The phrase “Road Trip” doesn’t really do justice to the adventure the Vancouver Whitecaps are about to embark upon. “Odyssey” perhaps? “A journey into the dark heart of America”? “Dude, where’s my plane?”
But, whatever nomenclature we eventually settle on, the rollicking escapade did at least get off to a good start.
Actually, it got off to a slow and turgid start, with the Whitecaps spending the first half of the game against Real Salt Lake flailing around for the ball like puppies trying to chase down a scurry of squirrels.
But the second half was better.
Fredy Montero began to get on the ball more and the forward forays did at least seem to have some purpose.
And, once David Milinkovic scored and Salt Lake had Kyle Beckermann sent off, every Whitecaps fan settled down to watch their team sit as deep as possible and allow the ten man opposition to come on to them.
So, as against Montreal in the week, it came to be that this tactic led to the concession of a goal but, as against Montreal in the week, the Whitecaps responded by scoring another goal of their own.
And, this time around, it was substitute Lucas Cavallini latching on to a Fredy Montero cross.
It was brave of Marc Dos Santos to leave Cavallini on the bench. Surprisingly brave. But he will surely have to start the Canadian for the game in LA on Wednesday.
That probably means dropping Montero to the number ten role and moving Milinkovic wide in place of Adnan.
That’s a shame because Milinkovic has been better in the central role than on the wing, but needs must I suppose.
Elsewhere Cristian Dajome showed that he can be both a frustrating and effective MLS player. His first touch at times was awful, but his work rate and pace helped create the first goal and he seems to be developing a basic understanding with both Montero and Milinkovic.
And speaking of pace.
Is this the slowest Vancouver team since they joined MLS? The restless spirits of Kekutah Manneh and Darren Mattocks have hung around the club for years, imbuing each iteration of the squad with at least two or three players who can “turn on the afterburners” before running the ball out of play for a goal kick.
That absence is no bad thing. Speed can be a hell of drug for players searching for the easy pass, but it does mean being more careful in possession. Picking out the man, not the space twenty yards ahead of him.
But that will require an evolution in the way they play. An evolution that can be helped by both Montero and Baldisimo. Two players at either end of their careers who appreciate that the ball is their friend and who want it be the friend of their friends too.
Whether that can happen this season is unlikely. But the process can at least start, and it has to start because the Whitecaps can’t survive if they treat every one of their upcoming matches as the road games they actually are.
Somehow Dos Santos has to instill the mind set into his players that where they are playing is irrelevant for the rest of this season. Every game can’t be a backs to the wall, smash and grab raid. Not successfully anyway.
Wherever they lay their cleats, that’s their home for the rest of the year.
Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings!
Hasal-5, Nerwinski-5.5, Gutierrez, 5.5, Veselinovic-4.5, Cornelius-5.5, Teibert-5.5, Bikel-5.5, Milinkovic-5.5, Adnan-4.5, Dajome-5.5, Montero-6* (Baldisimo-5.5, Cavallini-5)