There’s no question that Vancouver Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson can get his team playing some scintillating attacking football.
But now he needs to get them in line.
Poor discipline, not quality of play, was the ultimate cause of Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat at the hands of D.C. United.
Hardcore fans will say that Matias Laba’s dismissal for picking up two yellow cards was harsh, pointing to the fact that referee Dave Gantar’s decision to give the player his first caution of the night for handball was borderline at best.
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If a play is marginal, most people hope officials give the benefit of the doubt to the player; that didn’t happen in this instance. But once Laba knew he was carrying that card, he needed to play with a bit more savvy. Had the Argentine not been on a yellow card, taking down Fabian Espindola as the United player led a dangerous looking counterattack might be a professional foul worth making.
As it happened, when you look at the replay, despite the danger, there were enough Whitecaps positioned well, including Laba, that the illegal takedown wasn’t absolutely required.
It was a daft play, and handicapped the Whitecaps immensely, as the team had to play a full half a man down.
There’s not much fault that can be made for the performance that Laba’s teammates put together. Despite being shorthanded for 45 minutes, the home side generated plenty of chances to tie the game. But as well as the Whitecaps are playing, Robinson needs to sort out this team’s biggest problem: discipline.
Vancouver may lead the league standings, but they also lead the league in yellow cards (28) and fouls committed (133).
Beyond the numbers, Laba’s dismissal represents the second time this season that a Whitecaps Designated Player has been ejected. This not only hurts the team in-game, but also means the team losses out on having a key player for its next outing.
Soccer can be a physical game, and there is nothing wrong with playing a rugged style—it seems to be working for the Whitecaps by and large. But there is a line where that approach becomes not an asset but a liability.
Robinson needs to instill a sense of what is and what isn’t appropriate, so he can have his best players on the field as much as possible.
If we step away from the discipline issue, however, it was actually quite a fine performance for many individuals on the team. Octavio Rivero was lively throughout the match in a thankless lone forward role, and played an excellent ball across for Pedro Morales to control before slashing it into the top right corner of the goal in the 2nd minute.
Speaking of Morales, he was effective on the night, scoring his goal and providing many excellent deliveries both from open play and dead ball situations.
Darren Mattocks had a workmanlike first half, and was a casualty of the tactical shakeup Robinson was forced into after Laba’s dismissal.
On the other side, Mauro Rosales put in a solid shift and came close to scoring on more than one occasion.
Russell Teibert had another strong outing in the middle of the park, and Gershon Koffie did well in his half of action after coming on at halftime to make an influence despite the shorthanded situation in the middle of the park.
At the back, Kendall Waston was his typically consistent self in the heart of defence, as was Steven Beitashour at right fullback.
Sam Adekugbe was lucky to stay on the park at all after an early two footed lunging challenge. The young Canadian is lucky he didn’t make contact with his opponent. It’s not the first time he’s made a tackle by diving in like that, and it’s only a matter of time before it ends up costing him and his side. He is such a dynamic attacking player and it’s unfortunate he appears to have that rash side to his game.
The left fullback had a guilt edged chance to win the game in the dying moments, but shot wide with his weaker right foot. He’ll surely be having nightmares after that one about what might have been.
Speaking of nightmares, Pa Modou Kah had a bit of one in this match at centre back. The Norwegian was sloppy in possession on a number of occasions and it’s remarkable that very few of his mistakes this season have actually led to goals being scored against. It may be time to look at alternatives. Ideally Diego Rodriguez returns from injury. Failing that, perhaps Robinson should give Christian Dean a shot.
In goal, once again David Ousted was very good, making at least two top class saves in the second half.
In terms of the two late subs, Kekuta Manneh wasn’t able to do much of note, but new signing Cristian Techera did show that he’s a little sparkplug. The Uruguayan buzzed about and looked lively with some clever runs, and generated a number of free kicks in dangerous positions in the game’s final stages.
Fans greeted the diminutive player with a loud welcome when he came in off the bench, and will surely be eager to see what he can do over a more extended shift.
Martin MacMahon is a Vancouver-based writer. Follow him on Twitter