Monday, August 18, 2008

The GBU: Whitecaps vs. Puerto Rico

Sunday Night Lights

Photo: The Vancouver Whitecaps take on the Puerto Rico Islanders Sunday night under the lights at Burnaby's Swangard Stadium. The match ended 0-0. [Andrew Bucholtz photo].

Breaking down yesterday night's match for USL supremacy, featuring the second-place Vancouver Whitecaps and the top-of-the-league Puerto Rico Islanders...

The score: 0-0

How I saw it: In person

The Good:

-Jay Nolly: The Whitecaps' keeper continued his outstanding season with another stellar performance, including several diving saves, key interceptions of crosses and corner kicks, and a couple of crucial stops on potential breakaways.

-Alfredo Valente: Valente had a solid game on the wing for the Whitecaps, creating several quality chances with his speed and crossing ability. His crosses weren't always exactly on the mark, but on balance, he turned in a strong performance.

-Luca Bellisomo: The SFU product came on for Lyle Martin in the 63rd minute and demonstrated again that he's a capable wingback. He appeared more composed than on the previous occasions when I'd seen him play, which was good to see. He did a nice job of shutting down the speedy Islanders' wingers, and won a lot of balls in the air.

-The crowd: It was great to see 4,563 people take the time to come out to a Caps' game on a rainy Sunday night. That's normally a pretty good attendance for a Friday or Saturday game, and it's not far from Swangard Stadium's capacity of 5,288. Of course, it probably helped that the Lions had a bye week, as the Whitecaps were the only game in town this weekend. Still, there were a lot of people there, and those who came were loud and passionate, which is also good to see.

The Bad:

-Nigel Henry: The tall Islanders' defender turned in a great performance, but as per the rules of The GBU, his effort gets filed here because it was for the wrong team. Henry did an exceptional job of winning balls in the air, thwarting the Whitecaps' strategy of attacking via crosses from the flanks. He also neutralized the ever-dangerous Sebrango for much of the match, not an easy feat.

-Josh Hansen: The ex-Whitecap midfielder made a strong showing in his return to Swangard, controlling the play in the middle of the park and sending several good balls through for the Islanders' swift strikers.

-Bill Gaudette The Islanders' keeper was effective all night, and proved especially adept at intercepting aerial crosses, a prominent feature of the Whitecaps' attack. He also made several key diving saves to preserve the draw for his side.

The Ugly:

-Eduardo Sebrango's sending off: The Whitecaps' star Cuban striker, who's well in front in the team scoring race with 10 goals (tied for second in the whole USL and eight goals better than his nearest teammate), actually had a decent game on balance. He was the most dangerous man on the pitch for much of the day, but his finishing was a little off. However, what was really ugly was his red card late in the match. He thought the Whitecaps had scored in the 79th minute after defender Omar Jarun buried a rebound that was jarred loose after a collision with Puerto Rico keeper Bill Gaudette, but they were instead called for an offensive foul. Somehow, Sebrango was shown a yellow card, and he then earned a second yellow for dissent and was sent off.

It was tough to tell from the stands exactly what happened. I thought at first it was Sebrango who committed the foul and that was what gave him the first yellow, but Steve Ewen's game story [The Province] indicates that it was Jarun. In that case, it doesn't seem clear what the first yellow to Sebrango was for, and Ewen indicates that the dissent that earned him the second yellow also seemed pretty minimal. However, that's tough to tell without being right there, as you can't tell from the press box if he said anything objectionable. What's clear is that you should shut up as soon as you get a yellow, something most soccer players realize. Sebrango's second booking left the Whitecaps to play the last 15 minutes or so with only 10 players. It may have been a bad call by the ref, or it may have been a selfish decision from Sebrango to mouth off after a yellow. Either way, it cost the team a chance at getting all three points.

-Martin Nash's set pieces: Whitecaps' midfielder Nash (the brother of new Whitecaps' co-owner Steve) had a decent game overall, and was effective at both making key tackles defensively and sending through balls to the Vancouver wingers and strikers. However, his set-piece efforts, usually one of the best parts of his game, were a bit off: many of his corners soared clear over the box, while his free kicks found only defenders. Towards the end, Valente took over the set-piece duties. Nash will surely regain his set-piece form down the road, but it wasn't there Sunday night.

-NAIA references:: The Whitecaps' game-day program, which overall is a fine piece of work (and free too, unlike most sports programs these days), has one rather ugly error. It lists Bellisomo's last school as Simon Fraser (NAIA). Yes, the Clan used to play NAIA soccer, and they still are in the NAIA in some sports, but they've been playing CIS soccer since 2002. As a CIS guy, I'd like to see the league get a bit of credit for the guys that have come through its ranks.

The Verdict: Overall, it was a pretty good match, and surprisingly offensive for a 0-0 draw. There was plenty of end-to-end action, and both sides were clearly going for goals: it was only some spectacular defence and goalkeeping that kept them in it. It was billed as a clash between two of the USL's best franchises, and the on-pitch action lived up to that, even if the scoreboard didn't show it.

On Tap: The Whitecaps travel to Tukwila, Washington Wednesday night to play old rivals in the Seattle Sounders. It will be the Whitecaps' first game at the Starfire Sports Complex, where the USL Sounders are now based (due to the MLS Sounders taking over Qwest Field next season). They won't have any rest, either: Friday night, they're back in Vancouver to host the Portland Timbers. I'll be at Friday night's match, which will also be shown live on Fox Soccer Channel, and I should have a game report up Saturday.

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