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11 August 8:30 pm

As summer sunshine basked BC Place on Saturday afternoon, Whitecaps FC may have achieved more than a crucial home win over a top MLS club.

Earning three points over an accomplished side like Real Salt Lake is always something to celebrate, but supporters may have had some questions answered following the weekend’s events.

Last month saw a transformation to the look of Martin Rennie’s squad, and while new faces were added, the Scottish coach’s roster movement also addressed the need for depth in key areas.

Facing an intriguing run-in, Vancouver’s new additions will have a role to play in the remaining 10 matches of the regular season campaign.

What was a bit of a surprise was seeing Whitecaps FC’s depth tested as early as the weekend battle with Salt Lake. Yet, soccer does have a way of creating unforeseen situations.

As part of the 18-man roster, Andy O’Brien might have expected to see Saturday’s events unfold from the ‘Caps substitutes’ bench. By the half-hour mark, he was in the thick of a key MLS contest.

While the situation would have been new to him, O’Brien’s experience as a top-level centre back erased any initial concerns when captain Jay DeMerit was forced out of the game after feeling the effects of a collision with teammate Brad Knighton.

The former Republic of Ireland international faced a baptism of fire that was Salt Lake’s potent attack, and yet, his efforts contributed to nullifying the Utah club’s forward ventures for much of the contest.

RSL offered little threat, which in itself was a surprise to see when you consider their attacking pedigree. Whitecaps FC, meanwhile, won the match with two goals in six second-half minutes.

The game’s other storylines included a resurgent Camilo Sanvezzo, whose goal and an assist restored memories of the Brazilian’s influence in previous matches for the Blue and White. At his best, Camilo is very difficult player to contain for any MLS club.

As for Dane Richards, his efforts in Vancouver’s last two games at BC Place are quickly making him a fan favourite. It would be nice to think he will be nominated for ‘MLS Goal of the Week’ after his sublime winner.

Richards and teammate Darren Mattocks will not be seen Wednesday night against FC Dallas, as international duty calls with Jamaica. They are just two of several players that will not seen against FC Dallas at BC Place because national team call-ups, injuries, and suspensions.

That will put the depth of Rennie’s squad to a stiffer test, with concerns over the fitness of DeMerit and the absence of Gershon Koffie through suspension for caution accumulation likely to command the media’s talking points early next week.

And what would a discussion on team depth be without mentioning Knighton, who was unfortunate not to earn a clean sheet in the RSL win. When called upon this season, Knighton has been very dependable in place of Joe Cannon.

That might make for a goalkeeping selection decision for Wednesday’s game, but Rennie will relish the idea of making such a choice, as with his entire squad.

Having the knowledge that any player can perform when called upon usually results in a passing grade with a test of depth. Saturday’s test went well, but Wednesday’s test will be more challenging.

Till we convene again on Wednesday!

06 August 5:15 am

When the Canadian women's national team arrived at the stadium in Coventry on Friday and jumped off the bus for their quarterfinal against the host nation, a Great Britain fan commented aloud that they seemed a bit subdued.

Quiet confidence. Turns out that's all it was.

Maintaining that confidence will be key tonight as they head into their semi-final match against the United States at Manchester's legendary Old Trafford.

Now, after Canada fell 2-1 to Japan in their opening match I blogged that they needed to "mind the gap" between themselves and some of the more accomplished teams.

There is a flipside to that though, and that involves giving too much respect to your opponents.

I don't mean sportmanship, you should always respect your opponents in that regard.

And you should definitely respect their ability. Be mindful of their strengths and strategize to find tactics that will minimize them.

But you should never, ever, fear your opponent.

Look at any champion in any competition and you'll find a genuine belief that in any matchup - no matter talent or ability - they'll out perform their opponent and will ultimately get the better of them.

If you fear your opponent then you've already set yourself up for defeat. Inferiority becomes an excuse and losing becomes acceptable.

But Canada are not inferior, not to the Americans and not to anyone.

They've shown that so far during these Olympics. It hasn't mattered if they've gone down a goal (or two), if the calls haven't gone their way, or if the crowd was against them; through it all they've remained confident in their play. And because of that, they've been the superior team for the vast majority of their matches this tournament.

This is something that their counterparts have always done well. The Americans focus only on their own performance, and they certainly fear no one. It's a fierce competitiveness and a winning mentality.

But the best competitors in the world learn from their opponents, and I believe that Canada have finally done that. This is the most confident I've ever seen them play.

So tonight, it shouldn't matter who their opponent is.

It's simply another obstacle in the way of a gold medal.

The sacred temple

During my past week in England I've visited some of the most cherished cathedrals in the world. As a football fan though, one piece of architecture struck me more than any.

