My interest tilted toward the home team when I tuned into the Vancouver Whitecaps v. LA Galaxy. Memories of the season-opening curb-stomp against Red Bull New York the angle: maybe the ‘Caps would do it again, especially if they carried some confidence over from the prior week’s narrow loss to LA at the Stub Hub.
Pedro Morales made one hell of an impression in that opener. Talk of how he’d eviscerate any team fool enough to leave him alone with the ball at his feet bubbled into commentary. Yep, all very promising.
The Pedro Morales I watched last night was not that guy. He did hit a couple cross-field beauties, balls that landed on a dime’s edge from 40+ yards away – things o’ beauty, in all honesty – but he squandered those hot little flashes with some alarmingly loose, shorter-range passing. You start to wonder if Morales can only hit the long ball.
A thought came to me as I took in this game. Watching Morales early on, before that underwhelming sensation sunk in, I got thinking about some other league newbies, Philadelphia’s Vincent Nogueira, in particular. Now, Noguiera impresses me, blows me away at times. Smart, tidy, inventive: he’s basically this really good player you’ve never heard of (well, not unless you’re an avid Ligue Une, man) that an MLS team not only found, but could afford. Look at that guy and you get to considering how many other players there are like him out there; I get all giddy at the idea.
Morales promises the same, but the question of if or when he delivers on it lingers. This is the tale of Vancouver’s night: difference-makers not making much of a difference. For every Kenny Miller or Darren Mattocks – both smart, active pains-in-the-ass on every outing (so far for the latter) – there are two players moving somewhat quickly, but to little meaningful effect – say, Russell Teibert (who I had to search to find) and Gershon Koffie (who’s more rugged than good). Vancouver was lucky to pull a draw out of this one, but they did. More on that below.
Now, this could have been down to LA’s night because, damn, they looked ominous (and, as if on cue, Vancouver anxious). The Galaxy played as if out to prove the now-famous Bradley(-ism) that possession is overrated. Even when a player ran out of gas – like, say, Stephen Ishizaki did around the 71st minute – the Galaxy had already got what they needed out of him. And they were able to change the shape of the attack by subbing in Rob Friend for him and Gyasi Zardes for Baggio Husidic. Personnel aside, LA was pretty fun to watch: they passed like they knew where the other players should be and they spaced themselves in a way that really opened the field for their attack. Looked dead-cert to win for a while…
But Vancouver’s actual difference-maker came to life: Kekuta Manneh (whose name I inexcusably left spelled incorrectly….somewhere down there) finally unhinged LA. He’s one hell of a fun player to watch, but he’s no mindless speed-freak, though he’s rightly famous for that too. He played subtle passes, smart passes, safe passes: basically, there’s a good soccer-playing brain up there and it does more than tell those legs to go like hell. One has to think he has one hell of a future ahead of him. And that gives a chance to throw another contrast out there…
It is possible Landon Donovan is showing his age? I counted at least two occasions where Jay DeMerit – who didn’t exactly shine last night – figured out a way to keep Donovan from escaping. Part of me wondered whether that’s not a function of familiarity from national team camps, but DeMerit played, at least on those occasions, as if he had the measure of Donovan. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, and something in my head keeps telling me that Landon’s coming back from some knock or other. Then again, he’s talking pretty openly about slowing down, too. The thing is, Donovan used to be a highly visible player – and reliably. The Keane and Donovan show isn’t that far in the past. So, there’s something to watch. I’m counting on its return…while quietly hoping to have seen the last of it.
Like I said at the top, I sat down to this one pretty keen to see what Vancouver has these days. Next time I tune in, it could be just to watch Manneh tear it up. Good future for that one.