Hurtado’s winner means it’s time to start worrying in Columbus

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Columbus came into Saturday’s game with a six-match winless run, but after encouraging performances on the road against Sporting Kansas City and Houston, there was some reason to believe the Crew weren’t as bad as their slide indicated. The big red flag was goals. Columbus was still doing a good job of playing games on their terms, and the defense had been decent (if imperfect), but the team hadn’t scored in two games. If Gregg Berhalter’s men could right the ship, score some goals against visiting Vancouver, the streak would look more phase than trend.

Instead, Columbus played its worst game of the season. With a 37th minute goal from Erik Hurtado, the Whitecaps were able to earn their first road win of the year, out-shooting Columbus 22-12 in the process.

With Omar Salgado and Kektua Manneh nearly doubling the team’s lead late, Vancouver could have made the 1-0 final look much worse. Still, holding the ball for only 40 percent of the time while waiting for the Crew to open up, the Whitecaps wrote their chapter in the growing book on Columbus.

The Crew are as intent to keeping the ball as any team in the league (second only to Kansas City), and they’re willing to commit their fullbacks forward early to do so. The problem comes when you get players like Hurtado, Manneh, and Sebastian Fernandez coming at your defenders in transition. When somebody like Pedro Morales (who created five chances, per Opta) has the range of passing to find them, the problem gets worse. And players like Matias Laba (11 tackles) can create turnovers, your way of playing becomes a recipe for failure. Vancouver really should have scored more.

Regardless, the Whitecaps implemented a plan other teams can, too, provided they’re willing to let Columbus have the ball. Do you have ball-winners in front of the defense that can also get the ball out of your own end? Do you have players that can get at isolated defenders before Josh Williams, Waylon Francis, and midfielder Tony Tchani can recover? Do you have people who can score goals? Unfortunately for Columbus, a number of teams in the league can now check these boxes.

This would all be different if Columbus had more credible attackers. Then teams couldn’t just let the Crew have chances to pick apart defenses.  Instead, the Crew were trying to get one of Jairo Arrieta or Dominic Oduro to work. They’re trying to get goals from Bernardo Anor and Hector Jimenez. On a minute-by-minute, chance-by-chance basis, it’s just not enough. Columbus’s attackers aren’t doing enough with Berhalter’s scheme or Higuain’s distribution.

Vancouver deserve credit for accumulating the pieces to pick apart a team that was once 3-0-0 team, and in games like these, the experience and pragmatism that made Carl Robinson’s promotion so appealing may have paid off. But in hindsight for the Crew, those early wins came against a slow starter (D.C. United), one of the league’s worst teams (Philadelphia), and with help from a red card (Seattle). In the seven games that have followed, the Crew have scored five goals.

TFC’s Bradley: “Responsibility, privilege and passion” on line in playoffs

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 11: Michael Bradley #4 of United States looks on against New Zealand in the second half during an International Friendly at RFK Stadium on October 11, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images
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Toronto FC’s supporters fell in love with the club almost immediately, but it’s taken to Year 10 for the Reds to get a home playoff match.

The latest batch of TFC stars have embraced the battle for relevance, at times even surpassing expectations the lofty expectations of championship-starved Toronto.

[ MORE: Bradley talks TFC renaissance

This is a city which has seen the Blue Jays and Raptors find the precipice of glory in recent seasons, but not reach the apex. The Leafs haven’t been to a Stanley Cup final since the NHL had a whopping six teams.

So winning would be a mighty big accomplishment, right Michael Bradley?

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Being captain or a big player on a team in this city carries an extra weight,” said captain Michael Bradley. “I’ve loved every second of that; playing in this city, for this city, and being captain. It’ll be nights like Wednesday night where the responsibility, privilege and passion that I have for this role will get magnified that much more.”

He has a way with words, doesn’t he? The USMNT captain begins Canada’s quest for a title at 7:30 p.m. ET against visiting Philadelphia.

Whitecaps lock up Welsh coach Robinson through 2020

VANCOUVER, BC - APRIL 5:  Head coach Carl Robinson (right) of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC during their MLS game against the Colorado Rapids April 5, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Colorado won 2-1. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images
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Vancouver is hanging onto stalwart coach Carl Robinson despite a massively disappointing season.