That, my friends, would be Wembley Stadium.

For those of you who've been there you'll certainly understand.

It's the most divine of venues. A 90,000-seat masterpiece that seemingly stretches into the clouds (you literally have to take five lengthy escalators to get to the top level).

Circling around the upper concourse provides a view to the outside stretching across thousands of kilokmetres, while the inside is even more spectacular.

The sight from anywhere is stunning, and the acoustics of the stadium carry like no other, making even a South Korea versus Gabon Olympic Group Stage match feel like a World Cup final.

This is where the Olympic final for the women's tourney is being held. So as usual, there's only one thing left to be said.

Go Canada Go!

Blog 1: The journey begins again

Blog 2: Mind the gap

Blog 3: A Geordie dream come true

04 August 9:05 am

Vancouver Whitecaps FC currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference and are in a good position to challenge for a playoff spot this season. The team has seen a number of roster changes in the last month as head coach Martin Rennie looks to shape up his team into a strong playoff contender this year, and for many years to come. When being interviewed before the season started coach Rennie said he wanted to bring in character players that the fans could relate too, while continuing to add quality to the squad. So far he’s accomplished this job!

In the first 23 games of the season, our Vancouver Whitecaps FC have tied seven of them and they have won seven games by one goal. Another of Rennie’s goals was to build a team that was hard to beat, and to make BC Place a home that Major League Soccer teams would not look forward to visiting. Early on in the season as our ‘Caps were wining these close games or fighting to get draws, the fans were happy with the results and the effort the team was putting out on the field. Even in a couple of games that they did not play well in, like good teams do, they found a way to win or tie and get a positive result.

Martin Rennie would like his team to win every game playing an attractive style of soccer, but that is not realistic. But what is attainable is to try and put in a performance every single match, to try and outwork the other team and give the fans a team they can be proud of.

The most exciting thing about this team is its going from strength to strength. After five games on the road our ‘Caps faced two of the form teams in MLS – LA Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes at home, followed by back to back games against Real Salt Lake. I for one was concerned with how we would perform in this tough part of the schedule, and how many points we could acquire. There was no need for me to worry as Vancouver played some of their best soccer of the season in tying LA 2-2 and beating San Jose 2-1, and although they lost to Real Salt Lake 2-1, the team created enough chances to win the game by a couple of goals.

The new Whitecaps FC signings came into an already good team and made their impact on the fans at BC Place. Dane Richards scored his first goal and excited the crowd with his exciting wing play. Barry Robson scored a couple of goals and thrilled the crowds with his none stop action. Even Kenny Miller got in on the act by making a substitute appearance and nearly scoring with his first touch of the match.

Now Vancouver Whitecaps FC have added another key player in Andy Obrien, a central defender with lots of experience.  He’s a player who has been a leader on most teams he has played for. There has been a buzz regarding this team for most of the season, as they established themselves to be one of the teams to watch in Major League soccer this year.  Now with the additions that have been made it’s scary to think how good this team can be as the MLS season moves into its final third of the season.

One thing is for sure, this team has shown its going to be hard to beat them at home or on the road. And the fans in Vancouver have a team they can be truly proud of. 

30 July 2:39 am

Playing at legendary St. James Park in Newcastle on Tuesday will be quite the occasion for the players on Canada’s women’s national team, but it will be a particularly special moment for head coach John Herdman – a native of Newcastle.

Herdman grew up going to St. James Park and cheering on Newcastle United. Now he gets to coach on that very same pitch, on the world’s stage no less.

In my encounters with coach Herdman I’ve found him to be very friendly and easy to talk to.

While in London recently I met another couple from Newcastle. They too were equally friendly and a delight to talk to.

This is supposedly the norm with the “Geordies”, as the people of Newcastle are known. They’re very welcoming and love to have a good chat. Apparently they especially like to chat up anyone with an outside accent, so much so that my good colleague Simon “Hot” Fudge told me that I’ll never return from the shores of Newcastle. We’ll see Fudgy.

Kind people like that are easy to cheer for, so it’s no trouble to root for coach Herdman, and I’m sure his fellow Geordies will be behind him.

Here’s to hoping that the homecoming ends in style.

The situation, Geordie Shore style

Here’s the scenario for the Red and White.

Going into their final match of the group stage against Sweden, Canada are in good shape to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2012 Olympic Summer Games – which would then leave them one win away from a medal game.

A win or draw on Tuesday would guarantee they advance, but even a loss could see them through as one of the two best third-place teams. They’re currently the best of the three third-place teams and hold a +5 goal differential on North Korea, who play the much-favoured United States.

