If you’re going to visit BC Place, better bring your track shoes. New York was reminded on opening day, with Houston falling victim to Vancouver’s speed earlier this season, too. With San Jose visiting on Saturday, the Whitecaps had another chance to show what their attack can do to guests slightly slow of foot. Racing to three goals in the first 20 minutes, Vancouver went on to a 3-2 win over the Earthquakes, claiming the team’s first victory since March.
It wasn’t merely Vancouver’s speed that caused San Jose problems. It was also how the Earthquakes tried to deal with it. With a back four that dropped quickly to keep from getting beat, the defense left too much work for Sam Cronin and J.J. Koval in front of the defense. The duo weren’t up to the task. Kekuta Manneh was allowed to cut in as well as claim a rebound off the post on his 10th minute opener, while Pedro Morales, one minute after doubling Vancouver’s lead from the spot, was allowed to tee-off from 21 yards out, the third time the Whitecaps’ playmaker was given room near the arc.
Though the tactic didn’t work, it’s unclear what else Mark Watson could have done, highlighting the difficulties San Jose were always destined to have a BC Place. With players like Brandon Barklage, Victor Bernardez, and Clarence Goodson in defense, playing a defensive line that challenged higher up the pitch would have been exploited by Darren Mattocks (the Jamaican still managed to do so by drawing an 18th minute penalty on Bernandez). Given the Earthquakes’ squad, there aren’t a lot of meaningful alternatives in midfield. Starting Yannick Djaló (who left early, injured) underneath Chris Wondolowski may have been all Watson could have done to try to bolster the midfield.
Even with those issues, San Jose nearly goonied this game. A Jay DeMerit penalty gave Wondolowski a goal from the spot in first half stoppage time, with the San Jose captain added a second in the 91st minute. Despite their huge disadvantages, the Earthquakes had three minutes to steal a point. Tthe final scoreline flatters San Jose, but at the final whistle, Vancouver’s advantages hadn’t completely taken the Earthquakes out of the game.
Though the Galaxy did well to deal with the Whitecaps two weeks ago, this is the danger Major League Soccer teams face when they go to Vancouver. The team has players like Mattocks, Manneh, Erik Hurtado – players who can run you off the park. They have players like Morales, Russell Teibert, Sebastian Fernandez, Nicolas Mezquida, and Kenny Miller – fast players in their own right, but players with the skill and creativity to utilize the team’s burners. The Whitecaps can match up against your weaknesses then throw fresh legs at you, all the while taking advantage of that fast track in Vancouver.
The big challenge, as we’ve seen this year, is how to take this show on the road. To this point, Carl Robinson’s employed a noticeably different approach away from home, something that’s left the Whitecaps winless away from BC Place. In time, however, this young team will accumulate enough tricks to scavenge points away from home. On days like today, it looks like only a matter of time before Vancouver will challenge.