Despite the unfilled stadium there was plenty to converse about pitchside in Frisco last night. Despite FCD’s dominance, sadly, this game will be eternally recalled in reference to a casual handball in the box.
But that isn’t the story of the match: it is far from it. FCD put out a lineup with question marks hanging from every edge. Mauro Diaz reappeared in a starting XI for the first time in months. Walker Zimmerman started for the first time in two weeks and only the twelfth time in 2014. Pareja, as it seems, could care less for the weighty nature of a playoff match and still did as he has all season: he threw his confidence behind a questionable lineup and put these boys right in the middle of the fire.
Vancouver’s formation and lineup didn’t stray far from their standard eleven for most of 2014. It is the same members who put the ‘Caps on a five game unbeaten streak and six and a half hours of shutout soccer prior to Wednesday night.
Funny it may be that a Canadian ended Vancouver’s shutout streak. Tesho Akindele’s goal in the 40th minute was a culmination of sloppy midfield play from Vancouver and great upfield defensive pressure by FC Dallas. For long stints of the first half Vancouver could barely put three passes together. Tesho’s goal signified FCD’s disruption in Vancouver’s half, and ultimately was a perfect way to close out the first half.
But the response from Vancouver remained limited. Mauro Rosales clanged the crossbar from a free kick outside Chris Seitz’s box after the half. A goal line scramble ensued in the 59th minute, only for JeVaughn Watson to clear the ball out for a corner. Kekuta Manneh’s emergence in the second half revived and reinvigorated the visitors. He nearly was on the finishing end of two crosses and had maybe Vancouver’s best shot from open play just before the 80th minute.
All of Vancouver’s pressure went unrewarded, unless you count the controversy that enflamed the rest of the match in the 82nd minute. Waston’s handball, soft but legitimate, put Michel at the penalty spot, where he converted yet again in 2014. The Whitecaps and Carl Robinson were incensed. The home crowd collectively sighed in relief.
For Pareja, it’s his first ever playoff victory. Maybe he would like a more stylish win in the future. He certainly needs more from the likes of Blas, who spent much of the game as the antagonist and not the goalscorer, and Fabian Castillo, who bolted numerous times into the opposition 18 only to fall short on a shot or service.
Defensively, it’s not expected of Hedges’ line to shut out many attacks. They haven’t all season long. But they do have to keep a game at a manageable margin, which they were able to do last night. The free-flowing football and pinpoint counterattacks didn’t feature much, either. They may be difficult to achieve against Seattle. Playoff soccer begets playoff intensity. Fouls are sure to ensue. Hopefully Dallas can keep its key pieces off the IR and on the pitch in one piece. Mark Geiger, much to his own fault, nearly left the stadium in several pieces after the final whistle. Long since forgotten by Vancouver under gallons of maple syrup, poutine, and Labatt Blue, moments like Fernandez’s charge at Geiger and Waston’s handball will forever taint Papi’s first ever playoff victory.
Nonetheless, FCD came out of a playoff alive for the first time in a long, four year wait. Victor Ulloa’s knock collected in the match may be the only blight in terms of personnel. Otherwise, Papi will have the full weight of Dallas’ attack to throw at the Sounders Sunday evening.
(image courtesy of Cooper Neill/Getty Images)