It’s unlikely now that they’ll finish first in the group, as Japan lead them by a point and play South Africa, but truth be told they’d be better off not finishing first. That would mean a likely quarterfinal match with France, who’ve rapidly become a power in the women’s game.

Second place would mean a likely quarterfinal versus Great Britain. While it’s always a tough match against the home nation, it would certainly be winnable.

Third in the group probably means a date with either the United States or Brazil, which would not be ideal.

So essentially, the best bet for Canada is to beat Sweden and clinch second.

Make sure to cheer them on bright and early Tuesday, 6:30 a.m. PT.

Go Canada Go!

27 July 11:50 pm

Late July in the Beehive State, and the first of two visits to one of Major League Soccer’s toughest stadiums.

Such encounters usually provide a good measuring stick for MLS clubs. Friday night offered that type of test for Whitecaps FC, with the first of three regular season meetings versus Real Salt Lake.

Last season’s defeat in Sandy, Utah, was a distant memory. What was in front of Martin Rennie’s squad was a chance to close the gap on second-place RSL and solidify their hold on third place in the west.

A second win over league leaders San Jose Earthquakes provided a source of belief that earning a superior head-to-head record against Jason Kreis’ talented side was possible.

Now earning that head-to-head record will be settled in the future. As for Friday’s encounter, Whitecaps FC were given the feeling that their time to shine in MLS is still to come…

As a defeat, the Blue and White offered plenty in Friday’s match, and that may prove as a strong reminder to RSL, the Western Conference, and MLS that Vancouver are emerging in this league.

A draw or a Whitecaps FC victory was a possible outcome in Utah, but Salt Lake got a favourable penalty decision before scoring the match winner from arguably their best chance of the match.

It wasn’t a vintage RSL performance, but in some ways, it didn’t need to be. The desired result was achieved. With 42 points from 23 games played, it’s hard not to see Salt Lake outside the west’s top two places for the remainder of the regular season.

Nonetheless, Vancouver will relish their RSL re-match in two weeks. They certainly put enough of a scare into their hosts with the type of chances they created. How much joy would it have been to see a Jun Marques Davidson goal? Only the width of a post denied ‘Caps fans that possibility.

It would have also been interesting to see how Friday’s match would have unfolded had a second Whitecaps FC goal arrived soon after Mattocks’ well-taken equalizer? In the end, what we can take from Utah was how well we created our chances.

It was as if the move that created Mattocks’ goal inspired the great quality of Vancouver’s chances. Usually a solid defensive unit, Salt Lake were put on the back foot in the second half, and that offers a very good sign for the future.

There have been times when creating chances has been a challenge for Whitecaps FC in 2012, but that wasn’t the case on Friday. Coming from a variety of sources, RSL were put under the type of pressure that will have them dreading next month’s trip to BC Place.

And for the third straight game, Whitecaps FC offered something else - entertainment. Not only did Rennie’s side show again that they can compete against the league’s best, they can do so in entertaining style.

The job ahead will be to polish that ability to compete and entertain. Training sessions will help considerably, and with the schedule not as hectic over the next three months, a welcome reality.

Defeats always leave an empty feeling, but Whitecaps FC supporters know their squad have shown the resolve to bounce back and compete in 2012.

We also know RSL is an MLS powerhouse, but the impression the ‘Caps may have left on them might be more significant. With continued growth and progress, Vancouver may yet earn more of the MLS talk in the autumn months.

Time for a summer break! And then back at it in August. That looks like a tasty month…

26 July 2:22 pm

Dane Richards is becoming a crowd favorite with his play on the wing, and I have been thrilled by a number observations liking Dane to a young Carl Valentine. As a result, I spent some time with Dane to see how much we are alike, both on and off the pitch.

Dane is Jamaican and I have Jamaican blood (my dad is from Jamaica, so this is not just a good tan…), we both have lots of sisters - Dane has five to my four. We both have had some scary hairstyles and we both agree that our afros are not to be seen again.

On the pitch, we both played on the right wing, had speed to burn, and both of our left legs were for standing on. Both of us are not very tall, but learnt to bounce off defenders get to the byline, cross the ball, and energize the crowd with exciting wing play.

The only thing that separates us is our taste in food. Dane is a chef who likes good Jamaican food and I was brought up on your traditional English fish and chips.

In my playing days, my nickname was ‘Chalkie’, as managers told me to hug the sideline (chalk-filled lines). Now the ‘Great Dane’ (yeah, I made that up!) gets to do that job on the right wing for the ‘Caps and I will be feeling a little ‘Déjà Vue’ every time he speeds down the line.

