Carl Robinson has long said that everyone will get their opportunity to show him what they’ve got, but once they get that opportunity, it’s then up to them to go out there, grab it and make the most of it.
Vancouver Whitecaps’ opening group game in their 2016/17 CONCACAF Champions League game against Central FC in Trinidad and Tobago afforded not just the MLS fringe players the chance to shine and impress, but also four USL call-ups.
We’ve seen it play out all too often that when there’s wholesale changes to the starting line-up, the players start to look less like a team and more like 11 guys who have just met in the dressing room a few minutes before taking the pitch. The result is few guys step up and seize their moment.
It was a different story tonight, and although it wasn’t anywhere near a perfect performance, a young Whitecaps side had the fire in their belly from the start, putting in a solid first half display and easily managing the second, to come away with a 1-0 win in the Caribbean against the Couva Sharks, thanks to Cristian Techera’s 34th minute winner.
The Whitecaps changed all 11 players to those that started the loss in Dallas on Sunday. Understandable for several reasons, primarily the crazy two day turnaround from matches and the sapping heat those who played in Frisco had to endure. Amongst the gameday squad were four USL call-ups, with Spencer Richey and Brett Levis getting their first start for the first team in a competitive match, while Kyle Greig and Sem de Wit found a place on the bench.
Richey found himself busy in the early stages, coming up with a key double save nine minutes in to keep the game scoreless, while Vancouver forced three early corners at the other end.
Cristian Techera was looking lively, swinging in some of those corners and bringing out a save from Central ‘keeper Javon Sample.
Richey came up with another fine stop in the 31st minute, diving to his left to keep out a shot from the edge of the box before Fraser Aird got his head on a Techera cross but his goalbound effort was headed over by Kevon Villaroel.
It definitely felt like this was a game for the taking for Vancouver and they got the breakthrough in the 34th minute when Erik Hurtado powered into the box and squared the ball for Techera to fire home from close range.
The home side pushed to tie things up before the break and Richey was again called into making a fine diving stop to keep out a drive from Leston Paul in first half stoppage time.
The Couva Sharks controlled a lot of possession in the second half as they pushed to get back on level terms, but apart from a couple of defensive scrambles, the ‘Caps looked pretty much in control of proceedings, restricting Central to long range efforts that were flying high and wide.
Neither side really threatened to add to the scoreline and Vancouver fairly comfortably came away with their first ever Champions League points on the road, inflicting Central FC’s first ever home loss to a foreign team in the process.
The win gets Vancouver off to a strong start as they look to reach the knockout stages of the competition for the first time. Three tough games still to go, but you already feel that Sporting KC’s trip to Trinidad in two weeks and Vancouver trip to KC next month look set to be the deciding games in this group.
FINAL SCORE: Central FC 0 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps
CENTRAL: Javon Sample, Kaydion Gabriel, Andre Ettienne, Keion Goodridge, Kevon Villaroel, Leston Paul, Nathaniel Garcia, Darren Mitchell (Marcus Joseph 72), Jason Marcano, Sean De Silva (Kadeem Corbin 87), Nicholas Dillon (Keron Cummings 51) [Subs Not Used: Akel Clarke, Elton John, Jomoul Francois, Jem Gordon
VANCOUVER: Spencer Richey; Jordan Smith, Pa-Modou Kah, David Edgar, Brett Levis; Ben McKendry, Russell Teibert; Fraser Aird, Nicolás Mezquida (Kianz Froese 89), Cristian Techera (Alphonso Davies 66); Erik Hurtado (Kyle Greig 74) [Subs Not Used: Marco Carducci, Cole Seiler, Marco Bustos, Sem de Wit]
On the win:
“It’s not an easy place to come to. The pitch is sticky and they’ve a very good team. It’s a difficult environment to play and there were a few meaty challenges going in. I apologised to them because I was unable to protect them because I thought some of them were maybe slightly over the top. We’re delighted to get the victory, but it’s just one game, so we won\t be getting carried away.”
On not bringing first team regulars:
“We played on Sunday in Dallas, in 41 degrees heat. So the guys that played in that didn’t travel with me today and I used the majority of my squad. We play again on Saturday at altitude, so it will be a totally different team again. That’s why you have a squad. It’s not about a team, it’s about a squad. So my squad gets stretched. It will get put to use, but you’ve got to win. You’ve got to grind out results because at the end of the day, football’s about winning. We did a job today. Can we be better? Yes. Do we need to be better? Yes. But we won.”
On the need to utilise his squad:
“Football nowadays isn’t about 11 players, it’s about a squad. I’ve assembled a very strong squad, group of players, and I want players who can play in a number of different positions.”
On the victory:
“To keep the clean sheet, and nick the 1-0 win away from home, in difficult conditions against a decent side, we’re happy.”
What was the key to the win?
“We took our chance when it came. I thought we defended quite well. We restricted them to shots outside the box. We could have been tidier in our play but we had some young boys playing today and I thought overall it was a good performance.”
Was it difficult to adjust to the conditions in Trinidad?
“Overall it was a decent playing surface. It played quite well because we got a bit of water before the game. It worked well. It was the same for both teams.”
Is it an incentive for Vancouver to get out of the group stage?
“Yeah I think so. We want to win every game that we’re in and it gives boys who maybe aren’t playing in the first team some minutes and play, and it’s a fantastic competition to be in, so we want to go as far as we can.”
LESTON PAUL (Captain)
Reaction to loss:
“First I’d like to say congratulations to Vancouver. They came here and they played well and stuck to their gameplan. Even though it was an even game, but that’s how football goes sometimes. They got one half a chance and they took it. So it’s football.”
What was the difference between the two sides?
“I would say they took their chance. They took their half chance actually. We had a couple of good chances but we didn’t capitalise on it, but you have to score to win.”
What now for Central FC in CCL?
“We have to look at the next game now. We have Sporting Kansas in two weeks, so we go back to training and try and correct the small mistakes and come out and hope for a better result.”