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Whitecaps: NASL grads outplay DPs in playoff loss to Galaxy

Matt Watson: Played a blinder for the Whitecaps
The turning point wasn’t either of the Los Angeles goals. It wasn’t the controversial penalty that Canadian referee Silviu Petrescu gave the Galaxy that led to the winning goal.

No, if you want to pinpoint the exact seconds when the Vancouver Whitecaps saw a 1-0 lead begin to slip — which led to a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy in their Western Conference playoff Thursday in Carson, Calif. — look to a series of missed opportunities from the visiting team’s two Scottish Designated Players.

In the 68th minute, nursing a 1-0 lead, the underdog Whitecaps were led upfield through a fantastic run down the left wing from former Carolina RailHawk Matt Watson. With Kenny Miller and Barry Robson riding shotgun, Watson cut in and unleashed a shot that was well-saved by Galaxy keeper Josh Saunders. The rebound fell to Miller, who scuffed his shot. But the chance remained alive as the ball came to Robson, who took one very heavy touch, hesitated, then took another even heavier touch, and the chance was gone.

Just a minute after those series of Miller-Robson chances went begging, the Galaxy tied the match on a wonderful volley from Mike Magee, the player who always seems to score huge playoff goals.

Instead of 2-0 Whitecaps, the score was 1-1.

Like Whitecaps fans saw so often through the second half of the season, after DPs Robson and Miller joined the squad, they often disappointed when the spotlight was on them. In fact, coach Martin Rennie didn’t even start Miller, who came on as a second-half sub for Darren Mattocks. It says something when it’s your biggest game of the season, and your manager leaves you and your big salary on the bench to start the game.

In fact, anyone who had never seen the Whitecaps before Thursday’s playoff game would have likely said that Matt Watson — a guy who played in NASL last season — must be a Designated Player, not Robson or Miller. He certainly played like one. Watson, who set up Mattocks’ third-minute opener with a wonderful run down the left side, was the best Whitecap on the pitch.

And, in the 71st minute, the Galaxy got a penalty call, as Landon Donovan used guile (it would be hard to call it cheating, so “guile” it is) to get Whitecaps central defender Martin Bonjour into trouble. Bonjour had just come on for Jay DeMerit, who had come off clutching his leg after the Magee equalizer. Donovan ran into the box, and Bonjour got caught flatfooted, allowing Donovan to get a step and lean forward. And, as a central defender, it’s a helpless feeling; the striker has momentum and is leaning into you. If you move out of the way, the attacker is gone. If you lean back or use an arm, there’s a good chance the referee is going to point to the spot.

Bonjour’s arm came up, Donovan went down, and the call was made. Donovan buried the chance, and the game was essentially over.

Watson wasn’t the only Whitecap to have a wonderful evening. Goalkeeper Brad Knighton, another former RailHawk, showed why Rennie was right to make him the No. 1 down the stretch. He took command on crosses, weathered a series of storms and made an outstanding diving save on a David Beckham free kick late in the first half.

What does it say when the DPs don’t help a team, but the best players are the guys who were in NASL next year? It’s a sign that, before next season, Rennie should look to the likes of Carolina, the Tampa Bay Rowdies or, heck, even FC Edmonton, to find players before he looks to thirtysomethings who used to have big European reputations.

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  1. shanekrause

    November 4, 2012 at 3:25 am

    O’Brien’s not Scottish, and he’s been fantastic in the back. Barry had some moments that hinted at his abilities and Kenny had all of one moment that hinted why someone might pay the big money from them. They have been top notch players in the past and I don’t blame Rennie for dishing out the cash expecting a lot from them. They just completely failed to produce.
    I agree about Matt Watson and Brad Knighton. They’ve been fantastic. I think that Joe Cannon got thrown under the bus for the rest of the team not producing and think that he’s still capable of being the number 1, but Knighton’s performances have been fantastic.

  2. Jeff

    November 2, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Glad you wrote this, because it’s exactly what I was thinking throughout the match and afterwards. Miller had that rebound come to him and was standing POINT BLANK with the left side of the goal just begging for the shot, and he totally and utterly scuffs it like some damned amateur. It made my buddy and I watching so mad we both flipped out about how Miller has been a total failure since joining the Caps, and how Chiumiento was such a better player than Robson. Can Robson get tackled without complaining like a bitch for a full minute afterwards while his mark runs by uncovered? Can’t STAND either of those two players. O’Brien is slow as molasses as well. Good in the air, but man is he slow. Scottish Experiment = total failure.

  3. Footy

    November 2, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Well, looking at Whitecaps results after the summer transfer window, this loss isn’t surprising at all. Indeed it makes you wonder why Rennie would bring in a couple of Scottsmen (it’s not that Scotland has a big reputation when it comes to soccer), to overpay them and watch his team loose or tie at best. Very disppointing while Rennie has shown in Carolina that he can form a decent team out of players without the the big salaries.

    Canadian soccer has set the bar low this season. So low even, that a loss in the first round of the playoffs makes you the best of all the Canadian pro clubs. On the bright side: next year surely can’t be as bad as this one. Or can it?

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