25 July 4:42 pm

When you travel through the London Underground you'll hear an automated message at every station warning you to be cautious before you step off. “Mind the gap” says the kind voice, as it urges you to be aware of the distance between the train and the platform.

After a while the frequency of the announcement becomes somewhat comical. We get it, “mind the gap”. Thanks.

But the phrase has taken on meaning in the UK outside of just public transportation, and for many it’s no joke when they say “mind the gap”.

Take this year’s English Premier League race for instance. While it came down to the final seconds of the season for the title to be decided, Manchester City have no hesitation in reminding their rivals Manchester United to “mind the gap” between the two teams, as the Blues claimed their first league title in 44 years.

So on Wednesday, the Canadian women’s national team had to “mind the gap” when they played current FIFA Women’s World Cup champions Japan.

The Asian nation were unheralded before last year’s triumph, but they’ve proven to be worthy of their status. Canada, on the other hand, had an underwhelming campaign during the World Cup.

Now fast-forward back to Wednesday.

The first 20 minutes of the match did indeed show a gap between the two sides, as one team quite clearly looked superior to the other. That team, however, was the team in white with red trim.

As I sat only three rows from the field, I could see a Canadian side that was confident on the ball, dominating possession and not giving their opponents an inch when they did give the ball away.

The problem though was one we’ve seen all too many times before with Canadian national teams, an inability to find a creative way to generate scoring chances in the final third of the field.

The Japanese, meanwhile, were resolute in their play. Despite being outplayed, they remained patient and continued to play their game until they settled in and found opportunities. Once they did they punished the Canucks with two first-half goals.

Those goals knocked the Canadians off their game, and despite a second half goal which pleased the many red-clad fans in attendance, the Red and White couldn’t recover to get a result.

In the end, the match proved that Canada do indeed need to “mind the gap” as they work their way through this tournament. But after showing flashes of promise, they should also keep this in mind:

It’s still only a short step to the platform.

23 July 1:20 am

January’s CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament turned out to be one of the best soccer events we’ve ever had in this city. It was especially pleasing for myself and my family to watch my sister Brittany play in such an electric atmosphere in her hometown, something I know she’d dreamt of for years.

Pardon what may seem like exaggeration, but I probably have the best sister in the world. She is the most loving and caring person I know and always thinks of her family above herself. As her baby brother, she’s very protective.  On the positive I’ve always been pampered by her, particularly with gifts from her travels. On the other side, most guys will worry about whether or not they can bring a girl home to their mother, for me it’s my sister.

To see someone succeed who shows you such love brings extreme gratification. So the pride and joy I felt at BC Place that night in seeing the team qualify for the Olympic Games inspired me to make a quick decision.

I’m going to London baby!

It wasn’t only the swell of emotion that made the decision easy, but also the fact that myself nor anyone else in my family had ever been able to travel far to see Britt play in a major international tournament.

Growing up, if I wasn’t playing myself I’d be at all of Britt’s tournaments. From anywhere in the Lower Mainland, to the island, across the border, or as far as Winnipeg for nationals, we were always there. But as she continued to rise up and eventually play with the national team, it made it harder to tag along. With cost and time off required from school and work, we just weren’t able to attend and show our support in person.

That’s not to say that we didn’t go to some massive tournaments. I’ll never forget the 2002 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship held right here in BC and in Edmonton. That was the first milestone for what has been a golden generation of women’s national team players for Canada, and seeing 47,784 people pack Commonwealth stadium was nothing short of amazing.

I’ll never forget the medal ceremonies after that game. All the Canadian players were bitterly disappointed to have fallen to the United States in extra time. Yet still, amidst the heartbreak, my sister spotted myself and my parents in the crowd and blew us a kiss. That pretty well sums up how awesome she is.

There was also the 2003 Women’s World Cup which was held in the United States after original host nation China was deemed too dangerous due to SARS. My family certainly wasn’t complaining about the venue change. With knockout matches in Portland, we were able to go watch the quarterfinal win over China and semifinal match against Sweden.

That was a magical run for such a young team.

Now, my mom and I are back watching them in person, almost as if it’s all come full circle.

This time though, just maybe, that kiss will be blown with a gold medal around her neck.

22 July 9:34 pm

It was ‘Soccer Sunday’ on Bell Pitch, and what a way to wrap up a busy week for Whitecaps FC at BC Place.

Martin Rennie’s side have two more Sunday games at home this season. The win over San Jose was not only their second-straight 2-1 result over the Earthquakes, it was Vancouver’s second league victory on a Sunday afternoon in 2012.

