Know Your Enemy: Vancouver Whitecaps -- Part Two – Game Film Review and Points of Interest

Morales, Hurtado, and Manneh - oh my - Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The second half of the latest installment of the Know Your Enemy series, previewing TFC's upcoming opponent, the Vancouver Whitecaps, reviewing the game film for strengths and weaknesses

Part One was posted earlier, previewing Vancouver’s lineup and form

The Tactics

When analyzing Vancouver’s success this season, one must look no further than Pedro Morales – his six goals and seven assists this season have been integral, accounting for just under half of their overall production (24 goals).

What makes him such a threat, aside from his clinical touch at the penalty spot, is his ability to roam the field, finding empty space within which to orchestra moves, not to mention his ability to combine with his teammates in close quarters and the constant threat of a pinpoint long ball that makes use of their devastating pace.

More often than not he will drift to the right – Toronto will have to keep a close eye on his movements and if he is rested, that would be a minor victory before a ball is kicked.

Secondary to his omnipotence, is the team speed contained in the young legs that surround him. In Erik Hurtado, Kekuta Manneh, and Darren Mattocks, Vancouver has three of the fastest forwards in the league; pace is dangerous, especially for a league with its fair share of lumbering centre-backs.

As such, counterattacks, catching the opponent with numbers committed forward – as they did against Philadelphia (below), or direct play – such as this long ball for Hurtado in Columbus – is something of which TFC must be wary.


Hurtado's four-match goal-scoring streak (five all-competitions) has dried up, but he remains a constant threat. Injury to Steven Caldwell will likely see Doneil Henry and Nick Hagglund pair, increasing the collective pace, but losing a lot of experience - unless Ryan Nelsen opts to slot in Bradley Orr. Whoever is selected, they will need to stay focused, as Vancouver can strike in an instant.

With Morales looking to drop into holes, the wide attackers will seek to create such spaces by pushing forward before cutting in-field – here’s a great example from Mattocks that won a penalty kick – that threat around the outside or straight down the middle, backs off defenders, opening up ground for Morales atop the area, such as it did here against San Jose:


The following goal combines the aforementioned attributes with two further elements regularly seen in Whitecaps attacks – the high press and the end-line cut-back:


With so much energy in their top three, Vancouver will look to force turnovers, thus springing counters. Here Mattocks forces a poor touch out of Chivas before making a bee-line to the goal-line, making use of his pace around the outside to create space at the top of the box by backing off the Chivas defenders, which allows Manneh to finish and level the match. Note how Manneh slows to a walk in order to have that space in front of him and who is following him into the zone; yes, Morales.

As if all that was not enough to cause concern, Vancouver is also a threat from range – whether Morales, Hurtado, or Fernandez, who scored this beauty against New York on opening day:


Not a bad way to introduce yourself to a new club and league – it is worth mentioning how that goal also shows all those same threats, as well as the unselfish dimension that Mattocks has added to his game this season.

Exploitation

While going over the goals they have conceded, one facet emerges as the weakest link in their defense – marking in the box.

Particularly egregious was what proved to be the game-winner on the weekend – allowing Chivas’ Cubo Torres to get free at the back-post from a Marky Delgado cross:


Of all the players to keep a tight lid on, how can the defender – Steven Beitashour in this case, let him get open?

That is not to pick on Beitashour; regardless of back-line composition, they have been lax, both in marking and on showing an awareness of the danger-man.

Here in Los Angeles, Jay DeMerit and Andy O’Brien do a woeful job of covering the run of Robbie Keane – straight down the middle unwatched:


Need more evidence? How about Gaston Fernandez for Portland from a wonderful Diego Valeri cross? Or Chad Barrett for Seattle, abusing Nigel Reo-Coker, who doesn’t even get up to challenge?


It does not matter whether it is on crosses from wide or set-pieces – such as Ricardo Clark’s late consolation – even in open play, when the ball is not in the air, Vancouver has allowed dangerous players far too much space, though Dillon Powers earned his with that lovely spin away from Russell Teibert:


Vancouver will no doubt have discussed the form of Jermain Defoe heading into the match and Carl Robinson will no doubt have address the marking inadequacy with his side, whether they are up for the task will be seen come game time.

But what Toronto needs to focus on is finding some secondary scoring, as they did against Houston. Watch for Jonathan Osorio to make late runs into the box, as he did on his goal on Saturday – if he is hovering outside the box, he is not on hand to nod in Tally Hall’s mistake and with Defoe so central, there will be plenty of space for Osorio, Jackson, and Michael Bradley, should he be fit, within which to operate.

And if that does not work, can always try for one of these:


Which Vancouver will allow the space for on occasion – maybe a fit Gilberto has one of those in his locker.

Points of Interest

This is the only league meeting between the sides this season. They have met four times in MLS play, with each winning both matches at home. Accordingly, Vancouver won last season’s match 1-0 at home on a goal from Gershon Koffie.

When Voyageurs Cup matches are included, they have met a further twelve times, with Toronto winning four, Vancouver three, and the other five ending in draws, though Vancouver does have a win and a draw in Toronto.

Vancouver manger, Carl Robinson, is a much loved and respected former member of TFC from the dark, early days of the club, though his ‘retirement announcement’ was a bit odd and who can forget either of his two memorable celebrations, for TFC and against with New York.

Every Canadian soccer fan should be listening to the excellent AFTN podcast, aside from covering all levels of the Whitecaps organization, they have the best theme song ever heard on a pod – check it out.

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