Whitecaps rue missed chances in MLS season debut


Philadelphia Union's Haris Medunjanin, back, gets his foot on the ball behind Vancouver Whitecaps' Christian Dean. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

VANCOUVER—It was, in the words of Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin, “maybe not the most beautiful game of soccer.”
The Vancouver Whitecaps opened their Major League Soccer regular season on Sunday at BC Place with a scoreless draw against the Union.
Vancouver managed to break a two-year season-opener losing streak, although the home side would no doubt be a little disappointed not to earn the win after failing to capitalize on a number of solid opportunities.

Nevertheless, the clean sheet—the Whitecaps’ second in four days after a 2–0 victory over the New York Red Bulls in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals—was a promising sign for a team plagued by defensive sloppiness last year, and coach Carl Robinson praised his team for an “excellent performance.”

Here are four takeaways from the match:

A slow start and missed chances

The Whitecaps seemed to come out of the gate lacking the urgency they showed in Thursday’s CONCACAF Champions League contest. Robinson admitted that some of his players were “running on empty,” especially those who’d played a full 90 minutes in both games.
Despite earning some promising scoring chances, Vancouver wasn’t able to take advantage.
In the 24th minute, Cristian Techera failed to convert what proved to be the Whitecaps’ best opportunity of the first half. After receiving a well-placed pass from Alphonso Davies, Techera flicked the ball forward to Erik Hurtado, who returned it to Techera with only Philadelphia goalkeeper Andrew Blake between him and the net. Techera’s frustration after his shot went well wide of the target was evident.
It wasn’t until the second half that the Whitecaps earned their first corner, coming in the 65th minute. Taken by Techera and delivered to Jordan Harvey’s boot, the corner resulted in the Whitecaps’ lone shot on target of the game. Philadelphia defender Keegan Rosenberry robbed Harvey of a possible winning goal thanks to his goal-line positioning.
With time winding down, Brek Shea, who entered as a substitute in the 59th minute, took his first MLS shot as a Whitecap. In the 86th minute, the Texan launched the ball wide of the net from just outside the 18-yard box.


Defensive reset

While scoring was an issue last year, the Whitecaps also suffered from defensive woes, allowing 52 goals—the second-most in the Western Conference.
With Kendall Waston serving a one-match suspension on Sunday for violent conduct in Vancouver’s final match of 2016, Robinson fielded a centre-back pairing of Christian Dean and Tim Parker.
Dean had not played an MLS match since Oct. 14, 2015. The California native was plagued by injury last year, but fared well in his partnership with Parker.
Robinson called Dean “absolutely excellent,” and praised the 23-year-old for his patience and resilience in the face of adversity.
“Last year was an unfortunate season for him because he went through a lot, physically as well as mentally with the injuries he had,” the coach said. “He had the same pre-season last year as he did this year, and then the week before, I think, he got injured. So it was unfortunate. And then he went through another injury, and then he lost his father, which is never easy to deal with.”

Left fullback Harvey, Vancouver’s longest-serving player, wore the captain’s armband, while newcomer Sheanon Williams started at right fullback. The MLS veteran was brought on to provide stability at a position that had left the Whitecaps vulnerable in 2016.
While the lack of scoring was something the team will need to work on, Robinson said he was pleased that the Whitecaps never really looked in danger of conceding a goal, which is a contrast to last season, when giving up a late goal became something of a recurring narrative.
“Last year we would have probably conceded, so a lot of positives on the defensive side,” he said.

The teenager steals the show

Fans in Vancouver could be forgiven for feeling a kind of pre-nostalgia while watching teenage phenom Alphonso Davies take the pitch. The speedy youngster is such a remarkable talent that he’s likely to end up in Europe in a couple years.
Perhaps the biggest compliment Union coach Jim Curtin could pay to Davies was to admit just how hard he’d worked to prepare for his presence on the field.
Curtin said he’d spent the weeks ahead of the match trying to figure out “how to shut down a 16-year-old kid,” noting Davies’s effortlessness and force in the game.
The coach conceded that while the game was probably dull for the fans watching, he was happy to come away with a point on the road.

“I think it was a fair result,” he said.

Questions remain

The Whitecaps’ lack of a natural No. 10 on the field on Sunday was an obvious sore spot for the team. Recently acquired speedster Yordy Reyna is out until the summer after suffering a broken foot during the pre-season, while Christian Bolanos remains sidelined with an injury.
Robinson noted that the attack could use a real playmaker, explaining why he’d opted for a two-striker formation, with Kekuta Manneh—back to MLS after a season-ending injury last summer—and Hurtado up top to start the match.
“We got into good areas, but we just couldn’t have the final execution,” Robinson said.
The lack of goals was “disappointing” to be sure, but it’s early days still.

“Lots of positives,” he said. “Lots of things we need to work on.”


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