“It’s getting to the stage that both teams need to win”. That was Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson’s take heading in to Saturday’s match in Columbus against a Crew side sitting bottom of the East.
With games and time running out, both teams had to go for it, but you would never have known for much of the match. It looked a game between two poor sides. The table doesn’t lie.
All that said, who cares how you get the win, as long as you get it, and that’s just what Vancouver Whitecaps did. A first half own goal tied things up early, before late strikes from Andrew Jacobson and Erik Hurtado (yes, that is not mistype) earned three massive points for the ‘Caps and keeps their playoff hopes alive.
The start of the match was delayed for over 90 minutes due to storms and heavy rain, and when it did start all the action came in the first and last 15 minutes of play. The hour inbetween was certainly nothing to write home about or make you think either team were capable of troubling the top sides in the league this year. Yet stranger things have happened. Like Erik Hurtado scoring.
Carl Robinson was banned from the touchline for this game after his appeal for last week’s sending off against San Jose was denied. With the six internationals returning, changes were made, with four of them reclaiming a starting spot, but there was no place in the team for ‘Caps captain Pedro Morales.
Quality was to be at a premium in the soggy conditions, and both teams struggled to settle. When Columbus took the lead in the 11th minute, it already looked like a story we’d seen played out numerous times before, but it proved not to be the case.
Justin Meram shot was deflected for a corner, which Mohammed Saeid swung in and Ola Kamara buried with a nice finish after easily shaking off the attention of Russell Teibert.
It was poor defending from Teibert, but the Canadian made up for it two minutes later when his hustle saw him send a cross into the box with Gaston Sauro headed past his own keeper, Steve Clark.
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) September 10, 2016
It was only Vancouver’s second goal in their last eight matches. They couldn’t score it themselves, but they all count. Maybe that needs to be the new tactic. Let the opposition score them for you.
The next hour of “action” was painful to watch. Neither team seemed to have any clue as to how to win the game, and the Caps went 74 minutes before registering a shot on target. Coming on the back of last week’s 90 minutes with no shots on target, it was looking far from promising.
Robbo must have been sitting in the stand thinking “man, so this is what the fans have to endure every week”. There was even a shot of him and Gordon Forrest sitting up there, looking less than impressed, with Robbo shaking his head and Gordon looking like he’d lost the will to live. I think that’s just a Fife thing though!
Up front, Masato Kudo was posted missing after returning to the line up and Giles Barnes had another poor outing in a Whitecaps shirt, looking a shadow of the impact player he was at Houston. Then again, all bar two of his MLS goals had come in Houston!
But out of nowhere, like a Randy Orton RKO, it was to be two substitutes who saved the game and earned the three points for the Whitecaps.
Andrew Jacobson had come on ten minutes into the half for the injured Teibert, and he fired the ‘Caps into the lead with a low 20 yarder that nestled in the bottom right hand corner of the Crew net.
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) September 11, 2016
I was starting to forget what a Whitecaps shot on target looked like, never mind how it felt to see a goal from a Whitecaps player. Turns out, pretty nice.
Certainly a turning point in the match, but arguably an even bigger one came at the other end three minutes later when David Ousted rediscovered his catlike reflexes, and thankfully hadn’t frozen to the spot in the cold and rain, to superbly tip over a Meram shot which deflected of David Edgar at point blank range.
It was a stunner and surely another Save of the Week winner from the Dane.
'77 Those reflexes! pic.twitter.com/3TxRM1XMyR
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) September 11, 2016
A huge escape for Vancouver and they made it pay when they added a game-clinching third with eight minutes of the match remaining.
Cristian Bolanos whipped in a corner that came to Edgar a few yards out and the Canadian international volleyed it right off Clark’s chest. The rebound fell to Hurtado four yards out and he buried it high into the net for his first MLS goal of the season.
He couldn’t miss from there you may say, but in all honesty, we believe he could!
