There’s no doubting Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy will be making all the headlines this weekend. Dream debut will be mentioned. A lot. And rightfully so. But it was a dream return for Kei Kamara to Columbus on Saturday afternoon as the Sierra Leone striker returned to the team that gave him his start in the pro game, capping off a Vancouver comeback in what may be his last ever trip to face his former side in the city.
Second half goals from road warrior Brek Shea and Kamara gave the Whitecaps all three points after going in at half time trailing to a Gyasi Zardes tap in. Vancouver put in a fantastic second half performance to come away with the victory, and it could have been more if Alphonso Davies goal hadn’t been called back under video review.
Carl Robinson made five changes to his starting line-up, with Efrain Juarez and Yordy Reyna not making the long trip east, and handing Bernie Ibini his first minutes of the season.
It was a pretty slow start with the only half chance falling to Federico Higuain, who fired well over from a tight angle for Columbus.
There was very little of note happening from either side, with a low long ranger from Pedro Santos in the 23rd minute the only chance worth talking about, but it was deflected off Kendall Waston into the side netting.
It was another similar strike from Santos six minutes later that led to Columbus taking the lead, after Stefan Marinovic was unable to hold on to the shot, spilling the ball right to the feet of Zardes, who won’t score an easier goal this season.
They won't come much easier for @gyasinho.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 31, 2018
Horrible from the Kiwi ‘keeper and it looked like it was going to be an uphill battle for the ‘Caps after that. But looks can be deceiving.
Jose Aja nearly headed the Whitecaps level two minutes before the break, forcing a great sprawling save off Zack Steffan when he got his head onto a free kick, with the Crew keeper turning the ball onto the post and out.
As it turned out the linesman had his flag up for Shea going offside, but it would have been interesting to see if it would have then counted on a video review. Moot point now of course.
— Columbus Crew SC (@ColumbusCrewSC) March 31, 2018
That was all the action from the first half, and with the ‘Caps giving up their usual two to one possession, they would need something different to get back into this one. Or perhaps it was more of the same that was needed – a Brek Shea road goal. And it game six minutes after the restart.
A quick Vancouver break forward saw Kei Kamara play the ball outside to a streaking Ibini. The Aussie sent a dangerous cross back into the box towards Kamara, but Steffen came out to touch the ball away, falling right into the path of Shea who fired home with aplomb to make it one apiece.
Brek "The Road Warrior" Shea
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) March 31, 2018
From nowhere, it was now a wide open match. Anyone’s for the taking.
Higuain found himself in a good position minutes later, but blasted over when he has to hit the target from there.
Both teams looked like they fancied the win and they made substitutions midway through the half to try and get it. It was Vancouver’s sub that made the immediate impact though in the 71st minute.
Davies thought he’d grabbed his second MLS goal when he left Jonathan Mensah in his wake, rounded Steffan, and tucked the ball away into the empty net. The move had been set up by a fantastic Kamara pass between two Crew players, but the ball was adjudged to have bounced up and hit his right hand on video review, and the goal was called back.
The Whitecaps were not to be denied, however, and it was in the stars that the man to hand Columbus their first defeat of the season was their former favourite, Kamara.
Kamara put the ‘Caps into the lead, with what was to prove to be the winning goal, in the 78th minute, brilliantly heading home a Felipe cross. Review that!
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) March 31, 2018
Columbus came close to levelling things up again four minutes from time when Artur headed a Higuain corner off the bar, but it wasn’t to and Vancouver held on to grab all three points to hit the summit of the Western Conference.
The win made it four straight for the Whitecaps in Columbus. If you want a reason to save the Crew, it’s those easy away victories. Shame it may be the ‘Caps last one there. They’ll now look to take their excellent road record to Salt Lake next week. Let’s just hope there’s no snow.
FINAL SCORE: Columbus Crew 1 – 2 Vancouver Whitecaps
COLUMBUS: Zack Steffen; Harrison Afful, Jonathan Mensah (Adam Jahn 83), Lalas Abubakar, Hector Jiminez (Milton Valenzuela 67); Artur, Wil Trapp, Pedro Santos, Federico Higuain, Cristian Martinez (Luis Argudo 86); Gyasi Zardes [Subs Not Used: Jon Kempin, Josh Williams, Ricardo Clark, Mohammed Abu]
VANCOUVER: Stefan Marinovic; Jake Nerwinski, Kendall Waston, Jose Aja, Marcel de Jong; Russell Teibert, Bernie Ibini (Alphonso Davies 67), Jordon Mutch (Aly Ghazal 74), Felipe Martins, Brek Shea (Cristian Techera 84); Kei Kamara [Subs Not Used: Brian Rowe, Aaron Maund, Nicolas Mezquida, Anthony Blondell]
On today’s match against the Crew
“Happy with the three points, obviously we know it’s a difficult game whenever we come to Columbus [Crew SC]. They’re a really good team, they like to play a certain way and we knew that coming into the game but thought the game play was excellent and the boys carried out what I asked them to and put a lot of effort in. When you take chances, obviously it’s pleasing.”
