There is, of course, the old saying that you have to do the litte things right and the big things will take care of themselves. Waiting for the big things to happen, however, can test the patience of anybody; witness the recent play of the Whitecaps. A string of games against not-too-strong opposition and very little to show- you begin to see the frustrations build up and the confidence get pulled apart bit by gut-checking bit. A goal scorers instinct gone awry (Jason Jordan), a workaholic midfielder suddenly finding himself lost in the shadows (David Morris),a general lack of incisiveness and imagination. But there is somewhat of a light at the end of the tunnel, and that is the general play of the team over the better part of the season. You would think that the dam would burst sometime and a few goals would go in at the end of all the good passing movements.
But a team needs inspiration and it usually comes from the people that are relied upon to do the most damage on a nightly basis. In Vancouvers' case, that person is probably Jason Jordan. But it seems that he has been hard hit with a case of the yips. Confidence (or lack of it) can do funny things, and one only had to see Jordan miss two glorious chances in a drab 0-0 tie with Indiana to realize that the inspiration for the team would have to come from somewhere else. This is not to knock Jordan, however, as he has contributed greatly to the team over the course of the year. He still has speed to spare, still can turn on the sharpest of edges, but the quality of finishing coming from the Whitecaps' striker has been woefully lacking of late.
The team, however, has really started to play with precision. They pass the ball around well and are starting to get alot more in the way of scoring opportunities. But as in the Indiana game, when you outshoot the opposition 25-6 and have no goals, you have to think that frustration will take the place of optimism. And so it was on a beautiful Wednesday evening as the El Paso Patriots brought their travelling road show to Swangard Stadium.
This was the second visit to Vancouver this year for the Patriots, having had a 1-1 draw here last month. In that game, the Whitecaps dominated the play, got a lucky penalty for a 1-0 halftime lead, and gave up a last gasp goal to the visitors for the tie. And when El Paso equalized the match half way through the second half, it looked like another long evening for the home team. Loads of chances, but only one goal.
The Patriots are a funny team. You just never know what is going to happen. Their reputation as an overly dramatic and stifling side usually contributes to a smaller than average attendance whenever they visit. But they always play us close. They have a well-organized defensive system and they have good midfield coverage. It allows the Patriots a certain freedom to double-cover the opposition at times and you always get the impression that they have an extra man (that comes with having good anticipation as well). But they do not have any firepower up front, and for all the good work that their defence and midfield usually produce, there is nobody to effectively hang on to the ball or distribute up front. They did, however, come into the game as the second place team in the division. But the Whitecaps dominated this game from start to finish.
Of course, controlling a game does not necessarily mean a bucketful of goals. But you always had the impression that it would take just one break, one lucky bounce, to start turning things around. And when Steve Kindel finished off a terrific 3-way passing play on the half hour to put the home side in front, it was only what they deserved. But the Patriots are a team that copes well defensively- they don't panic and are positionally sound. However, they were left wanting on the opener, as Jason Jordan and Oliver Heald combined to provide a lovely ball for Kindel to finish off past Estrada. It would take a while for the chances to arrive after that, however, as the Patriots served notice that they were ready and able opponents. The were just a bit quicker to the ball in midfield: but again and again they would be found wanting up front.
It was all a bit tentative after the break, with the Caps hanging back a bit. They nearly paid for it. In shades of the previous visit here by the Patriots, the equalizer came out of nowhere. It has happened before to Vancouver during those periods where they've fallen asleep at the wheel: a goal on the only chance of the half. Seattle did it to us earlier this year (two corners, two goals), and in the last visit by El Paso, it was a last minute header from in close that tied that match. So When Ahmed Figueroa took posession and laid a cross over the Caps' defence for an unmarked Carlos Farias to head home on 59 minutes you wondered if it was just going to be more of the same.
But it really was the only chance of the half for El Paso. And the goal seemed to wake the giant. The Whitecaps started to run at every opportunity, and the Patriots defensive 4 were being stretched to the limit. Bend they did, but they didn't break. It would take a rather strange incident to finally burst the bubble. And the bubble did burst: when Dasovic and Kindel combined for two goals in the final five miinutes, the best thing to happen to the visitors was the final whistle.
One thing is certain: a Vancouver/El Paso game is never without controversy. The play started innocently enough, with a Vancouver corner from the left side. A high ball floated over the entire defence right to Nick Dasovic who jumped over everybody and headed toward goal. A Patriots defender tried desperately to clear the ball away, but he was falling down and only managed to kick it up into the net. The ball was already in, though, and the Patriots could only walk slowly to center for the restart. Except for keeper Estrada who went down in a collision during the set piece. He argued vehemently that he was fouled going for the ball, but in the mass of players it was impossible to tell what happened. He definately ran into a defender before hitting the ground, though, and the whole corner kick sequence seemed to have the Patriots ball watching. It was all over.
The inevitable happened as El Paso desperately pushed forward, as David Morris broke free down the right side to slide a ball across the box for an unmarked Kindel to tap in from six yards on full time. Maximum points at home for the first time this year, in a game they really deserved to have.
lineups will be here when I find my sheets!!
photos by Brian Goldie