With four wins through five matches, Vancouver Whitecaps FC stood alone at the top of the table. By comparison, Columbus Crew SC were all the way down in 16th place. But after tonight's two-all draw, nothing much has changed. At least on paper. The Whitecaps found something here tonight. In seasons past, going behind would have meant that the Caps would push up, leave themselves vulnerable to a counterattack, and they would invariably concede the insurance goal. But this squad is different. Whether ahead or behind, they play as a unit, and the play to win. They didn't quite do that tonight, but it was not for lack of trying.
Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson made two changes to the eleven that humiliated Los Angeles Galaxy on the weekend. Darren Mattocks got his first start of the 2015 campaign, coming in for Kekuta Manneh, and Diego Rodríguez replaced Pa Modou Kah, or at least that was the plan. Sometimes you just have to throw that game plan out the window, as the Caps did when Rodríguez suffered an early strain to his right quadriceps.
Off came the Uruguayan, and on came the Norwegian. Rodríguez could probably have continued, and just played through the pain, but there was still 75-minutes left, and it just wasn't worth the risk. With both Waston and Kah playing twice this week, the chances are that at least one of them will give way to either Christian Dean or Tim Parker when the Caps head down to San Jose on Saturday. But that's why you carry five centre backs. You never know when you're going to need them.
Pa Modou Kah and Kendall Waston had some troubles early on. An errant pass from Kah put Waston under immense pressure. He was backtracking and the ball went straight to Kai Kamara. Waston tried to recover, but he lost his footing on the turf. He had no choice but to foul the Sierra Leonean striker. If he hadn't, Kamara would have put the visitors up by one. So Waston's foul stopped Kamara, and all it cost him was a yellow card. It could have been worse if Kah hadn't made sure that Waston wasn't the last man. Vancouver aren't going to win many popularity contests. Waston's yellow was the 17th such card issued to the Whitecaps this season, and we're only six games in.
Vancouver absolutely dominated Los Angeles on Saturday, and they picked up right where they had left off, controlling the game from the onset. At the twenty minute mark, they had held Columbus to less than 29% of the possession. Vancouver looked like they were well on their way to another comfortable victory.
Before the match, Columbus' manager Gregg Berhalter described Vancouver as the best counterattacking club in the league, and Nicolás Mezquida proved it when Will Trapp had to resort to shirt pulling in a feeble attempt to slow the speedy Uruguayan, but Mezquida just kept running, got the ball to his countryman Octavio Rivero, only to see the shot take a deflection. Bit Trapp was fortunate not to see his name go in the book.
Michael Parkhurst fouled Pedro Morales in the 23rd minute, and he too could have seen his name go in the book for a challenge from behind, but referee Drew Fischer thought nothing of it. To be fair, Parkhurst did try to play the ball, he just didn't get any of it because Morales's legs were in the way.
In a move that would have to be described as against the run of play, Columbus took the lead in the 24th minute. The ball deflected off the back of Waston's right leg. He was fighting Ethan Finlay at the time. But Kai Kamara was all too happy to pounce on it to put the visitors ahead.
When you fall behind, your natural instinct is to try and make up the shortfall with a burst of energy. But the Caps didn't do that. They just quietly approached the game as if it was still level, playing their game, and letting the chips fall where they may.
There's a quiet confidence to this year's Caps. And less than seven minutes after Kamara put the Crew ahead, Octavio Rivero pulled them back to level terms. It was his fifth goal in only his sixth match. All we can say is enjoy it while it lasts, because at 23-years old, Rivero has already proven that he can play at a much higher level.
Four minutes in the second half, Kamara put the Crew back in front. David Ousted's goal kick went straight to Justin Meram, the defence was caught unaware, and Merem slipped the ball to Kamara, who scored when he caught Ousted going the wrong way. There wasn't a lot of power behind his shot, but it was on target. Which is easier said than done.
Of course Robinson won't be happy to have seen his team concede twice, but both goals were against the run of play, and both of them were the result of mistakes. Columbus didn't expose any weaknesses, they just capitalised when the Whitecaps went off script.
Kekuta Manneh, a 57th minute substitute for Nicolás Mezquida, did well to get on the other end of a Pa Modou Kah long ball, beating the Columbus defence. He laid it off to Darren Mattocks, who was in a better scoring position. And Mattocks rewarded his teammate when he fired the ball right through the legs of Columbus' goalkeeper, Steve Clark.
Twice the Crew went ahead, and twice the Whitecaps forced their way back into the match. Ordinarily, you would expect Columbus to have left feeling that they had just dropped two points. But you'd be wrong. Vancouver were the better team by a wide margin. They won this game, they just needed a little more time to get all three points.
Less than a minute after his goal, Mattocks hit the upright. The crowd were on their feet, and there was the sense of when, not if, the winner would come. A few minutes later, Steve Clark had to make a fantastic save to deny Mattocks' winner.
With just over twenty minutes to go, Columbus changed tactics. Instead of trying to go for the win, they decided that a point would be enough. They made two substitutions, which ate up some of the clock. They began to take their time with their free kicks, throw ins, goal kicks, and anything else they could think of.
There was even one galling example when Pedro Morales lined up to take a corner. Columbus's goalkeeper Steve Clark sat down on the turf, removed his gloves, even going so far as to take out a shin guard, and began to slowly untie, and then retie, the laces on his boots. Pa Modou Kah kindly offered to tie them for him, but Clark was not interested in the assistance. Frankly, we were surprised that he didn't try to replace his aglets too.
And if you're unfamiliar with the term, aglets are the plastic bits on the end of your shoelaces that stop them from fraying. Here at the Vancouver Herald, we believe in educating as well as entertaining. But what Clark did was blatant time wasting. The referee had the authority to issue a yellow card for such egregious behaviour, but Drew Fischer didn't see anything wrong with that.
In a rare example of Columbus actually trying to play the game, David Ousted had to make a late save on Ethan Findlay after Sam Adekugbe had overcommitted himself. While Adekugbe is certainly talented, his is quite young, and these kinds of growing pains are to be expected.
Throughout the match, and especially in the second half, the crowd were on their feet, chanting, singing, and making themselves heard. But when Kendall Waston fell awkwardly, landing on his head, everything dropped to a hushed silence. No one dared speak. It got so quiet that the photographers on the pitch could actually hear the coaching staff.
But the big Costa Rican pulled through. He may not be feeling too well in the morning, but he finished the game, and no doubt had a more thorough examination after.
Trying to calculate stoppage time can be a funny thing. There really aren't any rules for it. But if you forget all the attempts by Columbus to waste time, Kendall Waston's accident took two minutes and forty-four seconds to be resolved. There were two goals scored in the second half. Two players were issued yellow cards. And there were four substitutions up to that point. A fifth substitution was made during stoppage time. Add it all together and the officials decided to give us an extra four minutes. Sometimes it just doesn't make sense.
But the Caps can take from this match a sense of accomplishment. They are still top of the league, and even if Dallas does beat Colorado on Sunday, they'll be level at the top with the Hoops.
Unfortunately, they won't get much time to rest and recoup. They have to travel to San Jose for a match with the Earthquakes on Saturday. After that, they'll visit the Riot, where they'll face Salt Lake, and finally return home for match with DC United on April 25th.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, the United League side, play their first ever home match at Thunderbird Stadium on April 19th when they host the visiting Toronto FC II.
Oh, and if you were wondering, yes, that is Deadpool jumping over the Kia. He's getting pretty good at it. Maybe it'll catch on, and he can be the inventor of a new sport called Jumping the Car.