An easy way to make a Vancouver Whitecaps supporter weak at the knees is to tell them Kendall Waston or Tim Parker are unavailable for a match. If you want to upgrade that from “weak knees” to “heart attack”, say both of the ‘Caps starting defenders are absent.
That was the case on Saturday night as the Whitecaps were without some key players who were busy with international duty.
All Carl Robinson had to do to prepare for the goal-happy Houston Dynamo was replace his top two centre-backs with the barely-back-from-injury Pa Modou Kah and a deputized midfielder-turned-defender in Andrew Jacobson.
If that sentence didn’t cause you to panic just a little bit, congratulations – you have no capacity for emotion and are therefore a robot. Beep, boop and all that.
And yet, Kah and Jacobson did exactly what was asked of them as the ‘Caps blanked Houston 1-0 in front of the 22,120 at BC Place.
The win gave the Whitecaps their first home win of the season, moving them into a tie for 3rd place with the LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game” said Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson. “We knew that [Houston] would come to play us out. We’ve got a squad for a reason, and I think the guys that stepped in did themselves a lot of good.”
It wasn’t without incident, though. Within the first six minutes, Kah managed to make two blunders on the ball in classic Kah fashion.
There’s a general rule among Vancouver supporters that you can count on Kah for one “yikes” mistake per match. Having already doubled his quota before the minute counter had hit double digits did not bode well for the backline.
There was relief at the other end of the pitch, though, as the ‘Caps found their attacking rhythm early to keep Houston in check. After conceding a corner via Kah (sigh), Vancouver immediately righted the ship and sprung one of their trademark lethal counter-attacks.
Octavio Rivero lofted a longball that found the feet of Kekuta Manneh and the Gambian speedster was off like a streaking comet. One pass to Fraser Aird, a deft touch to Masato Kudo and the ‘Caps got their first real chance of the game thanks to their Japanese striker. Unfortunately, Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis was equal to the task and the score remained 0-0.
Willis was equally sharp on the ensuing corner kick.
Christian Techera delivered a sublime ball into the penalty area where Andrew Jacobson was waiting. Chesting the ball, Jacobson hammered a shot on the volley, aiming low towards the post. Willis saw it all the way and handily made the save.
The game’s only goal would come from yet another penalty call in favour of Vancouver, furthering the growing number of “historical make-good calls” being made to balance out the absurd non-calls and phantom penalties that have doomed the ‘Caps in seasons past.
The play started, as many do, with Pedro Morales pinging a ball out wide. This time, it was Manneh on the receiving end and he promptly did an un-Manneh-like thing: he thumped a solid cross(!) towards the far post, where a streaking Kudo was headed. In desperation, Houston defender Jalil Anibaba made a few grabs at Kudo, the final one sending the striker to the ground and forcing referee David Gantar to whistle for the penalty.
“That’s never a penalty in a million years,” said the perplexed Houston Dynamo head coach Owen Coyle.
Houston may feel the call was harsh. I don’t.
Anibaba made some pretty clumsy grabs at Kudo all throughout that play, both before Manneh hit the cross and after. Combined with what looked to be a clip on Kudo’s leg and the close, unobstructed view of Gantar and it’s pretty cut and dry to me: penalty.
Pedro Morales duly buried the resulting spot kick for his league-leading fourth goal of the season – all PKs, incidentally – and Vancouver led 1-0.
Houston immediately responded with a great chance of their own. With numbers forward, the ball came to Andrew Wenger in the box. A quick cross towards Leonel Miranda and the Argentine midfielder unleashed a stinging volley that thundered off the crossbar. Ricardo Clark collected the rebound but fired high and over the net.
Wenger would pop up again a few minutes later, firing from near-point-blank range only to be denied by David Ousted with a quick reflex save.
It was clear at this point that Houston were fully committed to punishing the makeshift Vancouver backline. Thankfully, while the talent level of Kah may be questionable, his leadership and organization are still as sharp as ever and the defence did not break, only bend as they entered the halftime break up a goal.
Kah and Jacobson continued to scramble throughout the second half, though fullbacks Jordan Harvey and Fraser Aird were on hand to keep the backline solid. There were no questions about Harvey or Aird coming into this match and it was comforting to see them do exactly what was expected of them, makeshift central defence or otherwise.
Outside of that, there really wasn’t much more to this match.
Houston had some half-chances (including a 71st-minute deflected shot off the post), Vancouver counter-attacked as they tend to do and Robbo’s men saw the game out well.
It should be noted that Vancouver’s substitutions saw Sam Adekugbe(!), Jordan Smith, and Nicolas Mezquida(!!!) pick up some minutes, which is good news for Vancouver fans wondering if any other areas of the team are having depth issues.
Then again, can you really call a clean sheet with a far-from-optimal central defence an “issue”? On this night, it would appear not.
Man of the Match: Andrew Jacobson
Referee: David Gantar
23′ – VAN – Pedro Morales (penalty kick)
Shots: Vancouver 12 – Houston 17
Shots on Goal: Vancouver 6 – Houston 5
Saves: Vancouver 5 – Houston 5
Fouls: Vancouver 16 – Houston 16
Offsides: Vancouver 1 – Houston 1
Corners: Vancouver 2 – Houston 7
76′ – VAN – Matias Laba
90’+2′ – VAN – Pa-Modou Kah
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
1.David Ousted; 8.Fraser Aird, 17.Andrew Jacobson, 44.Pa-Modou Kah, 2.Jordan Harvey; 13.Cristian Techera (3.Sam Adekugbe 69′),15.Matías Laba, 77.Pedro Morales, 23.Kekuta Manneh (11.Nicolas Mezquida 86′); 9.Masato Kudo (6.Jordan Smith 78′), 29.Octavio Rivero
Substitutes not used
70.Paolo Tornaghi, 14.Cole Seiler, 19.Erik Hurtado, 20.Deybi Flores
31.Joe Willis; 2.Jalil Anibaba, 18.David Horst, 5.Raul Rodriguez, 7.DaMarcus Beasley; 14.Alex, 13.Ricardo Clark; 11.Andrew Wenger (20.Abdoulie Mansally 58′), 8.Cristian Maidana (19.Mauro Manotas 64′), 33.Leonel Miranda; 12.Will Bruin (3.Rob Lovejoy 81′)
Substitutes not used
24.Calle Brown, 4.Agus, 6.David Rocha, 22.Sheanon Williams