Whitecaps’ first road win ain’t pretty, it just looks that way

Jay DeMerit

Sure, we know that, with the Whitecaps boasting so many offensive weapons, that this team would likely be happy to get into a track meet with any other team in MLS.

But, can it win the scrappy, ugly game?

The answer after Saturday’s 1-0 win over Chivas USA is… maybe. Yes, it’s a milestone win for the team — its first road victory in team history. But, Chivas USA, you could argue, looks to be just about as short on attacking talent as the expansion Montreal Impact. Actually, that might not be fair to the Impact.

And, judging by the smattering of fans in attendance, it wasn’t as if Vancouver had to go into a cauldron of hostility. A crowd of less than 8,000 was announced — and that’s bad enough — but rain likely turned some of those ticket-holders into no-shows.

It was an ugly game that no one will want to keep on his or her PVR. But, there will be nights like this, when the opponent plays a tight, compact midfield that’s designed more to disrupt than create. There will be nights when the other team will be happy to play short passes in order to keep possession, but create nothing. There will be nights when one of the bottom-feeders of MLS will simply try to grind out a result by clogging up the field. Chivas didn’t score last week in its home-opener loss to Houston. This week, despite having 65 per cent of the ball through the match, the Goats’ chances were few and far between.

The best Chivas chance came to Casey Townsend in the 31st minute. He lofted a shot towards the top corner of the Whitecaps goal that keeper Joe Cannon did well to push over the bar with his fingertips. Ten minutes later, Cannon, who looked to be hurting from an earlier collision with Goat Ryan Smith, had to leave the game.

After Brad Knighton came in to replace there was never really a moment in this game that you felt Chivas would come close to scoring. (That is, if you managed to stay awake through it).

But good teams find a way to break through. And the Whitecaps did, at the 68-minute mark, when Jay DeMerit dove to head home a corner, slightly reminiscent of his magical 2006 Championship Playoff Final goal that allowed Watford to climb to the Premiership instead of Leeds United.

Good teams find ways to win those kind of scrappy games. So far, so good for the Whitecaps. If you ever want to figure out why Sir Alex Ferguson has so many more Premiership titles than Arsene Wenger, look to the amount of ugly 1-0 wins Manchester United have been able to gut out over the years, while Arsenal, during the years when the Gunners and the Red Devils dominated the English game, often struggled when the opposition would not let it play a free-flowing game.

Ugly wins make for playoff teams. Win a lot of ugly games, and you will have a trophy to show for it.

But, with Montreal and Chivas as the first two opponents on the regular-season schedule, it’s also fair to say that the Whitecaps really haven’t been given a stiff test as of yet. We can’t really say how the Whitecaps have progressed until they have played Seattle, Real Salt Lake or Los Angeles.

Coach Martin Rennie started a similar lineup to the one he used for the season opener. Matt Watson got the start in midfield ahead of Gershon Koffie.

With Watson and Jun Marques Davidson in the starting XI, and Knighton and Floyd Franks coming into the game as subs, Rennie used four of his former Carolina RailHawks charges in the match. And, like many RailHawks games last year, the Whitecaps came in ready to win physical battles.

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About Steven Sandor

I'm currently the colour commentator for FC Edmonton broadcasts on Sportsnet, NASL.com and TEAM 1260. I've covered the Toronto FC beat for four years, worked for the Edmonton Aviators of the USL for a season, covered the Edmonton Drillers of the NPSL and started covering Canadian World Cup qualifiers in 1996. I've covered the CONCACAF Champions League and the U-20 World Cup. I'm passionate about soccer in North America.