There are times when a team finds its best first eleven through careful planning and there are times when it finds it through happenstance and there was probably a little bit of each in how Carl Robinson arrived at the starting lineup that beat the Portland Timbers 2-1 at BC Place on Saturday afternoon.
He was certainly keen to continue with Pedro Morales in the deeper role but an injury to Octavio Rivero and a suspension for Kekuta Manneh meant that the players in front of Morales were all of a certain type; they all prefer the ball to be played to their feet.
And lo and behold the Whitecaps began the game playing by far their best football of the season so far with both Morales and Bolaños pulling the creative strings and the only real concern was (once again) the number of chances being spurned.
That concern elevated to Code Red when Nat Borchers gave the visitors an undeserved lead in the thirty fourth minute and there was suddenly the danger that the Whitecaps’ whole season could lurch even more off course than it already was.
We’ve all sat through this movie before of course; Vancouver start well, fail to take advantage of that good opening, concede a goal and then struggle to break down a resolute defence.
This time around though they emerged in the second half looking equally as dangerous as the first with Bolaños drifting inside more and so opening up space for Aird to run into and also give the Timbers’ defensive midfielder Diego Chara a little too much to handle.
Ironically both goals relied on the touch of luck the Whitecaps have been missing in front of goal with a deflection from a Portland defender setting up Kudo to fire home from a tight angle only seconds before he was due to be taken off and the Portland keeper Jake Gleeson allowing a floated Bolaños ball to find its way between his legs and into the net.
Good fortune for the Whitecaps but fortune that was well deserved.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of their whole performance though was that taking that lead didn’t entice them into the all too familiar “backs to the wall, we have what we hold” style of play and instead they simply carried on passing the ball, carried on moving and carried on creating chances.
It all leaves Carl Robinson with some interesting choices for the Wednesday evening visit of the Chicago Fire.
Masato Kudo probably didn’t do enough to make himself an automatic starter ahead of Rivero but whereas the Uruguayan prefers to play with his back to goal Kudo always wants the final ball to be played in front of him and that puts the opposition backline in a far less comfortable frame of mind while simultaneously removing the easy long pass to Rivero that has been the staple diet of the team for so long.
Likewise the absence of Manneh takes away the all too tempting (but low percentage) pass over the top of the opposition defence.
No doubt Robinson will say that it’s nice to have these kinds of tough choices but they really are tough choices because he’s had a glimpse of how well his team can play without two players (and two good players) who have been an integral part of the side for a long time now.
Whatever he chooses to do it was clear at the final whistle just how much this win meant to both the players and the coaching staff and the hope now is that a foundation has been laid that can be built upon with the only concern being that the Whitecaps’ two most complete performances of the season have both come in Cascadian derbies.
That’s great on one level but now they need to prove they can produce the same kind of quality and intensity on a warm Wednesday evening against Chicago.
Time for the Soccer Shorts player ratings.
Ousted-6, Aird-6, Harvey-6, Waston-6, Parker-6, Laba-7, Morales-7, Bolaños-7*, Techera-6, Mezquida-6, Kudo-6 (Pérez-6, Rivero-6)