The happenings of May 14th, 2016 will live long in the memory of Vancouver Whitecaps fans as one of the most riveting in team history. There were many things to take away from this game, be it Kekuta Manneh’s rediscovery of form or David Ousted’s remarkable penalty saving ability. But what brought home the bacon was a piece of tactical innovation from our Zara Men clad manager.
Twitter had it’s usual huffing and puffing when the line-ups were announced. The general consensus was that it was just a regular 4-2-3-1. Pedro Morales would be in the number 10 role, which would set up a tasty battle with Michael Bradley, and Manneh would be on the left wing to try and set up a match-up with his former Whitecap teammate Steven Beitashour. Then there were our two hard working DM’s to cover Sebastian Giovinco and Will Johnson. It all made sense!
From kick off it was clear that we had gotten something wrong. TSN had gotten the tip off, and correctly predicted the formation. For (arguably) the first time this season, we saw a 4-4-1-1 from the Vancouver Whitecaps. Some will argue the 4-4-2 earlier in the season resembled a 4-4-1-1, but it was never as distinct as this. It was a huge statement to put your attacking midfielder on the wing and your winger in the hole behind a rapid striker. It all pointed to one thing: pace.
I believe Robbo put Pedro on the wing to coax Beitashour forward in order to open up the TFC backline. There was a regular pattern throughout the match of Morales picking out Manneh.
The other trend, which directly led to the second goal, involved a sequence between Erik Hurtado and Manneh. Hurtado, holding up the ball in an advanced position, would wait from Manneh to burst through from behind him and then play a through ball to him. You can see it clearly in the build up to the second goal.
Hurtado has always been good at holding up the ball, and very few players, let alone defenders, can keep up with Manneh at full throttle.
The shape of the team was built around the principle that Manneh would get the ball in favourable positions. Be it behind Beitashour or in full stride through the Toronto defence.
For his second goal you could see how weary the defenders were of him, lunging into tackles that made him go clean through on goal. The ‘Caps fourth goal also came from the defence being warped out of position in an attempt to counteract Manneh.
It was truly an innovation on Carl Robinson’s part. His knowledge that Toronto would not stray from their 4-4-2 narrow diamond meant that he had the freedom of the BMO field wide positions. His confidence in Matias Laba and Russell Teibert was well placed. Teibert was at his terrier-like best. Laba was destructive as per usual, while Christian Bolanos oozed quality on the ball, if not without it.
The only gripe we can have is that whatever containment strategy Robbo had for Giovinco failed. While the Atomic Ant was not able to drive through our defence, we can’t allow the most obvious threat an opposition possesses to contribute two goals and an assist.
Sure, the first goal was technical genius, but the second and third were avoidable. The second was particularly annoying; Bradley was allowed to surge forward after some lax passing and play in Giovinco who slotted home easily. That play showed a slight lapse in concentration.
The element of surprise may have been on our side on Saturday, but what is so much more comforting is the knowledge that we are capable of playing more than one system effectively.
It was beautiful to see a well thought out gameplan that the entire squad bought into. Well played Robbo, well played.
Now, what will Sunday bring against Portland?