WFC2 returned to Vancouver for the first match in a three game home stand, but found an in-form Seattle Sounders 2 side a tough proposition, having to settle for a share of the points in a 1-1 draw at Thunderbird Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
A crowd of 2,284 were served up an entertaining Cascadian derby which saw Vancouver press early and having a 10th minute Giuliano Frano goal ruled out for offside before Zach Mathers gave Seattle a half time lead with a nice finish in the 36th minute, after being played through by Jordy Delem.
The ‘Caps showed some much needed intensity in the second half and fought back to level with an excellent low Daniel Haber strike across goal nine minutes after the restart.
Vancouver looked the more likely team to take home the points, but just couldn’t break down a solid Seattle defence again, and the Sounders nearly nicked it in stoppage time at the other end, after a defensive howler from Elliott Green nearly let in a late winner, but Myron Samuel blasted over, much to the ‘Caps relief.
A point was certainly better than nothing for the ‘Caps against such an in-form team, but with the way the play went, especially in the second half, and the chances created, Vancouver will be frustrated that they didn’t come away with what was an achievable victory.
“Disappointed,” was WFC2 head coach Alan Koch’s take after the game. “We know we need to get three points at home. We hoped we could get three points today. That’s the optimist in me. The realist is, these guys have been through all sorts of travel and all sorts of games in the last little while. That’s certainly not an excuse by any means, but it’s a factor.
“We were a little bit flat at times in the game today. If we played with the energy we played with at times in the second half for the full 90 minutes, maybe we get three points today. Having said that, we obviously make a very amateur decision at the end. They gave the ball away and we nearly lost three points right at the end.
“We’ll take the one point. It’s been a long, long week. We’ll give the guys a couple of days off now to relax and recover from this and then come back in and train and prepare for the next one on Wednesday.”
After a strong defensive start to the season, the Whitecaps backline has been tested a lot in recent weeks, and it’s not always been a test they’ve passed with flying colours.
Sem de Wit and Cole Seiler had built a formidable central defensive pairing, with Brett Levis on the left and Kadin Chung on the right. That back four has changed a lot in recent games, and with Seiler seeing a lot of the time in the first team. those coming in to play beside de Wit haven’t proved to be as effective.
“It’s tough in any group where you have players that are rotating,” Koch admitted. “As a defensive pair, your two centre backs are the mist important relationship on the field. They really have to understand each other. If I do this, what are you going to do type of deal. So it’s not easy for Sem to play with different players.
“Having said that, Cole gets an opportunity and he’s moved forward with the first team and other guys get an opportunity then too. And part of that is we assess all the players. We’re continually assessing them to see who are the guys that are going to shine, and lots of players have shone this year in who we can push on to the first team.”
At the other end, chances went a begging for the ‘Caps. Once again they put in a strong first 20 minutes of the match and could have been up by a couple of goals. Marco Bustos hit the post and the rebound fell to Frano, who buried it, but from an offside position.
That was the best chance, but there were others, with Vancouver having 14 shots but only two on target, while it felt like they were trying to almost walk the ball into the net at times.
“We said to the guys at half time, it’s the beautiful game, and it is a beautiful game, but sometimes the beautiful game is not that beautiful,” Koch noted. “It doesn’t have to be 10, 15, 20 passes before you score a goal. Sometimes it has to be a little bit dirty.
“I thought in the second half we were a little bit more direct in terms of how we played and it looked like we were going at them and you could feel that the momentum was starting to shift, but unfortunately we weren’t able to finish it off.”
It’s been a great season so far for WFC2, but Koch feels there’s still a lot of work to be done to have the team playing at the level that he seeks before the playoffs start.
“Lots,” Koch said of the work needing to be done. “Obviously we’re a performance based team and a performance based group. We’re here to focus on the group and to address certain things. There were a lot of things today that weren’t very, very good.
“I think we continue to turn the ball over a little bit too easily as a group. Our defensive shape wasn’t very good when they had the ball and they\re very good in transition. They’ve got some speedsters and some powerful players, and I don’t think we dealt with it as well as we should have for the full 90 minutes.
“We’ve got things as a group we need to address and also things for individuals. We speak to guys about problem solving the whole time. Before the game, it’s go out and you have to problem solve. Don’t wait until half time for us to give you tactical and technical information. You’ve got to figure it out on the pitch. That’s part of coaching a young group is they learn from these experiences, and hopefully the guys will learn from today because it’s been a tough week for a lot of them.”
“We’ll build on a point. We’ve still put ourselves in a very good position in terms of how the season’s gone and we’ll fight and get ourselves ready for the next one.”
But a point is a point, and as it’s worked out, it was enough to not only keep the Whitecaps at the top of the USL Western Conference standings (after LA Galaxy II gave up a 3-0 half time lead at home to Portland to implode and lose the game 4-3), but extend their lead there to two points.
WFC2 are in a strong position heading in to the season run in, with eight games remaining, six of which come at home.
Playoff positioning will now be key, will Vancouver almost assured to kick off their postseason at home, but no matter how many times we ask him (which admittedly is a lot!!), Koch still isn’t going to be drawn into table watching.
“We’re not even thinking about it, to be brutally honest,” Koch told us. “I know you want me to say that but we’re not. We’re focused. We play Orange County on Wednesday and that’s it. We’ll probably look at the table and see where we are, because it’s been exciting to have this young group be right at the top.
“It’s very, very exciting, but at the end of the day, it’s about playing these games. We have eight games left and hopefully we take care of business and get as many points as possible and then get to play in a playoff game. At home or away, it doesn’t really make any difference. It’s an opportunity for young guys to show that they can step up in those games. We’ve got eight games for the guys to step up and hopefully we’ll have some more games after that too.”