Commentary

Whitecaps get their hands dirty

By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

The LA Galaxy will sometimes have bad games -- and it has had its share at B.C. Place -- but it is rare that an opponent outplays it in every aspect of the game. Bruce Arena said the Vancouver Whitecaps did just that on Saturday, adding to their growing reputation around MLS with an emphatic 2-0 win that put them in the early lead in the Supporters' Shield race with four straight wins.

Kudos go to the 'Caps for the young stars they've brought in as teenagers and nurtured -- Kekuta Manneh, who scored the opener against the Galaxy, 20-year-old Canadian Sam Adekugbe and Russell Teibert -- but their success is due in large measure to the remarkable success rate they've had with talent brought in from Latin America.

MLS: Week 5 Results & Standings, Week 6 Schedule

The architect of the Whitecaps' rise is young Welshman Carl Robinson, who happens to be a close friend and former teammate of Galaxy captain Robbie Keane. Robinson's background is in English soccer, where he toiled at nine clubs, beginning with Wolves, where he met Keane, but the second-year Vancouver coach has recruited heavily in Latin America, assembling one of the most exciting teams in MLS.

The current Vancouver team is in sharp contrast to the days of the NASL when the old Whitecaps had a strong British influence. One of the great teams of the NASL was the 1979 Whitecaps, who upset the two-time champion New York Cosmos in the semifinals en route to their first Soccer Bowl title. They were predominantly British with former England World Cup champion Alan Ball, Scottish international Willie Johnston, and the likes of Trevor WhymarkKevin Hector and Carl Valentine, all Englishmen. Later on, players like South African-born Bruce Grobbelaar and Peter Beardsley parlayed their success with the 'Caps into long careers in England.

That British influence continued with the early days of the MLS Whitecaps. Two of their first Designated Player signings were Scots: Kenny Miller and Barry Robson. Miller managed just 13 goals in parts of three seasons, and Robson was gone after one season. But since Robinson took over as head coach from Scotsman Martin Rennie following the 2013 season, Vancouver has changed course, adopting a heavy Latin American accent.

It began in 2014 with the arrival of young Argentine DP Matias Laba, unloaded by Toronto FC to make room for Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Gilberto, and continued with Chilean international Pedro Morales, acquired from Malaga in Spain. One of the best pickups during the short summer transfer window was giant Costa Rican Kendall Waston, who was an invaluable addition to the backline after Jay Demerit was forced to retire because of ankle problems. Also signed in mid-season was Argentine Mauro Rosales, who has been in and out of the lineup with injuries but remains one of the best setup men in MLS.

But the biggest impact on the Whitecaps has been the pipeline they have opened to Uruguay. They were unable to keep Sebastian Fernandez, but in his second season 23-year-old Nicolas Mezquida has come into his own and emerged as one of the most versatile wingers in MLS. Against the Galaxy, Mezquida had what Robinson termed is best game with the Whitecaps and set up the second goal against the Galaxy scored by countryman Octavio Rivero.

Rivero, 23, leads MLS with four goals and is making a case to follow Morales as the Caps' second MLS Newcomer of the Year in a row. Robinson told the Guardian it took six months to sign Rivero, whom the 'Caps found playing in Chile with O'Higgins. He might only be the fifth or sixth best forward in Uruguay, "which is not a bad thing," says Robinson, "when you think of people like [Luis] Suarez and [Edinson] Cavani."

The Whitecaps have also signed a Uruguayan defender Diego Rodriguez (who was suspended against the Galaxy) and last week cut one of those only-in-MLS deals, acquiring an international roster spot from New England Revolution in exchange for allocation money. The move will allow the 'Caps to sign yet another Uruguayan, diminutive scoring whiz Cristian Techera on loan from River Plate.

"It’s about getting your hands dirty," Robinson told the Guardian, "and going out and traveling.”

MLS Scoring:
WEEK AVG.
Week 1: 1.60
Week 2: 3.13
Week 3: 1.25
Week 4: 1.90
Week 5: 2.63
Season: 2.07

Week 5: Three goals you must watch

1. OBAFEMI MARTINS vs. Houston. Martins is the best one-on-one attacker in MLS as he showed when he spun Houston defender Jermaine Taylor around like a top to score the only goal in Seattle's 1-0 win over the Dynamo.

2. JAVIER MORALES vs. San Jose.
Of this week's three gamewinners off free kicks, Morales' goal for Real Salt Lake at San Jose wasn't directly off the free kick like Luis Silva's for D.C. United at Orlando City and Jeff Larentowicz's for Chicago against Toronto FC. What made Morales' goal special was the angle at which he took the rebound of his blocked shot and the power he got to place the ball in the corner of David Bingham's goal.

3. JUAN AGUDELO vs. Colorado. Agudelo's first goal since returning to New England was a gem, from pass to net. He took a 45-yard cross-field pass from Kelyn Rowe with his left foot and lofted a high shot over leaping keeper Clint Irwin for the first goal allowed by the Rapids all season.

What Worked in Week 5 ...

1. CHICAGO DPs SHOW OFF. For the first time this season, Scottish international Shaun Maloney and Ghanaian international David Accam -- both Designated Player signings -- started together, and they helped bring some -- well -- Fire to the Chicago attack as it rallied to beat Toronto FC, 3-2. Maloney tied the scored at 2-2 after his nifty backheel pass set up Joevin Jones for the first Fire goal. Accam didn't get on the scoresheet, but he was a threat with his speed.

