It's a common complaint throughout the A-League that teams shouldn't be subjected to the 2-in-a-row scheduling nightmares that always seem to happen. And there are a myriad of reasons for this phenomenom, not the least of which is a spread-out league consisting of teams with limited travelling budgets. It makes the league fairly regional in nature, although every once in a while a team will venture out into the unknown and hit the opposing conference (except if your team happens to resemble Rochester). But there is no way around the two games in two nights scenario, and even worse 4 games in six nights. Which is exactly what happened to the Calgary Storm. Their nightmare season continued over the weekend as they played Seattle on Saturday (0-3) and vancouver on Sunday (0-4). Seven goals against in two days, four games in six nights. Definately not the stuff that keeps a team sharp.
Adding a good dose of salt to the festering wound that is the Storms' season to date is the fact that Lars Hirschfeld, their excellent keeper, has returned to London and a potential contract with Spurs. Not to mention the coaching change mid-season. But the Storm have a plan, and that is to be a developing ground for young talent here in Canada. They, indeed, have a very young, inexperienced team and it is a credit to the program that they have been able to compete most nights. Although only one victory will not find a team in a playoff hunt, the Storm have been able to keep games close all year thanks to good hustle and young energy (although a little naive at times).
But for all that, one has to think that a certain level of frustration sets in after so many close losses. It is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you face Seattle and Vancouver back to back. The Storm were a very tired team on Sunday evening in Vancouver, having played hard the previous night on the turf in Seattle. Vancouver were coming off an inspired victory over El Paso, and if they kept up the performance level, then the Storm were looking at a very long, fruitless evening.
But Calgary weren't about to roll over just yet. They had their wits about them, and showed the Whitecaps that it wasn't really going to be that easy. At least not right away. It was a fairly low key start with chances few and far between. But as the half went on, Jason Jordan and Alfredo Valente showed that they were going to run at the Storm defence. It seemed to cause mild panic for the Calgary back four who collectively never really settled down all evening. Forward Niall Thompson was his usual bustling self, and as always it was a rare occasion when he failed to win a ball in the air. Indeed, his deft flicks were cause for trouble all night for the beleaguered Storm. The Whitecaps had pace all night. The passes were crisp in midfield, and the back line of Vancouver were never really put under pressure as Calgary were forced more and more to defend further back in their own half. However, some of the passes went astray at crucial times, and again a lack of real precision in the final third had one thinking of another tight, low scoring affair.
But the Whitecaps went in front midway through the first half and the cheeky goal from Steve Kindel seemed to wake the team up. There was a little more urgency to the play, as if they could sense that a second goal against tired legs would put the contest out of reach.
Kindel has been huge for Vancouver this season. He has contributed on the scoreboard nicely since being put up front in coach Tony Fonseca's 3-4-3 formation, and his partnership with classsy midfielder Oliver Heald has meant that the forward line are starting to receive the ball in very dangerous positions. The addition of Niall Thompson from injury has given the Whitecaps a presence in the air, and his straight ahead, bustling style is giving both Jason Jordan and Steve Kindel more room to operate. Alfredo Valente has really picked up the pace in midfield along with the quick Tiarnan King, and with the steady Nick Dasovic bringing his experience to the back line, the Caps are starting to play like contenders. Gone is the tentativeness and indecision of the early going. The team is playing with confidence and flair, and opposing teams are starting to feel like they are under siege for good portions of the games.
It was a high ball by Heald that had the Calgary defence looking around, and Kindel just stepped up and headed the ball into the air, where it just went up and up, and finally fell agonizingly slowly into the net. The Storm seemed a bit stunned on the play, but to their credit they got it together and very nearly equalized on a glaring defensive lapse as Vancouver got caught ball watching and only the outstretched arm of keeper Alex Marques kept the ball from going in. But that would be it from the visitors, and another nail in the coffin was hammered down right on the stroke of halftime. Niall Thompson benefitted from some nice work by midfielder Tiarnan King. And when King laid a perfect square pass to an onrushing Thompson, the Vancouver forward calmly controlled the ball, had a look up, and slotted cleanly home. A two goal halftime lead and the teams went to the locker rooms with very different outlooks.
Any thoughts of an upbeat second frame from the visitors ended abruptly after the restart. It was continuous Vancouver pressure, as they added speed to the midfield with the insertion of Jeff Clarke for Oliver Heald. It was an attacking move and it paid off right away. Valente took a corner four minutes into the second frame that Clarke got on to, and his header just flew in the far post and put an end to the match as a competitive one. it was all hands on deck now for the Storm who just never seemed to get their bearings right. Even when Jason Jordan was forced to leave the game after a hard collision midway through the second half, the Whitercaps kept coming. Speedster Jeff Clarke started the move that slammed the door shut on the visitors as he took a wonderful feed at midfield and raced down the right hand side. He then bypassed the calgary defence like they were standing still and fed a terrific ball across the box to a waiting Niall Thompson who ran and stabbed it home from inside six yards. It was an uplifting goal, and really represented the confidence with which the team is playing with at the moment.
Calgary will head home to contemplate a long, tiring weekend out west, and we will think of how tired and spent they were at the end of a gruelling 4 games in six nights. It shouldn't happen like this, but unfortunately it won't be the last time. We all understand the unique problems facing teams when it comes to budgeting travel and developing schedules that work. But when teams are forced to play so many games in such a condensed space, it becomes obvious that the teams with less depth are really hit hard.
The Whitecaps can take pride in their performance over the last couple of weeks. It seems that they've finally turned a corner in the season. We'll just have to see how they do in Toronto and Montreal this week.
lineups to follow
pictures by Brian Goldie