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Whitecaps need to have more of the ball

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Wes Knight: Hit a goalpost and had a shot cleared off the line
There is a very real trend that has become evident in Whitecaps match after Whitecaps match.

Win, lose or draw, the Whitecaps will allow their opponents to have more of the ball and, in the case of Saturday’s 0-0 draw at home to Chivas USA, a lot more of the ball.

The possession statistic isn’t one you will find on MLS post-game reports; the tracking of who has the ball for how long isn’t as big a deal here as it is in Europe, where we see it regularly flashed on the screen during Premiership and Champions League broadcasts. But we do know that Chivas had almost 60 per cent of the ball in the second half of the game, and significantly more in the first half, too.

This trend goes all the way back to the first game of the season; the Whitecaps scored four in a win over Toronto FC, but the Reds had more possession. In the loss to Houston last week, Houston had more of the ball. And, because the Whitecaps played significant portions of their matches with New England and Philadelphia down players, it’s a given that the opposition would have more possession.

Vancouver scored nine times in its first five games because it is a counterattacking team; it also explains why the team doesn’t win the possession battle. (And, it also helps point to the reason the Whitecaps have given up 10 goals) But, Chivas is a very difficult team against which to play counterattacking soccer. The Goats aren’t very potent up front and crowd the middle of the park. Coach Robin Fraser wants to transform Chivas into a club that’s defensively responsible. So, it wasn’t a surprise to see the Goats packing the midfield Saturday in Vancouver.

And, with Terry Dunfield out to injury, and Kevin Harmse and Jeb Brovsky — both who you would call depth players — starting in the centre of the Whitecaps midfield, Vancouver’s route through that crowded area of the park was going to be all the more difficult.

So, because the Goats don’t stretch themselves, it limits the chances the Whitecaps had to counter. Against teams like Chivas, the Whitecaps will need to learn how to hold the ball and wait for openings rather than try and run into brick walls.

That’s not to say the Whitecaps didn’t create chances; two first-half attempts smashed off the woodwork behind Chivas keeper Dan Kennedy. Another shot was cleared off the line. If any of these chances go in, Chivas would have been forced to stretch.

Wes Knight crashed an attempt off the outside of the post in the eighth minute; and he had an even better attempt cleared off the line 13 minutes later.

Striker Eric Hassli, back from his second red-card suspension of the season, made a bold run down the left side; the French forward was able to get behind Chivas fullback Andrew Boyens — who played for Toronto FC in its inaugural season —and shouldered past. He was able to turn the ball towards the top of the box for Knight, who smacked the ball towards the goal. But Simon Elliott, a veteran New Zealander who played in MLS back in the day when the league had shootouts and minigames —was on the line to block the shot.

Hassli then had a fantastic chance of his own. In the 34th minute, he found some space in front of Chivas’ back line. Heath Pearce, one of the best outside backs in MLS, but forced to move to middle because of injuries, was caught flatfooted, and didn’t challenge Hassli.The striker shifted the ball to his left foot and whipped a shot that gave Kennedy no chance to even move, but the ball slammed off the right post.

The Whitecaps had another golden chance in the dying minutes of the second half; sub Nazir Khalfan absolutely walked into a shot after it was left for him in the Chivas penalty area thanks to a great little header from Omar Salgado. But, as powerful as the drive was, it was too close to Kennedy, and the keeper was able to get enough of it to deflect the ball away.

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