An incredibly young Vancouver Whitecaps FC stumbled out of the gates in their first game of the 2016 Canadian Championship, as the more experienced NASL side fielded by Ottawa Fury FC controlled the game en route to their 2-0 victory at TD Place.
Whitecaps head coach, Carl Robinson, seemingly underestimated the Fury team who finished as runners-up in the NASL in 2015. Robinson opted to go with a young and Canadian team fielding six Canadians in his starting eleven that had an average age of only 22.6. While the youthful Canadian lineup was commended by many Canadian soccer fans, the team did not translate well to the field.
One of the biggest problems facing the ‘Caps was a lack of chemistry between their players. Players like Aird, Parker, Teibert, and Mezquida have connections from their appearances together for the senior team, but the numerous Whitecaps who have played the majority or all their games so far this season with the USL side, seemed uncomfortable with Robinson’s system.
The game got off to a poor start for Vancouver, as former Whitecap Jonny Steele scored in only the third minute of the first half. The Whitecaps defenders were oriented to protect the left side of the pitch and with Fraser Aird far out of position as right back, Steele capitalised on the opportunity to score on a completely helpless Paolo Tornaghi to put the Fury up 1-0 very early on in the game.
The Whitecaps picked up more possession after Ottawa’s first goal, ultimately having the lion’s share of the possession throughout the entire game, but their attack showed no bite. Numerous free kicks and crosses entered the Fury box, but the young ‘Caps side could not get any connection with the ball.
Ottawa also continued their much more potent attack throughout the first half, and forced Tornaghi to come up with a huge save in the 36th minute. Tornaghi also came up big after an Ottawa cross in the 41st minute, but another former Whitecap, Paulo Junior was there to blast the Fury’s second goal of the game into the Vancouver goal with Tornaghi still on the ground from his first save. The ‘Caps defence seemed nearly invisible on the play.
To make things even worse for the Whitecaps, with youth also seemed to come indiscipline. The ‘Caps were fortunate not to have picked up any cards throughout the game as they tackled and played without any discipline, seeming to just throw themselves at Fury players at times during the game.
With no Whitecaps substitutes after the halftime break, the first glimmer of hope for Vancouver came in the 54th minute when a perfect cross from Sam Adekugbe was headed by Nicolas Mezquida, before being tipped over the net by the Fury’s fantastic goalkeeper, Romuald Peiser, notable for winning the 2015 NASL Golden Glove.
The second bit of hope for the ‘Caps came only four minutes later after Robinson made his first two substitutions of the game, bringing on Octavio Rivero and Kekuta Manneh to replace the less experienced Mezquida and Marco Bustos.
Unfortunately, the substitutions were unable to help, as Rivero was denied by another big save in stoppage time by Peiser. Manneh’s speed, which the Whitecaps hoped to utilise off the bench late in the game, was neutralised by the Fury’s big and talented defence.
The only real bright spot of the game for Whitecaps supporters was the substitution of 15-year-old Canadian, Alphonso Davies, in the 72nd minute. Davies, who is highly touted as the Whitecaps top prospect, was granted his appearance with the first team after numerous strong performances with Whitecaps FC 2. Unfortunately, Davies was invisible for his short time on the pitch, and needs further development in the USL before he is ready to fully take the step up to the senior team.
The young players are not to fully blame for the loss, however. While they did make big mistakes offensively and defensively, the majority of the blame should rest on Robinson. While talented players like Pedro Morales, Matias Laba, and David Ousted stayed in Vancouver, the young team was manhandled by Ottawa. It was a huge tactical mistake on Robinson’s part to heavily underestimate Ottawa and play a highly inexperienced team with little to no experience playing with each other.
With the MLS break due to the Copa America Centenario, Robinson has an entire week to work on the training ground with the team before the return leg next Wednesday at BC Place. To redeem himself and keep the Whitecaps from being the first MLS team eliminated by an NASL side in the Canadian Championship, he will need to field a strong, experienced lineup who can break through the Fury’s tough defence and score at least three goals at home to win. Anything less should be considered a complete and utter failure.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC Starting Eleven and Substitutes:
Substitutes: Rivero for Mezquida (58’), Manneh for Bustos (58’), Davies (CAN) (2) for McKendry (CAN) (72’)
Unused Substitutes: Carducci (CAN), Harvey, Smith, Techera
Ottawa Fury FC Starting Eleven and Substitutes:
Substitutes: Olivera for Gyorio (CAN) (30’), Eustaquio (CAN) for Bailey (60’), Porter (CAN) for Chin (78’)
Unused Substitutes: DeBellis (CAN), MacRae (CAN), Vered