2. PORTLAND GOES 4-4-2. Injuries to midfielders Diego Valeri, Will Johnson and Ben Zemanski have forced Portland to shake things up -- in attack. After opening the season with three ties, the Timbers dropped their 4-3-3 in favor of more of a 4-4-2 look with Maximiliano Urruti starting alongside Fanendo Adi. The goals didn't come -- not for lack of effort -- at Vancouver in the Timbers' first loss of the season, but Urruti had the winner as the Timbers handed FC Dallas its first loss of the season, 3-1, on Saturday.

3. ALONSO'S RETURN IN SEATTLE. Osvaldo Alonso was supposed to play an hour on Saturday night in his first game of the season after preseason groin surgery, but a red card to central midfield partner Gonzalo Pineda forced him to play longer. The Cuban's presence helped bring some order to the Sounders' game and allowed them to get their first win since opening day, a 1-0 victory over Houston.

What Didn't Work in Week 5 ...

1. SPORTING KC-PHILADELPHIA GOALKEEPING. On a weekend marked by some shockingly bad goalkeeping, Sporting Kansas City's Luis Marin and Philadelphia's Rais Mbolhi took the cake as one after the other failed to grab balls off set pieces, allowing goals in the first 16 minutes of the match Sporting KC eventually won, 3-2, on a pair of stoppage-time goals.

2. GALAXY MIDFIELD WITHOUT SARVAS. Yes, it's only early, but things must be a little worrying in Los Angeles. It's bad enough it has to wait until July to replace Landon Donovan with Steven Gerrard, but the Liverpool great can't also be asked to replace Marcelo Sarvas, who was traded to Colorado (for a yet-to-be-used allocation slot) after playing a huge role in the Galaxy's 2014 championship season. Veteran Finn Mika Vayrynen was signed on the day of the season opener but exerted little influence in midfield at Vancouver on Saturday.

3. COLORADO FAILS TO SCORE AGAIN. Things got so bad in Colorado on Saturday that Coach Pablo Mastroeni pulled the old let's-get-myself-ejected-to-shake-things-up trick and the Rapids still couldn't score against New England. The 2-0 loss tied Colorado with Real Salt Lake (2005-06) for MLS's longest winless streak in history at 18 games -- 0-12-2 to conclude 2014 and 0-1-3 to start 2015 -- and it has now gone 600 minutes without scoring a goal. You have to go all the way back to the first game after the 2014 World Cup break for the Rapids' last MLS win.

Oscar, what do you have to say?

One person we will be waiting to hear from this week is FC Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja. We've heard Caleb Porter's side of the story in Tissuegate, but what on earth was Pareja thinking?

Porter says he's never had a coach disrespect him like Pareja did in presenting him with what he said was a used tissue when he walked over to shake hands after the Timbers' 3-1 win on Saturday night.

That's a pretty strong statement, considering the incident following last summer's MLS All-Star Game when Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola refused to shake his hand.

National Team Watch

Like DeAndre Yedlin two years ago, Jordan Allen is knocking on the U.S. U-20 World Cup team door thanks to a fast start in MLS. Unlike Yedlin, who wasn't considered for U-20 qualifying because of poor form at previous camps, Allen missed the Concacaf qualifying tournament because of a knee injury that kept him out of consideration as he missed almost all of his rookie season with Real Salt Lake.

Allen didn't go to England for the recent U-20 camp but has moved into the starting lineup at RSL after scoring the winning goal against Toronto FC the same day the U-20s were playing in Plymouth. With Sebastian Jaime and Joao Plata both sidelined, Allen got his first MLS start in RSL's 1-0 win at San Jose on Sunday. Allen's emergence actually creates a problem for U-20 coach Tab Ramos. He'd like to call up Allen for one of the upcoming U-20 trips to Austria and Australia, but RSL might not afford to be without the 19-year-old Allen.

Allen bounced around high school in Florida (U.S. U-17 residency) and Arizona (RSL's academy in Casa Grande) before finishing up back in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y., where he played for his father, Howard Allen, at Aquinas High School, and going off for one semester at the University of Virginia. (Allen's time at RSL AZ was enough to earn his HG designation with RSL.)

U.S. UNDER-23s. Starters: Alashe, Polster, Zimmerman. Subs: Gil, *Lee, Okoli, Serna.
U.S. UNDER-20s.
Starter: Allen.
*MLS debut.
3 comments about "Whitecaps get their hands dirty".
  1. Raymond Weigand, April 6, 2015 at 12:55 p.m.

    I watched the Vancouver game ... what I saw was team speed and team fitness. Very entertaining - transitioning at full speed - soccer game. It's difficult to defend against so many players coming at you on each and every transition ... and then find they are all back on defense ready to do it again. Carl Robinson has developed a simple solution for his players and had them fully prepared for this one. Wonderful game to watch.

  2. Tim Brown, April 7, 2015 at 10:53 a.m.

    Manneh is a true talent. Watched him play here in Austin for the now USL Austin Aztexs at 17. He is and will be a star in this league. Go AZTEXS.

  3. Mike Jacome, April 9, 2015 at 7:14 p.m.

    Raymond, I know right? The last two Vancouver games have been lots of fun. Great job Mr. Robinson!

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