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deVos: Whitecaps bullish against New York

Jason deVos
3/10/2014 11:16:24 AM
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THE FORMATIONS: The New York Red Bulls showed up in Vancouver without some of their key players - Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave, to be specific. Head coach Mike Petke chose to line up his team in a 1-4-4-2 formation, with Peguy Luyindula partnering Tim Cahill up front.

The Red Bulls played a flat four across midfield, with Lloyd Sam on the right, Jonny Steele on the left, and Eric Alexander partnering Dax McCarty in the middle. This decision proved to be a fatal one for New York, as Vancouver dominated the game in midfield, especially in the second half.

At the back, two former Toronto FC players were in the fullback positions for the Red Bulls - Rickard Eckersley on the right and Bobby Convey on the left. Ibrahim Sekagya and Armando defended centrally, with Luis Robles in goal.

The Vancouver Whitecaps lined up in a 1-4-2-3-1 formation, in Carl Robinson's first game as a head coach.

Darren Mattocks led the line, with Sebastian Fernandez, Kenny Miller and Russell Teibert lining up from left to right in the attacking midfield three. The impressive Matias Laba partnered Nigel Reo-Coker as defensive midfielders.

At the back, Steven Beitashour and Jordan Harvey flanked Jay DeMerit and Andy O'Brien, with David Ousted in goal.

THE GAME: The Vancouver Whitecaps got the 2014 MLS season off to the perfect start, claiming a 4-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls at BC Place on Saturday.

The game started slowly for Vancouver, which can be put down to it being the first game of the new season under a new coach. Players are always a little tense when the season kicks off, and it can take some time to get into the flow of the game - especially when playing alongside new teammates.

Once Vancouver settled into the game, though, the midfield partnership of Matias Laba and Nigel Reo-Coker began to dictate the game. Laba showed all of the qualities that tempted Robinson to bring him to the club via a trade with Toronto FC; he broke up countless Red Bull attacks, was composed on the ball and precise in his distribution.

The defensive solidity of the two midfielders meant that it was a reasonably comfortable game for the back four. In fact, had it not been for a mistake from David Ousted, the Whitecaps would have kept a clean sheet.

The first goal came in the 34th minute, as Kenny Miller converted a penalty kick after Richard Eckersley was adjudged to have handled a Matias Laba strike inside the penalty area. The referee initially waved play on, but his assistant spotted the infraction and raised his flag immediately; replays showed that it was the correct call.

The second Whitecaps goal came five minutes into the second half. Some excellent link play from Darren Mattocks allowed Vancouver to catch New York on the counter attack. Mattocks received a clearance just inside Vancouver's half, set the ball back and spun left to get behind the Red Bulls' back four. When he received the return pass, he fed the ball to Sebastian Fernandez - who had made a fantastic run to join the counter attack.

Fernandez dropped his shoulder to wrong-foot Richard Eckersley, and once the Uruguayan had a half a yard of space, he unleashed an unstoppable strike into the top right corner. It gave the Whitecaps some breathing room, which they used to tear apart New York.

When Pedro Morales entered the game in the 64th minute, he delivered a mouth-watering performance over the final 25 minutes. It was a master class from the Chilean designated player, and it left Whitecaps fans craving more.

Morales set up Vancouver's third goal with some exquisite control and a perfectly weighted through-ball to spring Kenny Miller (who clinically dispatched his second goal of the game), and then scored the Whitecaps' fourth, firing home a centering pass from Reo-Coker.

When substitute Bradley Wright-Phillips flicked home a cross just in front of the fingertips of Ousted in the 90th minute, it took the shine off of an otherwise impressive Vancouver performance.

THE TURNING POINT: Sebastian Fernandez put in an outstanding performance on his debut for Vancouver, and it was his goal that swung the momentum in the Whitecaps' favour. The strike itself was first class, and the buildup play from Darren Mattocks was crucial.

Mattocks has a point to prove this season and his performance on Saturday was one of many bright spots for Vancouver. His link play throughout the game was excellent, and it allowed the Whitecaps to dominate the game in midfield because they retained possession when the ball went forward.

THE POSITIVES: Vancouver showed real attacking prowess, and their new players - Steven Beitashour, Sebastian Fernandez, Matias Laba, Pedro Morales and Nicolas Mezquida - have added genuine quality to Robinson's squad. Morales, in particular, looks like a great addition.

Tactically, Robinson's formation trumped Petke's, as Vancouver outnumbered New York in the middle of the park and used that to dictate the tempo of the game. Strong contributions from Kenny Miller and Darren Mattocks in attacking roles also helped the Whitecaps stay in control of the game.

THE NEGATIVES: New York was flat - literally and figuratively. The midfield duo of McCarty and Alexander never managed to assert themselves in the game, apart from the opening 15 minutes or so. Had New York played a diamond midfield, rather than a flat four, they would have had more depth to their game, both offensively and defensively. This would have allowed them to tighten up in the middle of the pitch, where Vancouver controlled the game, and also to ask more questions of the Whitecaps' defensively - it was a reasonably

David Ousted will be kicking himself for conceding a late goal. Mistakes happen, but Robinson will need to ensure that this was a one-off, and not an indication of a developing trend. A similar slip up in preseason by Ousted means that everyone will now be watching that much closer.

THE STAR MAN: There were plenty of excellent performances on Saturday; Darren Mattocks and Kenny Miller did very well, as did Matias Laba and the back four.

I gave the 'Man of the Match' award to Sebastian Fernandez on Saturday for his overall performance as much as for his fantastic goal. But it is hard to ignore the contributions of Pedro Morales.

He was only on the pitch for 25 minutes, but if that short period of time is any indication, Morales is going to be a star for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Jason deVos

Jason deVos

As one of Canada's most accomplished soccer players, Jason deVos spent nearly 20 years on the pitch playing competitive soccer at the highest professionallevels in Canada and around the world. After retiring from international play, deVos began his broadcasting career as a soccer analyst with the CBC and GOLTV. Most recently he provided commentary and analysis for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa for the CBC.

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