Texas has been a horrible place for the Vancouver Whitecaps since the side joined Major League Soccer in 2011, and the nightmare continued this weekend.
After Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to the Houston Dynamo, the Whitecaps have lost all nine of their matches in the Lone Star State, highlighted by last season’s playoff defeat to FC Dallas.
It’s a tough way for the Whitecaps to end what has been a wonderful August, which saw the team enter this match with a 4-1-2 record in all competitions, capped off with the club’s Canadian Championship triumph in midweek.
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Adding to the disappointment will be the fact that when it came to how the team performed, Vancouver was actually quite good.
Despite going in at the break losing 1-0, the Whitecaps had probably been the better of the two sides in the opening half. Attackers Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh looked sharp, with their speed exposing what appeared to be a flat-footed Dynamo backline on a number of occasions.
The home side was opportunistic, however, as Sheanon Williams sent a ball into the area which touched off Erick Torres before Ricardo Clark guided it across the line in the 34th minute. Christian Dean, playing on the left side of defence for the rested Jordan Harvey, sometimes looks exposed in the fullback position as he is more naturally a centre back—and on this play it certainly looked as if he allowed Williams far too much room to get that ball into the area.
But the real self-inflicted damage came in the second half, as both Kendall Waston and Matias Laba were dismissed for picking up their second yellow cards. Let’s start with Waston, the first of the two to see an early shower.
The big centre back picked up his first yellow card for a needless scissor tackle from behind on Torres in the 50th minute in the centre of the park, and then followed it up by lunging at the speedy Giles Barnes near the touchline just over five minutes later.
It’s understandable that Waston would try to intervene as Barnes burst down the wing. Right fullback Jordan Smith surely deserves some of the blame here as he was caught too far up-field on the play, forcing Waston to come across to cover.
It was never a play that was likely to turn out well for Waston, but had he not lunged there was likely a good chance that a goal-scoring opportunity would have developed—it’s really the big Costa Rican’s first yellow card that left him so vulnerable.
Waston is so valuable because he adds a toughness and a fear factor to Vancouver’s backline, but that needless first yellow for the challenge on Torres meant that he was always going to be walking on eggshells for the rest of the match.
As needless as Waston’s cards were, perhaps Laba’s were even more unnecessary. The Argentine picked up his first yellow only 27 minutes in for a professional foul on Barnes as the Dynamo launched a counterattack. Yes, Barnes is a speedster and a top player, but there were defenders in a position to deal with the attack.
Some will praise that decision as cynical but appropriate to prevent an attack—there is an argument to be made that it was a needless challenge given there were capable defenders between Barnes and the goal.
Laba saw his second yellow card and was dismissed in the 64th minute for clattering Williams.
That led to the Whitecaps being in the hole 1-0 on the road with nine men with just under half an hour to play, and the result was fairly predictable. Coach Carl Robinson’s team defended well without threatening much, and conceded an 87th minute headed goal to Raul Rodriguez from a corner kick to fall 2-0.
Beyond the sendings off in this individual match, suspensions will come into play for Waston and Laba.
Waston will miss one match for picking up two yellow cards, and Laba will miss two matches, given the first yellow he picked up was set to give him a suspension for yellow card accumulation, with his ejection then forcing him into missing a second match.
The timing for suspensions isn’t ideal—the Whitecaps have a 10-day break so it’s not as if the pair will miss games at a time when they would likely have some rest periods as part of squad rotation.
Still, while the Whitecaps will walk away frustrated from this match, they will look back on this August very fondly. It was a month which saw the side win its first-ever Canadian Championship (and thus qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League for the second year running) and solidify the team’s position as a contender for the Supporters’ Shield.
Martin MacMahon is a Vancouver-based writer. Follow him on Twitter