Possession is for losers and very much overrated.
Who needs it when you can soak up all the pressure in the world, hit on the counter, and stick the ball in the pokey to take home all three points?
It’s not pretty, it’s smash and grab, it’s nervy as hell, but as Vancouver Whitecaps have shown this season, it is mightily effective. And it was on full display at Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday night as the ‘Caps came away with their first ever league victory there, after a 1-0 win that clinched their place in this year’s playoffs and sees them just two points off their best ever points tally in MLS.
Erik Hurtado was the hero of the night, scoring the dramatic 53rd minute winner on a quick breakaway, on an evening where both sides finished with ten men and Sporting KC were left rueing a catalogue of missed chances, slipping four behind the Whitecaps in the standings now.
Carl Robinson rang the changes to his starting line-up once more, making eight from the team that were dismantled by Seattle on Wednesday night. But we’ve already seen this season in Dallas and Orlando that the ‘B’ team can go to unlikely places and get the job done.
Road games have had a set pattern for Vancouver this year. Soak up an incredible amount of pressure, give up an incredible amount of possession, hit on the counter, and sometimes leave with all three points.
Not the easiest of tactics to successfully pull off, and as the home side dominated the first half, getting anything from this one looked a far fetched proposition.
The bad news for Vancouver was that Sporting KC could have easily been four or five goals up at the break. The good news was they weren’t. In fact it was scoreless. Exactly how that was the case will remain a mystery even William Murdoch would have trouble getting to the bottom of.
Well maybe not. KC wasted their opportunities and couldn’t put one away. And they had enough of them.
They started just three minutes in when Graham Zusi sent in a cross to an unmarked Seth Sinovic at the back post, but the left back fired into the side netting.
Three minutes later, Diego Rubio had his first of many glorious opportunities, but was unable to get onto a great Daniel Salloi volley across goal, and the Hungarian was in the thick of the action on the 8th minute when a clumsy play by Kendall Waston saw him chop Salloi down on the edge of the box.
Referee Baldomero Toledo first awarded a free kick right outside the penalty area, but after using the Video Assistant Review, he reversed his decision and pointed to the spot.
Up stepped Rubio, and with ‘Caps keeper Stefan Marinovic going the right way and leaving little room, the Chilean crashed his effort off the left post.
10' SKC with the penalty chance and it's off the post *PHEW*
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) October 1, 2017
A massive let off for the ‘Caps but no-one was to have any idea just how crucial that miss was to be for the home side.
There was further misfortune for Rubio in the 14th minute when he headed a Zusi cross towards goal but Marinovic made a point blank sprawling save to keep the game deadlocked.
Eight minutes later, Rubio had yet another chances, this time firing narrowly wide, as the ‘Caps defence were getting pulled all over the place, and Roger Espinoza fired just wide with a chance of his own moments later.
Brek Shea actually had a couple of opportunities for Vancouver in the closing minutes of the half, but it ended as it had begun, with a Rubio miss, after he headed a chance straight into the arms of Marinovic.
Outshot, outplayed, and outpossessed, Vancouver’s gameplan may not have been that enjoyable to watch from a ‘Caps perspective, but it had them still very much in the game at the half.
Sporting KC continued where they left off, taking the game to the visitors and creating some half chances but they were stunned eight minutes after the restart when Vancouver countered quickly and Jordan Harvey sent a long ball forward for Hurtado, who took it first time and volleyed home what was to prove to be the match winning and playoff clinching goal.
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) October 1, 2017
What a cracker!
It was a gut punch to the home side for sure, but they nearly levelled things up two minutes later but Zusi crashed a 25 yard free kick off the bar.
But that was as close as KC were to get, despite all their huffing and puffing, and Alphonso Davies nearly grabbed a second for Vancouver with eight minutes remaining when the ‘Caps inexplicably had a four on three break. Yordy Reyna slipped in Davies, but that elusive first MLS goal is still to be got, with Tim Melia coming up with the big save.
With five minutes of stoppage time added on, there was still a lot of drama to come.
First Marinovic tipped over a Christian Lobato effort and then Reyna was played in on goal as KC pressed. The Peruvian raced towards goal, rounded Melia, but was clipped by a desperately chasing Zusi, who saw red.
But Vancouver couldn’t breathe a sigh of relief or use their man advantage as they were reduced to ten men themselves three minutes into time added on, as Toledo gave a ridiculous straight red to Christian Bolanos for a perceived hands to face on Benny Feilhaber.
It was a decision that was to draw the ire of Robinson but thankfully not prove costly for the ‘Caps who held on to claim a massive three points, clinching a playoff place with three games remaining, and giving themselves some breathing space over both Sporting KC and Portland in the battle for a first round bye.
A trip to New York Red Bulls is next up, and as has been the nature of the Whitecaps rollercoaster of a season, who knows how that one will play out?