The Whitecaps were tipped to compete for the Supporters’ Shield, only to miss the playoffs. There were plenty of excuses for the ‘Caps, including an injury to Kekuta Manneh and the transfer of Octavio Rivero.

And Vancouver is alive as the No. 1 seed in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, also claiming the Cascadia Cup.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high ]

Robinson has signed an extension through 2020, from WhitecapsFC.com:

“Carl’s body of work over the course of his five years at the club has shown that he is one of the top up-and-coming head coaches in North America. While this past season was certainly a learning experience for everyone involved within the club, we have complete faith in Carl’s continued vision in acquiring the necessary players to build a team that will compete with the best in MLS.”

Robinson turned 40 this month, and has been leading the ‘Caps since December 2013. This is a smart move for both Vancouver and its coach.

PST shortlists Major League Soccer award candidates

New York City FC forward David Villa, left, and New York City FC defender Chris Wingert celebrate Villa's early goal during the first half of the match between New York City FC and Toronto FC, Sunday, July 12, 2015, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
AP Photo/Kevin Hagen
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Major League Soccer’s playoff run begins tonight with Philadelphia at Toronto and LA hosting Real Salt Lake, and it also gives us a chance to run down the regular season.

We’ve already discussed several items, including Portland and Columbus’ historic flops, DC United’s red-hot form, pre-playoff power rankings, and predictions.

[ MORE: Chalobah’s double nutmeg ]

But what about the season that was, the one that saw Bradley Wright-Phillips snag his second Golden Boot and Colorado nearly grab a shocking Supporters’ Shield?

We rounded up our staff’s opinions to put together combined shortlists for MLS awards.

Rookie of the Year

Jordan Morris (Seattle)
Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia)
Alex Muyl (RBNY)
Jack Harrison (NYCFC)
Jonathan Campbell (Chicago)

Newcomer of the Year

Ronald Matarrita (NYCFC)
Ashley Cole (LA Galaxy)
Tim Howard (Colorado)
Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle)
Jelle van Damme (LA Galaxy)
Luciano Acosta (DC United)
Ola Kamara (Columbus)
Shkelzen Gashi (Colorado)

Goalkeeper of the Year

Brian Rowe (LA Galaxy)
Andre Blake (Philadelphia)
David Bingham (San Jose)
Jake Gleeson (Portland)
Luis Robles (RBNY)

Coach of the Year

Patrick Vieira (NYCFC)
Jesse Marsch (RBNY)
Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado)
Oscar Pareja (Dallas)
Greg Vanney (Toronto)

Most Valuable Player

David Villa (NYCFC)
Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto)
Sacha Kljestan (RBNY)
Bradley Wright-Phillips (RBNY)
Ignacio Piatti (Montreal)
Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle)

Spanish FF fines Valencia for bottle toss; Chastises Barcelona

VALENCIA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 22:  FC Barcelona are hit by objects thrown from the seats after Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona scores his team's third goal from the penalty spot during the La Liga match between Valencia CF and FC Barcelona at Mestalla stadium on October 22, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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Spain’s football federation has fined Valencia about $1600 for the water bottle tossed at celebrating Barcelona players on Saturday.

It’s also criticized Barca’s reaction to Neymar being hit with the water bottle.

[ MORE: Watch the incident here ]

Lionel Messi in particular flipped out at fans, who were furious after Barca scored a match-winning penalty and celebrated near the touch line.

From the BBC:

Spain’s football federation criticised the Barca players for their “exaggerated reaction” and for celebrating in front of home fans, but added “nothing justified” the reaction of the Valencia supporters.

There’s an easy joke to make about playacting/diving here, as Luis Suarez hits the deck despite not appearing to be hit.

But it’s critical to remember that these players at the moment don’t have any idea what’s happened, only that they’ve been hit. And Suarez is covering head, perhaps wondering what’s coming next. Neymar laying on the pitch for a while seems a bit overboard, but I don’t blame Messi nor his teammates for being furious with the supporters.

What do you make of it?