On Whitecaps’ halftime changes
“We did well shape wise in the first half. We conceded a goal through a goalkeeping error. They didn’t really hurt us in certain areas. They played some good stuff in front of us but not behind us. I said to be positive, make positive decisions and when you get your chances take them. It’s all credit to the players today because at halftime I did give them a little poke and they responded and you get your rewards.”
On whether Bernie Ibini-Isei and Brek Shea made an impact
“They did and if you know me, you know I rotate my squad and carry a group of players. There is no I in Team and I’ve been telling you that all along. Whether you’re the first man, number one or number 22 or 24, you’re always going to get the opportunity to play for me.”
On Alphonso Davies’ goal being called back
“I hope they’re right first thing. Ball to hand or hand to ball, they have to be clear with that. I don’t think he actually stuck his arm out, I think he tried to put his arm in. So, whether it is a positive action or not, I don’t know. It is up for debate. I’ll probably let that one blow over because we managed to get a goal after that event anyway. The response was great, we didn’t deal with it. We dealt with disappointment very well and we went again and got the reward.”
On Kei Kamara scoring
“I said to him before the game, sometimes you don’t need to say anything. Sometimes you let your football do the talking on the pitch and that’s exactly what he did today. Not just his goal but I thought his overall performance was top drawl and I’m delighted that he got his reward. Obviously fitting it was here as well.”
On the team’s road character
“Every player in that group deserves a lot of credit. It’s not easy. It’s easy to make excuses or find reasons why you don’t get results. We didn’t do that. We’ve gotten beaten and beaten by the better teams but if you’re going to earn a road victory against us, you’ve got to out run us, out fight us and sometimes that doesn’t happen. We never give in and we got quality now in this squad I believe from top to bottom in certain areas that we have lacked in seasons gone by. The focus, mentality and character of the group is continuing to build but they’re terrific to work with.”
On preparing for their next road match against Real Salt Lake
“We’ve got a long travel day tomorrow. We don’t get back until late I believe, we’ll have Monday off and then we’ll regroup on Tuesday. It’ll be a totally different lineup. My squad will get used, especially in the early stages. I want to keep them all involved because if you don’t do that and you play a set team in the first five, eight, 10 games of the season I’ll guarantee you towards the end of the season it’s not the same team. I’ve got to keep everyone engaged but I’ll put the best team available out that we think can win the game because it’s going to be a totally different game vs another very good team.”
On how it felt to get a come from behind win in Columbus
“Amazing. Because in the first half we knew we were playing okay. We weren’t doing bad stuff. But we conceded a not good goal. And we knew we could be sharper in the second half. And we talk about that. We got to play and believe that we can do something else and we can score. So that we show in the second half that I am trying to do things better, be sharper, and play with a little bit of risk, we can make things possible.”
On Vancouver’s halftime adjustments
“Trying to be sharper on the defensive side. When to mark, because sometimes we were leaving a lot of gaps. So we know they want to play in the middle and try to run between the midfielders and the defenders and try to look crosses. So we were trying to be closer to their attackers. And when we have the ball, secure the first pass and try to create spaces and look for Kai [Kamara] in the box.”
On the momentum going forward
“Winning is always amazing. And we know we start good, but it’s a long season and we have to keep on the same road because [if we get] the most points we can have right now, [then] at the end of the road we can just go through it, [and we can] relax. We just want to go to the playoffs.”
On scoring the game-winning goal
“It felt good. It’s always good to score goals. Some goals are special and tonight it was special because it brought three points. It was a good goal and the team needed it after [Alphonso Davies’ goal] got taken away from us… It was all about just getting another one and I told [Alphonso Davies] we were going to get another one. It was the perfect delivery and the perfect goal.”
On scoring in Columbus
“Scoring in Columbus is great and I cannot take that away. Columbus was my first team to give me the chance to be a professional and it’s always good to be back in this stadium. Every goal I score here, just like many other teams I have been on, I have been on maybe twelve teams, every team I have been on, whenever I score there, it is good.”
On carrying momentum into Real Salt Lake
“It’s another away game and we have done really well, even last year, on the road and this was a big, big win for us. Two big wins against Houston, who was the favorite for a long time at home, and Columbus [Crew SC] now, and it just shows that we can play as long as we believe in ourselves. [Real Salt Lake] had a tough game yesterday, so they will be ready to win in their house, but we got to be ready for it.”
On Vancouver height advantage
“We are just tall. We are just a tall team. Columbus possess the ball better than us, but we won the game tonight, so that is good.”