Like any win, this hard-fought triumph over Frank Yallop’s MLS high-flyers was vital in terms of the three points taken, and the morale boost it provides the Blue and White.

To take six points off the favourites for the 2012 Supporters’ Shield (top club in the MLS regular season) is a huge building block to achieve. It was also the perfect tonic for a club that has been through an eventful recent spell.

Among those events have been several notable roster moves that have left supporters looking at their match day programs to familiarize themselves with the new faces. Of course, that familiarization is made easier if the new faces can make an immediate impact. This week, Dane Richards and Barry Robson did just that.

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for Richards following his move west from New York Red Bulls. The Jamaican international has already made three appearances for the ‘Caps, but his efforts on Sunday will be remembered fondly.

Richards’ ability to out-pace defenders on the right flank is a real asset for Vancouver. The Caribbean midfielder not only found the scoresheet, he also tormented an MLS All-Star in Earthquakes left fullback Justin Morrow.

With Camilo Sanvezzo and Darren Mattocks also causing San Jose headaches, the speed and skill of the ‘Caps attack is sure to cause concern for Vancouver’s future opponents.

As for Robson, the midfielder’s integration with Whitecaps FC is improving by each match. The passionate Scot battled throughout Sunday’s clash - fully aware of the importance of the occasion.

His passing and distribution drew regular applause from supporters, while his efforts to win possession in midfield were very important during the spells that produced Whitecaps FC’s two goals on Sunday.

He also showed his striking power when he converted Vancouver’s lone penalty of the season so far. By the late stages, Robson’s name was chanted in praise throughout BC Place.

If Richards and Robson generated a large amount of excitement, the reaction new signing Kenny Miller received when he substituted late on for his MLS debut was also a highlight of the day.

Apart from almost making a sensational start with a chance at goal, the Scottish international striker did what he could to help his new club to victory in the final few minutes. His Whitecaps FC moments will surely come soon enough…

The Sunday dinner or BBQ will be a bit more satisfying for ‘Caps fans this July 22, 2012. With a dozen more matches left in the regular season, supporters will be hoping for a feast of satisfying results to consume on between now and late October.

Until Friday night!

19 July 1:54 pm

It was a disappointing result settling for a draw against LA Galaxy, but the sell-out crowd and the performances by both teams made it another memorable night at BC Place.

There are lots of reasons to be excited for the remainder of the season, as the ‘Caps last 13 MLS games are all against Western Conference foes.  There were complaints about the league’s conference-based schedule early on, but I have to say that this format makes each and every game very very important, as a win or loss is a six-point swing in the standings. So buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride the rest of the way.

When you look at some of the teams in the west – LA Galaxy, San Jose, Real Salt Lake, Seattle, Portland – you find players like David Beckham, Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Chris Wondolowski, Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio, Fredy Montero and Kris Boyd. With top talent, the quality of each remaining match promises to be exceptional, just as it was last night against the Galaxy.

On top of that, we find a key to any sports culture – tradition.

Big teams with big players bring back happy memories of playing in the North American Soccer League (NASL). Aside from Real Salt Lake, each of those markets were a part of the old NASL, with all but the Galaxy retaining their traditional name and legacy.

Today’s LA team have Beckham as their main attraction, but the old LA Aztecs had a certain Dutch player by the name of Johan Cruyff, one of the best soccer players the world had ever seen. Cruyff won the European Footballer of the year three times (1971, ‘73 and ‘74). He scored 33 times for Holland in 48 matches and the Dutch never lost a game that he scored in.

San Jose Earthquakes also had world-class talent, with a player by the name of George Best who I grew up watching at Manchester United. Best, from Northern Ireland, was also considered one of the best soccer players in the world. He helped Manchester United become the first English team to become European champions. While at San Jose, he scored one of the best goals in NASL history when he beat six players inside the box before smashing the ball into the net.

Of course, the Seattle and Portland rivalry with Vancouver already had the fans in a fever every time they played. Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that both teams had quality international players on their roster. Portland had defender Willie Donachie (Scotland) and striker Clyde Best (Bermuda) while the Sounders could trot out midfielder Bruce Rioch (Scotland captain) and midfielder Alan Hudson (England).

As we saw last night with the Galaxy stars against our own players such as Barry Robson, Gershon Koffie, Young-Pyo Lee, Jay DeMerit and Darren Mattocks – not to mention the addition of Kenny Miller – there is once again some very talented players plying their trade in North America.

We’ve had a number of memorable matches already this season, and playing conference rivals with top talent on both teams will only make the rest of the schedule more meaningful and more exciting. We're set to witness mouthwatering games nearly every week, with playoff spots and trophies still very much up for grabs.

Let the rest of the western games begin.