Saturday, May 22, 2010

A tale of two streaks

Saturday’s Vancouver Whitecaps clash against the Rochester Rhinos saw the fall of one streak and the continuation of a more auspicious one. Before 4,996 fans at Swangard Stadium, the Whitecaps found a way to break their goalless streak while maintaining their defensive dominance, coming away with a 2-0 victory.

Vancouver threatened early, but that was something we’ve seen before. This last stretch of games has been characterized by the team creating scoring chances but not capitalizing on them. Tonight was different, though, as Cornelius Stewart ended their scoring drought in the 17th minute. He collected the ball in the box after Marcus Haber’s shot hit him, turned and drilled it past Rochester goalkeeper Neal Kitson into the corner of the net. The goal came in the 276th minute of USSF-II play since the Whitecaps’ last league tally (April 29 against Portland) and the 296th minute of USSF-II and Voyageurs’ Cup play since their last goal of any type (a Marcus Haber penalty May 5 against Montreal in the Voyageurs’ Cup).

Perhaps getting one goal took care of the Whitecaps’ confidence issues, as they were able to add a second in the 51st minute. Haber made an excellent run down the right flank and won a corner. Captain Martin Nash, making his return to the starting lineup from injury, executed the corner brilliantly, floating a perfect cross across the box onto the bandaged head of central defender Greg Janicki, who made no mistake heading it home. It was only the second time all year (other than in exhibition play) that the Whitecaps had scored two goals; the first was their 2-0 win in their season opener against Minnesota.

Even up two goals, the Whitecaps continued to create chances. Haber had a good run in the 62nd minute and beat his defender, but took too long to get his shot off and had it blocked. He then had a 64th-minute header ring off the crossbar. Stewart and Marlon James also had scoring chances, but couldn’t convert.

Nash said finally notching a goal took a weight off the Whitecaps' shoulders.

"It was great," he said. "I think it took a little pressure off us."

Nash said they didn't alter their game plan, though. Rather, it was more that some of their opportunities finally went in.

"We've been creating chances all along," he said. "We had good balls coming in against Toronto, but we couldn't get on the end of them."

The more impressive streak continued unabated, though, as the Whitecaps’ defence again refused to allow a goal. Keeper Jay Nolly recorded his seventh clean sheet in all competitions and his sixth in the league. It’s now been 274 minutes of USSF-II play since the last goal against them (from that April 29 Portland game) and 419 minutes since the last goal against them in any competition (from that May 5 Montreal game). That’s an incredible run.

Nash said the defensive success has been a unified effort.

"The back four's been great, but the whole team in front of them has played well," he said.

Vancouver dominated the scoresheet as well, finishing with 11 shots to Rochester's six and four corners to the Rhinos' two. Despite the win and the goals, head coach Teitur Thordarson was only moderately impressed with his team's performance, however.

"I think we played a decent game," he said. "It wasn't the best, but we got two good goals and we had the chance to score more."

Thordarson said the clean sheet was nice, but the overall defensive effort wasn't as strong as in past games.

"We didn't control the game defensively as much as I wanted to," he said. "I wanted to see more possession. Back and forth, that's good for the fans, but not what I wanted."

Thordarson said he was pleased with Stewart's play, though, and he foresees using him more in the future.

"He was impressive today," Thordarson said. "He is equally good on both sides."

Stewart said he isn't taking his success or his place in the lineup for granted, though.

"I'm going to keep working hard," he said.

The Whitecaps now travel to Montreal Wednesday for a crucial Voyageurs' Cup clash against the Impact (8 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific, will be live-blogged here). They need to win to have any hope of taking home the trophy and its attendant CONCACAF Champions League berth. Nash said the team can't get overconfident about Montreal having nothing to play for, as he expects them to still be a tough challenge.

"Even if they don't play their best lineup, they still have good players," he said.

Nash thinks the Whitecaps still have a chance at the Voyageurs' Cup, though.

"It's going to be a tough task, but I think we're capable of it."

[Cross-posted to The 24th Minute]

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