On the match against Vancouver Whitecaps
“I don’t know. I think this is a good wakeup call for us. Give Vancouver a lot of credit. They had a clear game plan, they stuck with it, and they executed it. For us, I don’t think that we can play at 60% of our highest level and win games at this league. I really don’t. So for me the wake-up call is, ‘Okay guys, this is about every game. Us playing with a high tempo, us really trying to push our game on the opponent.’ Today I think we were way too slow on our ball movement.”
On the ball movement being slow
“I think that we weren’t getting our fullbacks high enough. I think we were a little too cautious with that. I think our wide-attacking midfielders were coming too deep. So then we had no threat to get behind their line. We weren’t opening up any spaces. So, again, to me this is a wake-up call game. It’s one of those games where we have to be like, ‘Okay. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to do better, and we’ll be fine.”
On starting Hector Jimenez
“Hector [Jimenez] is going to be a guy that’s important to this group. We wanted to give him game time. We know it’s going to be valuable to keep him fit during the season. We know he’s going to play a number of games. Although Milton [Valenzuela] was doing fantastic, it was important for us to get Hector [Jimenez] on the field, that he stays fit, and that he remains an important part of this group.”
On Kei Kamara’s goal
“I have to look at it again, but to me it looked like we were perhaps a little too deep. We didn’t get enough pressure on the ball. Give Kei [Kamara] credit; he made a great header, but I think we were a step slow on that play for sure.”
On attacking chances
“I think we don’t have a problem with them drifting inside, or drifting lower, but we need to have someone high. We can’t just play soccer with 10 guys behind the ball. In attacking positions, we need to be threating the opponent’s back line. That’s what our game is about, putting players in position to get behind the opponent, and today we did a very poor job of that. I don’t know if it was a willingness to run. I don’t know if it was positioning. We’re going to look at it, but today was not good.”
On defending set pieces
“We actually did a great job on defending set pieces. They were huge. That was a big team we played against today. For me, it was about using our quickness, using our speed, using our ball circulation. Anytime you play against players that are that big, you have to make them move quickly, and we didn’t do that. Again, very poor job of putting any kind of tempo into the ball circulation.”
On preventing counterattacks
“I think we did a decent job of that. In the second half, we did lose our shape a little too much; we did give them a little too much space. When you look at the first goal, it just was an example of where we could’ve been better. I think the goal that got disallowed- very similar situation. We had a chance to stop the counter-attack very early, and we let the player run. So, again, to me this is a good wake-up call for us. We can’t go through the motions in this league. You need to perform every single game.”
On evaluating the centerbacks and the team’s performance
“I don’t want to get in the habit of evaluating performances in the media. I’ll talk to the group, and we’ll talk to the centerbacks and give them an evaluation of their performance.”
On the loss being a wake-up call and potentially positive for the team.
“I think it could. To us it’s about preparing as much as you can for the performance on the weekend. I’ll take a look at what we could’ve done wrong with the coaching staff to see if there’s anything we missed with this matchup, with this game. To me it just wasn’t good enough.”
On whether he looks back on Crew’s 14-match undefeated streak
“I mean I guess. To me, again, our focus is preparing for the game on the weekend. Not worrying about streaks, not worrying about any of that stuff – just performing. That’s why I’m bothered today because I don’t think we performed.”
On controlling the ball
“The first half, in my opinion, wasn’t great but it showed glimpses of controlling the match, being dangerous, threatening their goal, and then the second half showed none of that. It showed very cautious and very slow ball movement. To me, the second half was there to start opening up your lead and start really performing, and we didn’t do that. That’s what’s disappointing.”
On Pedro Santos and Cristian Martinez switching positions
“I think we look for the space is, and where we can exploit it. When Pedro [Santos] is on the right, he can come in and shoot with his left, and vice versa with Cristian [Martinez] on the left side. So there’s times where we want that. We want them driving inside to open up space for our full back, and then there’s times where we’re happy to say ‘We’re going to stretch, we’re going to open the opponent a little more, and have them positioned a little bit further apart.’ In terms of them switching, that’s based on how they’re feeling in the game. A lot of it comes down to what they’re looking to do in the game.”
On what Crew can improve ahead of the next match against the Chicago Fire
“Speed of the ball. We will just have to make them move and make them run and then finishes our chances.”
On the positive takeaways from today’s match
“I thought the first half went well, I thought we moved the ball well and we broke them down a bunch of times and we had our chances. I thought we also built out well in the first half.”
On the first half vs. the second half of the match
“We played well in the first half and with speed. We just slowed it down in the second half and they sat back, and we couldn’t break them down.”
On the today’s match against Vancouver
“In the second half we could have done much better, in terms of moving the ball and having a lot of options going forward, but I thought that we lacked that, we didn’t really get that in the second half.”
On what Crew can improve
“We need to be better as a team, so we will go back next week and work on something.”
On the end of the undefeated streak
“I mean any time you lose you feel concern about it. A loss is a loss so I think everyone is disappointed with the result. We were up 1 to nothing and we had control in the game.”