SHAPES OF MLS – Whitecaps fail to take advantage of Chivas red card
Both teams came into the game on the back of opening day victories: Chivas USA got a late goal from Bobby Burling to defeat the Chicago Fire 3-2, while the Vancouver Whitecaps destroyed the New York Red Bulls 4-1.
Chivas named an unchanged lineup from the opening day, while Vancouver were forced to make one change, as Russell Teibert was unavailable due to a slight hamstring strain. Kenny Miller took up Teibert's place on the right, with designated player, Pedro Morales, occupying the attacking midfield role for the Whitecaps.
Given that the on-field temperature was over 30 degrees Celsius at kick-off, the tempo of the game was understandably slow at the start. Vancouver was content to move the ball around the back as it tried to find a way to get Morales involved in the game.
Chivas started the game brightly, but its game plan went out the window in the 13th minute when Augustin Pelletieri was harshly sent off for a challenge on Morales in midfield. The challenge from Pelletieri was a strong block tackle, but in no way did it merit a red card. The tackle could not be classed as violent conduct, nor was it made with excessive force.
The sending off forced Chivas to drop Thomas McNamara back into midfield, leaving Erick Torres to play up front on his own in a 4-4-1 formation.
The red card galvanized Chivas, though, as they defended stoutly for the remainder of the game. Credit has to go to their new head coach, Wilmer Cabrera, who has transformed Chivas from a dysfunctional group of also-rans into a well-oiled, well-organized unit.
In Mauro Rosales and Leandro Barrera, Chivas had two wingers who provided a genuine threat from wide areas. Both players terrorized Vancouver on the counter attack, as time and time again, Chivas repelled the Whitecaps' buildup play.
In Oswaldo Minda, Chivas had a midfield destroyer who sat in front of the back four and disrupted play. His defensive work alongside McNamara in the middle of the park made life difficult for Vancouver's central trio of Matias Laba, Nigel Reo-Coker and Morales. In fact, Morales was virtually anonymous until the second half, when a formation change allowed him to get more time on the ball.
In Burling and Carlos Bocanegra, Chivas had two experienced MLS defenders. Neither player is especially quick, but given Vancouver's inability to move the ball quickly, this didn't pose a problem for either defender on the day.
With the home side looking bright, Chivas took the lead just before the half-time break after Reo-Coker forced a pass in midfield that was intercepted by Rosales. The winger broke quickly and played the ball to Torres, whose strike from the edge of the penalty area hit the backside of Whitecaps' skipper Jay DeMerit, deflecting past the helpless David Ousted in goal.
Chivas fully deserved their lead, as the Whitecaps were second-best throughout the first half.
Slow, methodical, deliberate and predictable. All of these words can be used to describe Vancouver's play in the opening 45 minutes. It was a complete reversal from the slick, fluid passing performance that the Whitecaps displayed just one week earlier and head coach Carl Robinson had some choice words for his players in the locker room at half-time – buck up your ideas or changes were coming in 10 minutes.
THE TURNING POINT
Robinson gave his team 15 minutes in the second half before introducing Kekuta Manneh in the 60th minute. Manneh came on for Reo-Coker and brought with him a change in formation for the Whitecaps. Vancouver shifted to a 4-4-2 formation with Miller partnering Darren Mattocks up front, Morales dropping alongside Laba in central midfield, and Manneh and Sebastian Fernandez occupying roles on the flanks.
Manneh instantly changed the game for Vancouver. Every time he got the ball, he ran at the Chivas defenders, forcing them onto the back foot. This forced the Chivas midfield to help out defensively by applying back pressure on Manneh, creating space in midfield for Morales to dictate the tempo of the game.
The Chilean's passing range is superb and his through balls for the likes of Mattocks, Manneh and Erik Hurtado, who entered the game in the 75th minute for Fernandez, were a threat for Vancouver, although they failed to produce a goal for the Whitecaps.
Instead, the equalizer came from good work by Mattocks down the left.
The Jamaican recovered possession after pressurizing the Chivas backline, drove to the byline and cut the ball back to the top of the penalty area, where Manneh was able to calmly side-foot the ball past Kennedy. It was a cool finish from the youngster, and the move gave a glimpse of just how dangerous the Whitecaps can be when their young guns are flying.
The play of the three substitutes (Manneh, Hurtado and Christian Dean, who made his professional debut after replacing the slightly injured Andy O'Brien) made a real difference for Vancouver.
The team as a whole looked lethargic until after the substitutions were made and too many key players struggled to impact the game. But the youngsters came on and made a difference by upping the tempo, allowing Vancouver to rescue a point from a game in which they were often second-best.
Carl Robinson deserves a mention for not only his willingness to make early substitutions, giving those players enough time to alter the course of the game, but also for his decision to change to a 4-4-2 formation. Morales was ineffective in an advanced midfield role, as Chivas did an excellent job of compressing the space between lines, as well as across the pitch. Dropping Morales deeper (and putting Miller up front alongside Mattocks) allowed the Chilean to get on the ball and do what he does best – pull the strings.
Too often, coaches are married to a tactical formation and Robinson showed that he is savvy enough to make in-game changes to produce the desired result.
Too many below-par performances from too many key players – DeMerit, Reo-Coker and Miller, in particular – saw the Whitecaps struggle to dictate a game in which they had a man advantage for 77 minutes.
Playing Miller on the right in place of Teibert did not work. While one game is not enough to come to a conclusion on his ability to be effective in a wider role, there will be plenty of discussion and debate amongst the coaching staff before they choose a employ the Scot in a similar role.
It is often said that it is difficult to play against 10 men, but this is only true if you play the game at a pedestrian pace.
This is exactly what Vancouver did against Chivas, as the Whitecaps' ball movement was slow and predictable and their off-the-ball movement was non-existent. Chivas were able to set two solid lines of four with Torres operating as an outlet up front, which allowed them to break quickly on the flanks through Rosales and Barrera whenever they recovered possession.
THE STAR MAN
It is very difficult to pick out a star player for Vancouver, as so many players were below average.
However, Manneh showed glimpses of what he can offer as a dynamic attacking threat and he took his goal very well. If Teibert is still unavailable for this Saturday's game away to New England (watch on CTV BC at 11am pt), Manneh could very well have played his way into Robinson's starting eleven.
For Chivas, Leandro Barrera looks like a perfect complement to Mauro Rosales. With Torres and McNamara making a nuisance of themselves up front, don't expect the 2014 version of Chivas USA to be a pushover.