Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders doesn’t mark the end of the season for the Vancouver Whitecaps, but it certainly had that feeling.
There are still four matches to play, and if the Whitecaps run the table there’s a chance they could defy the odds and sneak into the MLS playoffs. But just when the team had fans believing in it again after an MLS win last weekend and a midweek Champions League victory, it failed to keep that tiny bit of momentum going in Seattle.
And while sometimes it’s easy to find a key moment or blame the defence or the forwards, on this night it truly was a team failure to just find that little bit extra to claim the win against its Cascadia rivals.
CenturyLink Field is no easy place to play, but this particular vintage of the Seattle Sounders won’t be remembered as anything particularly exquisite. In short, this was a winnable match that could have kept the playoff dream meaningfully alive.
Coach Carl Robinson’s team set out to counterattack, allowing the Sounders much of the ball. But the team did get chances, and perhaps the best came through an Erik Hurtado breakaway in the 14th minute. The hard working speedster broke behind the Sounders’ backline to get on the end of a penetrating Pedro Morales through ball, but opted to scoop the ball over goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Ultimately Hurtado’s touch let him down, and was hit too high, allowing Frei to get back in time to swat the ball away. It was a moment that was sort of emblematic of this team, and Hurtado’s, season. The chances have been there, but the wastefulness has been abundant.
An equally close chance came in the 69th minute, as substitute Giles Barnes hit the post from a tight angle. Had that ball gone in, we could be talking about a very different scenario.
Adding to the frustration for Barnes and for Robinson, the man who brought him to this club, is the fact the Jamaican has yet to find the back of the net. With the departure of Octavio Rivero, Barnes was supposed to be the stopgap move to help the team’s offence until a new Designated Player could presumably be brought in during the off-season. Whether it’s lack of service, poor chemistry or just subpar service, things just haven’t clicked for Barnes.
At the other end of the pitch, it was Mr. Dependable who would ultimately let the team down. David Ousted, who has done so well at points this season to keep the Whitecaps in matches, had an off night.
Ousted’s second half included badly misjudging a cross to allow Andreas Ivanschitz to come close by striking the upright, before showing impressive reactions to knock the ball away. Then the Danish netminder dropped ball in his area from a Tyrone Mears’ cross, which was ultimately dealt with after a scramble. In short, he didn’t look himself. Perhaps it was the occasion, or the wind, or just simply one of those days.
And when it mattered most, Ousted seemed slow to react, with his defenders appearing to expect him to intervene in the 81st minute. Instead, it was a rookie on the opposing team who would prove to be decisive, with Jordan Morris literally sticking his neck out to get on the end of a cross and head home the match’s only goal.
The defenders share some responsibility, and centre back David Edgar admitted as much by saying there was a “lack of communication” on the play.
As far as the midfielders, it was once again a case of the team being thoroughly outplayed in the centre of the pitch. The Sounders enjoyed more than 60 percent of possession and didn’t look particularly threatened beyond those two isolated counterattacking breakthroughs.
Another issue this year has been the ineffectiveness of the substitutes. In this match, with the team not really creating much, the hope was that the likes of Barnes, teenager Alphonso Davies or Blas Perez could change the match.
In the end, the trio made little if any positive change. Perhaps the moment wasn’t right to use Davies. But given what little Robinson’s other options have provided this season, you can’t blame him for turning to the kid – especially given his wonderful midweek performance in the Champions League.
It’s difficult to see this Whitecaps team now finishing this season with the wins it needs to keep its playoff dreams alive. And even if the team can muster the strength to do that, it still might not be enough.
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