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) September 11, 2016
The ‘Caps even had a couple of further chances to add to their tally, but that would just be being greedy, and the Crew’s night got even worse when Tony Tchani saw red late on for kicking out at Hurtado.
So a 3-1 final, moving the Whitecaps up two places to 7th in the Western Conference. Portland’s win at home to RSL saw them increase their lead over Vancouver to four points, but San Jose’s 1-1 draw with Seattle keeps both those sides below Vancouver, albeit with both teams having two games in hand on the ‘Caps.
It’s going to be a tight finish, but let’s not get too carried away with one result.
Vancouver aren’t going to play any team as bad as Columbus in their final five matches. Neither is one goal suddenly going to turn Hurtado into a quality MLS striker. But it is a confidence boosting, and much needed, win, bringing to an end an eight game winless streak. The ‘Caps will have to play a lot, lot better if they are to string together the four or five further wins they will need to even have a shot at the playoffs.
Can it happen? It looks less than likely. But this is football, and that’s why we love it.
FINAL SCORE: Columbus Crew 1 – 3 Vancouver Whitecaps
COLUMBUS: Steve Clark; Harrison Afful, Michael Parkhurst (Adam Jahn 75), Gaston Sauro, Corey Ashe (Waylon Francis 75); Mohammed Saeid, Nicolai Naess; Ethan Finlay (Cedrick 66), Tony Tchani, Justin Meram; Ola Kamara [Substitutes not used: Brad Stuver, Dilly Duka, Hector Jimenez, Chad Barson]
VANCOUVER: David Ousted; Jordan Smith, David Edgar, Kendall Waston, Jordan Harvey; Christian Bolaños, Matías Laba, Russell Teibert (Andrew Jacobson 55), Cristian Techera; Giles Barnes (Erik Hurtado 61), Masato Kudo (Nicolás Mezquida 79) [Substitutes not used: Paolo Tornaghi, Fraser Aird, Tim Parker, Pedro Morales]
On their gameplan…
The gameplan, our gameplan, today was, away from home it’s very difficult in Major League Soccer, was to be in the game. Stay in the game and maybe try and catch them on some transitional play, and I think we did it, but we didn’t do it well enough in the first half. Obviously conceding the goal gave them a little bit of momentum, but I’ve got to credit my guys with character and guts and determination. Second half was an excellent display of away football.
On finally winning on the road after recent struggles…
Yeah, difficult. No game is easy, especially here, and the weather delay as well. Every time I come to Columbus something seems to happen. We usually end up winning, so that’s a good thing! But it was the same for both teams. I’ve got to give Columbus a lot of credit today as well, because they played very, very well. They were unable to get the breaks, but we played exceptionally well for an away team performance. We got our breaks and we could have got one or two more at the end as well.
On Erik Hurtado finally scoring…
I said after Saturday’s game against New York Red Bulls that Erik had a number of chances that fell to him but unfortunately he was unable to put one away. As a coach, it’s important that you stick behind your players and I certainly will stick behind Erik. I said to him today he’ll get a chance and he got one chance and he put it away. Sometimes you need a little bit of luck. Today he had that little bit of luck. If you work hard, and you put the hours in, and you put the commitment in, then you get your rewards at the end of the day and he got his reward today, as well as the team.
On his different vantage point tonight from stands…
It was different. I was getting a few pelters from some people up there. I remained calm. So I couldn’t get sent off!
On getting back to scoring ways, did it play on their mind?…
It actually doesn’t. I can sit here and say that today after scoring three goals. We just get back to work. It’s one game. We’ve got a big game on Tuesday against KC.. We were getting chances. If we weren’t getting chances then I’d be worried. We didn’t have a shot on target in the first half but we managed to get a goal. Last week we had 12 shots, again we didn’t hit the target and we didn’t score a goal. We’ve just got to keep working. If every shot hit the target, you’d be playing for Real Madrid. Unfortunately we’re not.
