After two games at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic pre-season tournament, what have we learned about the 2012 edition of the Vancouver Whitecaps?
Well, for a start, Long Tan is pretty good at earning penalties. He generated three of them over the club’s two matches — one against the Montreal Impact on Friday, and two against the Houston Dynamo on Sunday.
Head coach Martin Rennie’s decision to appoint Sebastien Le Toux as the penalty taker was bang on the money. The French forward showed composure by comfortably scoring from the two kicks he stepped up for — one in Friday’s 3-0 victory over the Impact, and again against Houston.
Tan had a chance to show he was just as capable from the spot by taking the third penalty, but inexplicably opted for a cheeky chip which was dealt with comfortably by Dynamo backup goalkeeper Tyler Deric.
But, that moment of madness aside, the Chinese striker had the sort of weekend which will have demonstrated to Rennie that he’s the perfect understudy for Eric Hassli should the hulking striker be unavailable or simply in need of a rest during the season.
Matching grace on the ball with physicality off it, Tan has shown that his positive run at the end of the 2011 season wasn’t just a hot streak.
Who’s number one?
Darren Mattocks, whom the Whitecaps selected No. 2 in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft last month, scored perhaps the most memorable Vancouver goal this weekend with a powerful left-footed effort against the Impact, the team which passed over him during in the draft in favour of Andrew Wenger.
“They didn’t choose me No. 1 and I showed them they made a mistake,” the Jamaican striker told MLSsoccer.com following Friday’s match. “I had it in the back of my mind.”
That goal aside, he demonstrated strong ball-striking ability with both feet and his speed (which is quickly becoming a trademark) made him unplayable at times for Montreal’s defenders.
The 21-year-old’s chemistry and link up play with his teammates doesn’t seem to be fully there just yet, but he looks a much more MLS-ready player than the club’s 2011 first overall pick Omar Salgado, who is three years younger and still needs time to develop.
Who says that was a second string?
Perhaps even more impressive than Friday’s win over Montreal by the club’s “first string” side was the victory against the Dynamo. Rennie elected to put out a team featuring what was essentially a backup unit with the notable exception of Le Toux, and while there was a bit of a creativity deficit at times, the group defended well as a unit and didn’t allow even one shot on ‘keeper Brad Knighton.
Apart from the play of Tan, another contender for man of the match was Michael Nanchoff. Restricted to one start in five appearances in 2011, the 23-year-old showed the sort of form that motivated Vancouver to select him eighth overall in last year’s draft.
The Ohio native was lively throughout the game, showing clever touches in tight spaces, including a nice bit of interplay with Tan which led to the match-winning penalty. He also demonstrated breakaway speed at times, on one occasion making no less than three Dynamo defenders look like they were running in quicksand in his wake.
Yes, it’s only pre-season, but there are plenty of positives for the Whitecaps to take from the first weekend of this tournament as First Kick against Montreal on March 10 approaches.
Martin MacMahon is a Vancouver-based writer who covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com</a . Follow Martin on Twitter.