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Whitecaps’ lack of composure hurts in loss at Kansas City

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Omar Bravo
The Whitecaps could have easily earned six points out of their last two road games, but only ended up getting one.

In Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City, the Whitecaps got out to a 1-0 lead, then fell completely apart, giving up two goals in eight minutes. The Caps recovered at halftime, but couldn’t find an equalizer in the second 45 minutes.

Now, think back two weeks. Eric Hassli’s wonder goal in Seattle gave the Caps a 2-2 draw with their Cascadia rival. But Hassli’s goal helped us forget that the Whitecaps held the lead late into the game and then fell apart, giving up two goals in a three-minute span.

Both the draw in Seattle and the loss in Kansas City featured the same disturbing trend; that, once the Whitecaps had been scored upon, they collectively showed a real lack of backbone. They were vulnerable, gave the ball away time and time again, and made mistakes all over the pitch. Within minutes, they conceded again.

SKC piled on the pressure at home early in the match — an excellent block from Whitecaps keeper Joe Cannon on a sliding attempt from C.J Sapong kept the score level. Chance Myers came up from his right back position and was allowed time and space to send a low cross to a sliding Sapong, who beat Whitecap Alain Rochat to the ball and was able to get a shot off after it took an awkward bounce off his chest.

But, in the the 14th minute, the Whitecaps opened the scoring thanks to a dreadful goalkeeping error from SKC’s Jimmy Nielsen. Davide Chiumiento lofted a long, arcing free kick into the box that Nielsen needed to come off his line and claim. The ball was hit so high, that there was plenty of time for the keeper to come out and take control of the situation.

No one on the SKC backline tracked Camilo, one of the smallest players on the pitch. With the defence not moving with Camilo and Nielsen staying on his line, the Brazilian was left alone to redirect the ball into the goal with his head.

Nielsen did make up for the gaffe with an excellent save to deny Hassli a second-half equalizer.

In the 32nd minute, Mexican star Omar Bravo calmly converted a penalty after Whitecaps’ captain Jay Demerit brought him down in the box. DeMerit claimed that he got all ball… but that’s the kind of thing a ref can only pick out with the help of instant replay. When Bravo goes down in the box — and there was contact made — he’s got little choice but to point to the spot after a bang-bang play.

But, after the equalizer, the Whitecaps wilted. Really, SKC should have been up 2-1 the next time it came down the field. The ball came to an unmarked Milos Stojcev, who had Cannon at his mercy. But the keeper blocked the shot with his face.

The Whitecaps were clearly shellshocked. The ball was gifted away time and time again. Finally, SKC got its just reward when a cross from Graham Zusi to the far post was headed back to the front of goal by Bravo; Julio Cesar slid to get to to the ball ahead of any Whitecap, and buried the ball in the net.

Both DeMerit and Chiumiento were removed from the game at halftime.

“In the first half, we wanted to get the early goal and force them to come out,” said Whitecaps FC head coach Tom Soehn in a release issued by the Whitecaps after the match. “What we didn’t do well was pressure them the right way. We let them get inside our house and didn’t make play predictable. I thought that really accounted for putting us on our heels and putting our defenders in bad spots. In the second half, I thought we did a better job by making play more predictable, but the damage was done already.”

In spots like this, you have to wonder about this team’s mental toughness. It’s not a question of formations. It’s a question of guts.

Unlike the Seattle game, Hassli didn’t have a wonder goal in him today.

The only bright side for Whitecaps fans? That Teal Bunbury, on a day that the U.S. national team played Mexico in the Gold Cup final, was an unused sub for SKC. Bunbury, who decided to leave the Canadian national team behind for a chance to play for the U.S., was not only not picked for the Gold Cup, but wasn’t even selected to play a team that he scored twice against at Empire Field earlier this season.

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