goalkeepers to snuff out the chance.
What I will say about the whole penalty incident at the end, Rivero never looked like he was wanting to shoot. He was looking for a penalty at the end, but before that, his preferred option looked to be to play in Darren Mattocks, who made the wrong run and blew the chance. That’s not so much Rivero’s fault, admittedly, but you still need your main striker to look to bury a gamewinner.
So there’s two questions now. How long do you persevere with a striker who isn’t scoring, looks short on confidence, but is proving to be a fine link up and hold up man? And who is there to take over from him?
The options aren’t mouthwatering. Mattocks is hit and miss, Earnshaw is older, Clarke would struggle. Do you finally give Manneh a chance up front on his own and have Rosales and Techera on the wings? Could be an interesting one.
As for the perseverance aspect, Robbo doesn’t seem set to give up on his marquee offseason signing just yet. Dropping him would likely not help with the confidence but can he play through it for too much longer in the hope he’ll suddenly refind that early season spark?
You can argue that Rivero is isolated up there, and he is, but it’s not as if he hasn’t been getting the chances. He’s had umpteen of then and can’t put the ball in the back of the net from open play. That’s 14 games and counting now and that’s a lot of faith Robbo has given him.
The game should have been out of sight on Saturday with the chances we had, but it wasn’t, and another aspect that Robbo should likely look at is the complacency in his side.
Kekuta Manneh said after the game, “we felt like we had the game”. Jordan Harvey said, “I just thought we had it”. Worrying.
Did the ‘Caps ease up? Take their eye of the ball, literally? Not the right attitude to have going in to the final stages of a game against on of the best teams in MLS right now.
So a number of things for Robinson to address with his squad this week. He’s unlikely to do much of it publically. You can be sure he’ll be focusing on the positives of the last two games when he’s speaking to the media.
And there were positives. The team is scoring. From all over, if not the main striker. They went to a tough place in KC and showed they are right up there with the best in MLS. All good things.
At the end of the day though, that all counts for nothing if you don’t get the points on the board and with the Western Conference so tight, the loss makes this weekend’s match with Dallas all the more crucial.
With a third of the ‘Caps remaining games coming against Dallas, Saturday could very well be the difference maker in whether Vancouver are fighting for a top two spot in the West or in a battle for 4th.
Anything outside a top four finish now would feel like a major disappointment. If they don’t pick up in certain areas though, at both ends of the pitch, that’s going to be harder to achieve.