FINAL SCORE: Sporting Kansas City 0 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps
KANSAS CITY: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Erik Palmer-Brown, Seth Sinovic; Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez, Jimmy Medranda (Benny Feilhaber 57); Gerso Fernandes (Cristian Lobato 46), Diego Rubio (Latif Blessing 78), Daniel Salloi [Subs Not Used: Andrew Dykstra, Saad Abdul-Salaam, Amer Didic, James Musa]
VANCOUVER: Stefan Marinovic; Jake Nerwinski, Kendall Waston, Tim Parker, Jordan Harvey; Aly Ghazal, Marcel de Jong, Alphonso Davies (Russell Teibert 84), Nicolas Mezquida (Yordy Reyna 68), Brek Shea (Christian Bolanos 60); Erik Hurtado [Subs Not Used: David Ousted, Aaron Maund, Bernie Ibini, Fredy Montero]
On his winning tonight in Kansas City and last year in Kansas City:
“That was the first time we had won here in seven years. We had not won in MLS play since we came into the League. As I said to the guys before the game, you know it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a battle. You know what Kansas City is like, they are a great team. Peter [Vermes] has them super organized and we have got to match that. We knew we would come under the cosh a little bit and we did in the first 20 minutes. It was one way traffic and we made some adjustments. Credit to the players in there because they took it onboard and the gameplan worked.”
On the way his team won tonight
“Sometimes football isn’t pretty, unfortunately. We all watch Barcelona play or Paris Saint-Germain this season and sometimes it’s about good, honest hard work. And my guys, every one of them rolled their sleeves up and fought today. Yes, we can play a little better but what they did today was an absolutely phenomenal effort.”
On what he can take away from tonight’s match going into the final stretch
“Just with three points. It’s just one game. We have an important game next week at New York Red Bulls. We know that it’s going to be another difficult place. I asked them to rebound after Wednesday because I thought we were a little bit soft on Wednesday against Seattle, who are another good team and the response that they gave was phenomenal against a really good team. I’m proud today and really proud of this football club.”
On the playoff feeling of tonight’s match
“You try and get into a playoff mindset. We tried to do that on Wednesday and it didn’t quite work out. What we learned on Wednesday, I made them aware of it today because in playoff games its very tight and sometimes decisions go against you. It’s important to keep emotional control but it’s important to stay in the game as well. When we were under the cosh in the first 20 minutes, we maintained focus and our mentality was spot on. We were throwing our bodies on the line, the goalkeeper came up with some massive saves – which you need to – but we stayed in the game and took the chance when it came.”
On going against Sporting KC’s high line
“I knew we would get chances, but I knew we would give up chances because they have a really good team. You are relying on a little bit of luck and your keeper to come up big and that certainly happened with both of them and we took our chance when it came. We could have gotten another at the end with a breakaway but then obviously there are some handbags at the end which I don’t agree with.”
On Erik Hurtado’s performance
“Unbelievable finish from the boy. He’s a model professional for me. He doesn’t complain when he’s not in the team. He’s disappointed which I wanted my players to be disappointed, but he doesn’t come ask me why he isn’t playing, he asks what he can do to get into the team. He’s been behind Fredy [Montero] this year because with the way we play and Fredy has been excellent, I decided to leave Fredy out. Erik came in and took his chance. It was a wonderful finish and a great ball by Jordan [Harvey] – fitting to win the game. [It was] two good teams going hell for leather – challenges flying in, red cards, penalties and one goal.”
On absorbing the pressure in the first half
“The first 20 minutes, we were swimming a little bit. We were having a little trouble dealing. We changed up our formation to deal with it and we dealt with it much better. We got off a little bit easy when the penalty hit the post, but the rest, that’s just what we do, we defend well.”
On looking ahead down the stretch
“I don’t see why we shouldn’t try to push for it. We got two away games and a home game, so going on the road against Portland at the end of the season and New York next week, those are some tough games. Hopefully we can put on a performance similar to today and maybe come away with another win and cement ourselves at the top of the table.”
On being able to come to a place like Children’s Mercy Park and come away with a win
“We talked about it before the game that in seven years in MLS, we haven’t won here. We set a lofty goal that we wanted to do exactly that today and we did. We fought. That’s how we want to be. That’s how we want to play. That’s all we could do is just fight and we did and we won and taking it into the next game is just a little belief that we can achieve the impossible.”
On huge away win tonight
“I heard earlier today that we haven’t won in Kansas City in MLS play so the team took that challenge on and we can cross that off the bucket list.”
On how much it helps to get that three points tonight
“Massive win on the road right now. We’re going to take this win and then get ready for next week. We have to take it game-by-game. We have three games left in the season.”
On how much you draw from a result like tonight
“It’s a credit to the team. We just have to build on this. Everyone put their bodies on the line from the goalkeeper up to the forward line. You just got to do that.”
On the high pressure from Sporting KC
“After like 20 minutes, we had to make some tactical changes and we did. That helped us out a little bit. It created some space for us to attack and once it happened we countered and we finished.”
On the emotion and energy in this game
“It always feels better when you put the work in.”
