The Vancouver Whitecaps and LA Galaxy played a home and away series over the past week, which has highlighted the Whitecaps’ strength in youth and Robbie Keane’s clinical finishing.
The first game a week ago in Los Angeles, where Vancouver have never won, ended in a 1-0 win for the Galaxy decided by Robbie Keane’s clean second half finish. Vancouver played a high pressing game in the first half with speedsters Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh all over the Galaxy defenders to great effect.
Carl Robinson so far this season has showed that he is much more tactically astute and clever in his changes than his predecessor Martin Rennie. Bruce Arena in the opposite dugout seemed to prepare for an onslaught coming into Vancouver and set his diamond midfield much deeper with only Keane sitting high up the pitch. A lot of pre-match hype was surrounding Landon Donovan and his looming MLS goal scoring record but he was less involved than teammates Stefan Ishizaki and Robbie Keane.
Early on Vancouver right back Steven Beitashour was all over the pitch making timely tackles and gut busting runs up the pitch creating chances and looking the most lively on the pitch. Teibert and Koffie stayed in a tight diamond to counter LA’s midfield of Husidic and Sarvas , leaving the flanks more open for wing backs to storm up field.
Matias Laba remained anchor to track Ishizaki with Juninho doing the same for LA but more effectively on Pedro Morales. LA’s right back Dan Gargan made forays forward as well, but crossing by both full backs left much to be desired.
Beitashour was most successful in intercepting passes and cutting out plays before they began or making a late recovery for the slightly mistake prone Jay DeMerit. With 47 successful passes and one key pass but only two of five crosses even landing in the box, Beitashour’s weakness was revealed in the final third – especially when forced to cut inside and cross with left foot.
In the 37thminute it was Dan Gargan’s cross that was headed back in front of the net for Ishizaki to head into the open net, showing more cool than his Vancouver counterpart despite Beitashour’s tireless running. It was Ishizaki who sent in the tantalizing cross that Keane converted for the winner in the first match and he was for a while LA’s most involved player in the match. Vancouver were doing more pressing and after the goal Bruce Arena’s men seemed more comfortable soaking up pressure, albeit very early in the game to do so.
The goal had a marked change in momentum in the match as LA got into a groove knocking the ball around their diamond midfield. Pedro Morales struggled to assert his creative influence in the match and Russell Teibert who was so successful getting in Robbie Keane’s face in the first match was left chasing the ball.
Up front Darren Mattocks was invisible and Kenny Miller didn’t have the youthful energy to chase every defender down at all time as Kekuta Manneh was able to do with Mattocks in the first match a week ago.
At the start of the second half Robinson made some tactical changes to gain more midfield influence. Teibert was substituted for Kekuta Manneh who has looked like a genuine star in the making this season and more of a direct attacking threat, which Vancouver needed to chase the game. This brought Mattocks into the game as well showing more chemistry with the other young gun than old vet Miller.
In the centre of defence Leveron replaced Andy O’Brien who had a yellow card. Leveron has more ability on the ball and likes to break forward more than the old warrior O’Brien and offers more offence out of the back. This marked the first time that Leveron and DeMerit have played together.
Vancouver opened the second half on the attack and began to create chances. Morales found the usual streaking run of Beitashour up the wing who made one of his two successful crosses in towards Kenny Miller on 50 minutes, which ended with a nearly missed chance. LA continued to look relaxed in possession and defending with Keane nearly scoring five minutes later on a half chance at the top of the box.
While the Galaxy are very comfortable knocking the ball around midfield and are controlled in the build up, the Whitecaps’ youthful enthusiasm makes them far better when breaking forward and running at defenders. When left with the ball in midfield and the entire Galaxy team already back defending, they seemed to run out of ideas.
On 59 minutes Manneh went down in the box under a challenge from Omar Gonzalez on what looked like a dive, then minutes later Landon Donovan took a spill in the Vancouver box, also a non-call, both good decisions by the referee Petrescu. After these chances Carl Robinson substituted Pedro Morales who was not able to control the game as his ability should allow. On came Hurtado who was an amazing bolt of energy as a sub in the first match and he was involved in Vancouver’s goal a minute later.
Although Hurtado had more sloppy touches and used his dribbling ability to run into cul-de-sacs more in this match, it was a ball forward to him and his blinding speed that got the ball to drop into the box for Mattocks to squeeze in at a tight angle. Before the momentum could swing too far in Vancouver’s favour, LA brought on giant Canadian striker Rob Friend and speedy winger Zardes for Husidic and Ishizaki, with both making an immediate impact.
Mezquida would have been a better substitute than Hurtado in this match and has been good when on the pitch this season in limited minutes. His compatriot Fernandez has received more playing time after his early season wonder goal but has been supremely disappointing since. Hurtado’s inability to maintain possession helped LA back into the match along with Arena’s changes to the squad and five minutes after Friend’s introduction he set up Robbie Keane for a goal to make the game 2-1.
Four minutes later Keane should have scored again showing that although both teams are close in quality, the one thing LA has that Vancouver doesn’t is a super deadly finisher like Robbie Keane. Although Mattocks, Miller and Manneh all know where the net is, Keane is so clinical he was able to turn both matches on their heads with timely goals.
The pace of the match remained high from start to finish but with the lead again LA’s vets seemed more composed. The game seemed out of reach for Vancouver until impact substitute Menneh who is more noted for his speed than finishing, scored a great goal from distance after good buildup play from his teammates. If only Kenny Miller had the same composure three minutes later Vancouver could have left with their second ever win against the Galaxy in what has been traditionally a lopsided tie in LA’s favour.
Vancouver’s core of 34-year-olds O’Brien, DeMerit and Miller should now be looking over their shoulders as the kids formerly below them on the pecking order should now be considered starters in their places on occasion. Leveron in defense alongside Beitashour looks a stronger team and less foul prone while Nigel Reo-Coker will have a very hard time breaking back into the starting XI in place of Laba, Koffie or Teibert.
Against one of the powerhouses of the league it was the under 25s that made the Whitecaps stronger. If they can keep hold of all these players and develop them accordingly, there’s no reason to believe they can’t be competing in the playoffs year-after-year.
A photographer, director and writer who since graduating from the Film program at the University of Regina has been working mainly in the entertainment fields. Through a passion of football, both playing and coaching, I have started writing about the game with in-depth tactical analysis' for my own magazine Field of View. I have since began publishing my work on footy blogs online.