Plans for Tuesday’s team…
We’ll see how the guys are. Some of the international boys are back now and played today. A fantastic effort from some of them. Christian Bolanos played two games in four days and he played 90 minutes again at an exceptional high level. Kendall Waston as well. I decided to leave Marcel [de Jong] and Blas Perez out because they’d had long travel and played two games as well. We’ve mixed our roster up a little bit today to get a very good result. But we’ll go to KC, it’s a difficult place to go, we know that, we’ve been there twice already. But we’ll be up for a scrap.
Does he feel like he’s coaching a playoff team?…
I’ve got full faith in that group of players in there. I really have. They’ve got fantastic ability. When you lose games it’s easy to point a finger at other people and blame. We don’t do that as a group, I don’t do that as a coach. I genuinely believe that you make your own luck and we have had some serious bad luck over the last few games with a retaken penalty, a goal kicked out of my keeper’s hands, a handball goal last week. Things like that. I just said to the guys you’ve got to keep going. If you put the work in and you keep going, the rewards will come. Today the reward come, but it’s one game. We’ve got to focus. It’s out of our hands unfortunately. There’s teams above us that have got games in hand and points. But Major League Soccer’s strange. Strange things happen. So we’ll just keep going.
Thoughts on the game…
I think first of all, I want to apologize to all the people that stayed around and watched that, because I didn’t think we gave a good enough performance for them. They’re sitting in delays and it’s raining and lightning and people are still coming to the stadium, and we didn’t give them enough. Plain and simple. I didn’t see enough out there tonight.
On not seeing enough…
I wouldn’t necessarily say (that the team gave up at the start of the second half). If you look at the matchup, it’s two teams in very similar situations fighting for their lives, trying to set up the last part of the season. And I just didn’t see enough urgency. Vancouver had a way that they were going to play, they were going to try to counter, they were going to sit back, and I don’t think we generated enough chances. I don’t think we took our chances well enough. I don’t think we defended well enough. To hear that (Vancouver’s) first shot was the 2-1 (goal giving Vancouver the lead) and that they scored a goal is not good.
On where Crew SC goes from here…
I think (the postseason being out of reach) is the easy thing to say. And you know soccer, soccer is a strange game. It’s 1-1 in the 74th minute and they hadn’t had a shot on goal and it’s 1-1. So soccer is a funny game. I’m not going to give up. The players aren’t going to give up. Any fans that paid money to watch us play this year, it wouldn’t be right to give up on them.
On Harrison Afful’s play…
I think there were opportunities that could have been converted to chances that we didn’t do so. Harrison [Afful] is dangerous every single game he plays in but I think there were a couple of passes we could have made better to create goal-scoring opportunities, a couple close offsides were called, couple times where we picked the wrong option to take a chance. The intention to dominate the game and create goal-scoring opportunities was there but I don’t think it was quick enough, I don’t think it was fast enough and I don’t think it was decisive enough.
On the lack of shots on goal in the second half…
I think it was a little bit of execution. I think the goalie made a good save in the second half so that should have probably counted as some type of shot on goal but maybe it came off one of their players and normally that’s a shot on goal. Overall, throughout the whole game, not just the second half, there were times when we could have executed better and we didn’t. We are going to have to get it right.
On if missing [Federico] Higuain was an issue…
Missing [Federico] Higuain is always an issue; he is a very good player. Missing Wil [Trapp] hurt as well but again, those are just excuses. I said it last week and I’ll say it again: to even say that we couldn’t have won the game without those guys is doing a disservice to the guys that were actually on the field. We were just looking for some better performances.
On if Federico Higuain’s absence from the game was due to a reoccurrence of his injury…
On if Federico Higuain’s absence necessitated a new look in the lineup…
There were two things. I think that the first thing was missing [Higuain]. The second thing was we tried to analyze what their threats were going to be, a one of their big threats is the counterattack. And, with three centerbacks it was easy to nullify the counterattack. When you look at the game, besides when it was already 2-1 on that one set piece, they really didn’t counter us effectively. And we know they’re a good counterattacking team, they base a lot of their strategy on counterattacking. So, we went with three centerbacks and we wanted to attack the wide positions. And, for the most part, you know, it worked. I think the final product wasn’t there, though.
