VANCOUVER — To watch the Whitecaps fall 4-1 on the road to the New England Revolution on Saturday, you got the distinct feeling Vancouver’s players had their heads elsewhere.
Back in Vancouver, perhaps, dreaming of getting off to the right start in the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final against Toronto FC in midweek.
Truth be told, Saturday’s loss was more than a simple case of mental absenteeism — head coach Martin Rennie left captain Jay DeMerit, star striker Camilo and veteran John Thorrington in Vancouver to rest up for Wednesday’s big match at BC Place.
Those lineup decisions were the first key indicators that Rennie is prioritizing Canada’s top professional soccer competition over Major League Soccer play.
That’s not to say the Scotsman dressed a “B” team. Joe Cannon, Alain Rochat, Lee Young-Pyo, Jun Marques Davidson, Davide Chiumiento, Gershon Koffie, Omar Salgado, Sebastien Le Toux and Eric Hassli will all be in with a shot to start on Wednesday. But resting the club’s captain and his central defensive partner Martin Bonjour was a major show of intent.
Rennie described his team’s performance on the weekend as “flat,” noting the Whitecaps even appeared to have low energy levels before Hassli’s fifth-minute opening goal.
Still, 4-1 was a harsh score line which didn’t reflect the ebb and flow of the game.
While Vancouver has salvaged points from games in which they have been the inferior team — 1-0 wins over Chivas USA and the Columbus Crew come to mind — Saturday’s game represented the opposite.
Despite dominating possession with 57.9 per cent control, the Whitecaps found themselves on the wrong end of a fairly lopsided score. So what happened?
Well, as Rennie admitted to reporters after the match, the central pairing of Carlyle Mitchell and Rochat didn’t quite work as planned. Mitchell had a bit of an adventure, often turning simple plays into potentially dangerous situations by overplaying the ball at times rather than keeping it simple.
Possession football is ultimately the way every team should strive to play, but there comes a point when even the most principled of purists must shout “hoof it, Carlyle!”
But it wasn’t simply Mitchell’s unwillingness to make the simple play while on the ball that led to problems. There were also several instances of simple poor judgement in terms of aerial clearances, and of course the Trinidadian defender’s unfortunate involvement in Shalrie Joseph’s goal, as he essentially teed up the New England skipper when he failed to react quickly enough to a Saer Sene cross.
The normally steady Rochat didn’t have his best night either, allowing Sene to turn him for the game winner, perhaps showing for the first time that his mobility following his MCL strain might not yet fully be back at 100 per cent.
So, the bad news for the Whitecaps? They seemed to lack focus against the Revolution.
The good news? Injecting DeMerit, Bonjour, Camilo and Thorrington into the team for Wednesday’s vital contest against TFC will give the group a massive boost.
If Rennie’s rotation results in the club advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League through becoming Canadian Champions, Saturday’s loss will certainly be reflected on as a sacrifice worth making.
Martin MacMahon is a Vancouver-based writer who covers the Vancouver Whitecaps FC for Goal.com. Follow Martin on Twitter