On if the early chances spurned stand out as missed opportunities more because the team lost
“I think the game was probably, I can say it now, the game was lost in that first 30 minutes. The fact that we had some incredible looks, on top of the penalty – the penalty is one thing – on top of that, we had some great opportunities. We had to stick them away. It not only gets you the goal but it changes the game and how they’ve got to play and we didn’t do that. But they got to give a lot of credit to their goalkeeper, he was big time, he kept them in the game, he was a different level in the game tonight. Credit to him. The goal, what can I tell you? I think we were snoozing a little bit, sleeping maybe on the play. We talked about that’s the one thing they’re going to do the whole game is play the ball over the top, that’s what they wanted to do and they found a way and they scored. It’s unfortunate but at the end we had the chances, we didn’t put them away so they deserve the points – they got the goal – they deserve the three points.”
On if having all of the play lulled the team to sleep causing the team to concede
“It could, but that’s not the norm by us. I think, all in all, we played very well tonight, but we didn’t get the result. That’s why we’re in this business for, to get the results. The unfortunate thing is that we did a lot of things really well, but the one thing that we needed to do was score, we didn’t, and the other was take care of the other side which was what we knew they were going to do, and we didn’t do that either. When you add those up, it actually winds up being a negative unfortunately.”
On Graham Zusi’s performance
“He was good, he was very good. I don’t really have anything bad to say about anybody who played tonight. Again, I thought we played well, I thought we did everything we needed to do but do the big thing, that was score the goals. Those are big-time chances, for us to give that away was a little sad.”
On building on the team’s positive first-half performance
“The only thing I’m thinking about is our next game to be honest with you. Again, you leave every game and you know what the positives and the negatives are, you discuss them, you try to make sure they don’t happen again but we were a little bit lackadaisical at times in the game. I always say that when you get to the last 10 games of the season, the intensity starts to rise with every game you play, and the closer you get to the end, the intensity gets more. They came, they were on a mission, they wanted to sit in and get a counter, they did – somewhat of a counter – and we were caught sleeping and we didn’t finish our chances.”
On trying to take advantage of Vancouver’s stoppage-time red card
“There just wasn’t enough time left. I think at that point, the game was really scrappy, there just wasn’t enough time to really do anything. What I go back to is I think the first 30 minutes, when you look at them and you look at the chances that we created, the way that we were on them and the way that they were sitting back, as I said before, you’ve got to score. You’ve got to put the ball in the back of the net at that point and we didn’t do that tonight.”
On if this is the type of game the team can expect in the playoffs
“There’s no doubt you can use it as an example, for sure, no doubt. You have to be able to understand that – I think at times the game had high intensity, but other times it didn’t because they dropped off so much. What it did have though was a tactical approach, a tactical understanding that you have to have when you go into the playoffs because it’s all about getting goals and not giving goals up, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
On if tonight’s match prepared the team for a potential playoff match
“I think we have that mentality. We’ve been in the playoffs, I don’t know how many seasons in a row, and we’re going to be there again. I know our team has that mentality. Having these kinds of games isn’t going to help us or hurt us. Obviously, not pulling the result out is frustrating. I think we had some good moments in the game where we probably should have put the game away but that’s what happens. You don’t and they obviously came here looking for that kind of result, either a 1-0 result or even a draw. They defended and just tried to get that one goal. They were able to do that, we didn’t put them away when we had the chances and that’s what you get.”
On time wasting at the end of the match
“That’s what happens in soccer. You are down, other teams start wasting time, they did that and that is to be expected.”
On needing to go on the road to now pick up results
“We have four games left, three on the road. We go to Minnesota where we have lost. We know how tough it can be to play there. That turf isn’t fun to play on. They have become a better team through the year. Obviously, Houston on the road, we know how good they are at home. Then we finish at [Real] Salt Lake with that home game in between. Those three away games are going to be tough and it’s going to be crucial. I think we have said it all along, we want to finish top two, but we have done everything we can to not have to play on the road in that first game. We are still in a good position. Today is a step back, but we will refocus and this team is capable of winning on the road as well as at home and we will look to do that starting next week at Minnesota.”
On his chances and what the challenges were in finding the net
“What happened today sometimes happens in soccer. We have many chances, I, personally, have many chances to score but I didn’t. I missed the penalty, I missed some other good opportunities. I hope that happens one time in a long time. It’s the first time here and I hope the last time. I know it’s going to happen more times – a striker is like a goalkeeper – I wanted to take the responsibility today and we lose. I hope that happened tonight and no more this year.”
On if his movement to create chances can be taken as positives from his performance
“Of course, (if) you have chances, you need to make good movement to want the ball. I can say that I always try, I try the entire game to get some good shots and opportunities so I can just say that I try and I give everything to score.”
On if he feels as though he could’ve placed his shots better with five of his seven shots hitting the target
“Of course, of course. I should score every opportunity I have. Today was just this night that you don’t put the ball into the net but I can say that I should score, but I didn’t score tonight.”
On if it’s difficult not to get frustrated with himself when he misses chances
“I think it’s easy to get frustrated. I wasn’t because you are playing here at home, you have teammates who give you support, the people give you all the time support. I just think to score in the next chance I have so I will keep trying – today, another game and the next few games and never give up.”