On the formation…
We played a 3-4-3. That was the design.
On details of Federico Higuain’s absence from the game…
So, the thing with Federico [Higuain], he’s a guy that wants to be out on the field. And, we’re evaluating him and he has a lot of pain, he’s playing with a lot of pain. We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to get him through the rest of the season, and how to get rid of some of the pain and plan a path forward because we need him on the field.
On what’s wrong with the later portions of Crew SC matches…
To me, it’s disappointing. I think, twofold, the red card, I think is unnecessary, I think it’s not an act of sportsmanship. And the second thing is giving up a goal in the 75th [minute] on. And, if you hang around long enough, and you keep yourself in the game, you can potentially get something out of the game. And by giving up that third goal, it was a back breaker.
On if he thinks the team can improve in the last stretch of the season…
That’s a good question. That’s what I was thinking about in the office. Is this the max that we have? And if it is, it’s not good enough. Is this our limit in terms of potential? I don’t believe it is, but we’re not showing much more than that, to be honest. A game like tonight, setting it up as a must-win game, we didn’t show enough.
On the game…
It was a tough game, and we really wanted to win the game. Without [Vancouver] being sharp offensively, and it’s 1-1 in the 75th minute, it’s a tough one. It’s a tough one to handle but we just have to keep going. It’s very hard to explain the frustration right now.
On his frustration…
I only think about every single game. I’m not thinking about the season. Next game against Orlando, we’re going to go again and try to get three points. [My frustration] is because we didn’t get three points. I think we are a better team, but we didn’t play better than Vancouver and that was a problem.
On his mindset before a match…
My matchup that day, and the chances I can get in the game, to try to finish them off and put them into the net.
On his team’s mentality after the loss against Vancouver Whitecaps FC…
Down. This is rock bottom for us right now. It’s tough.
On his feelings of the final 20 minutes of the game…
We know that we are running out of opportunities and it was frustrating and deflating. Like you said, of course we are never going to give up. We’ll keep playing until we are mathematically out of it.
On conceding goals late in games…
Honestly, I don’t know the answer right now. It seems like I’ve tried to answer that question many times now and it’s frustrating that it has to be asked over and over and that we have to deal with it over and over. That’s on us and it’s just not good enough.
On Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s second goal….
I didn’t see the replay, but from what I remember of it he was driving down and we just don’t get enough pressure on him. We need to communicate a little bit better between the three of us in the back there of who is going to step out and try and get some pressure on him. It didn’t happen and we hit a bump.
On conceding the winning goal on Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s first shot on goal…
Yeah. It’s very frustrating. We give them one shot and we are down 2-1. It’s super frustrating.
On his feelings on having three centrebacks in defence…
It was a bit of a change and the reason that we did it was because we thought they would go with two up top and really play on the counterattack, so we wanted to be sound on the counter. I thought that for the most part it worked well. It’s getting used to it a little bit, as far as being able to have a little freedom to step out and step up to guys instead of always having to worry about your back. I don’t know if it’s something that is going to continue in the future or not, but I thought that for a while it went well.
On the pressure of this season as team captain…
Yeah. We’ve had some tough moments and we’ve had some streaks, but this is probably the worst time. So absolutely. I’m not going to hide and that’s why I’m standing here. Whatever happens, we are going to keep fighting until he very last game of the season. We have to make sure there is no quit in the team.
On the difference between this year and last year…
Absolutely. It’s just really frustrating to think that a good core of the group that was responsible for that run is still with the team and for whatever reason, and they are plentiful, that we are just not getting the job done game in and game out. It’s frustrating because we want to give ourselves a chance in the playoffs to make that run, but it’s going to take a lot now.