Shea Salinas grabbed the headlines by scoring a late winner for Vancouver Whitecaps against Houston Dynamo in our MLS on TSN broadcast on Saturday, but another of the ‘Caps young midfielders, Gershon Koffie, also deserves much credit after producing one of his best performances of the season.
While attacking players such as Eric Hassli, Davide Chiumiento and Camilo have been getting most of the attention this year for the expansion club, Koffie has been working hard, improving his game, and making a valuable contribution for the team. The Ghanaian midfielder was one of the first players signed to an international roster spot by the Whitecaps back in February having earned a contract thanks to his performances for the club at second division level in 2010. Despite only having turned 20 last Thursday, he has made the step up to Major League Soccer without too many problems and is proving to be a shrewd long term addition for the club.
On Saturday, Koffie put on a typically tenacious and athletic display. The ball-winning midfielder was able to break up the play and hold his own against the much more experienced Houston duo of Adam Moffat and Geoff Cameron. What was even more impressive was the context in which Koffie produced such a strong performance against the Dynamo. A week earlier, he had one of his poorest displays of the season in the 2-1 defeat at local rivals Portland Timbers. It was a bad time to have an off day, but the resilience shown by Koffie in training leading up to the Houston match and his performance on the pitch on Saturday showed character well beyond his years.
Whitecaps Director of Soccer and current Head Coach Tommy Soehn complimented Koffie post-game and talked about how Koffie has been garnering lots of praise from other coaches around the league who have been impressed with his performances. He said the feeling is the Whitecaps have found themselves “a real gem.”
Due to injuries, suspensions and coaching decisions, Koffie has had a number of different midfield partners during this year. On Saturday, he had MLS veteran Peter Vagenas to guide him through, and an experienced sidekick is key for the ongoing development of the youngster. Despite the adversity of playing for a struggling first year team in a new league, Koffie continues to make big strides in the development of his game, and will likely have a key role to play in the plans of incoming Whitecaps Head Coach Martin Rennie next year.
Another big positive for the Whitecaps on Saturday was their improvement in defence. For a team that had conceded multiple goals in six straight matches, keeping a clean sheet will do wonders for confidence. It was only the fourth time this season that the Whitecaps have shut out their opponents and the first time since mid-June.
As expected, Tommy Soehn was able to pair Captain Jay DeMerit alongside a fit again Alain Rochat in the centre of defence for the Dynamo game. Rochat has previously played in the middle of the backline, but never alongside DeMerit. It is a pairing that Soehn had been waiting to see together, and he will have been pleased with the results. Without question, the return of Quebec born Rochat had an extremely positive impact for the ‘Caps. The 28-year-old has played at the highest level in Europe and alongside DeMerit looked comfortable and composed on the ball in a Whitecaps defence that has been in the habit of gifting goals to the opposition through a lack of organization and individual mistakes.
Injuries have plagued Vancouver's backline throughout their inaugural season in Major League Soccer, but with DeMerit and Rochat in the middle, Jonathan Leathers at right back and Jordan Harvey on the left, the ‘Caps defence was at its strongest, and the result was a much more confident looking display.
There were still moments when the Whitecaps afforded their opponents far too much room around the penalty area and on another day, veteran All-Star Brian Ching would have buried at least one of his headed opportunities. They also have 36-year-old goalkeeper Joe Cannon to thank for the clean sheet. The former MLS Goalkeeper of the Year made a string of big saves to keep Houston out.
In the end, the Whitecaps could have won the game by a more comfortable margin with Hassli and Brovsky both having chances following the 86th minute goal from Salinas. But with Vancouver securing just their fourth win of the season, it was a step in the right direction with many positives for the home fans to take away from Empire Field.
The Whitecaps and their Canadian rivals Toronto FC both have a break from action now as international matches take centre stage next weekend, including the start of Canada's World Cup Qualifying campaign with a home game against St. Lucia on Friday night at BMO Field. The ‘Caps and TFC resume league play on September 10th.