One goal in four games not enough if defending champs want to stay on top
By Bruce Constantineau
Blown scoring chances are costing the Vancouver Whitecaps crucial points and threatening to destroy head coach Teitur Thordarson's normally cool Icelandic reserve.
"I'm [expletive] disappointed," the frustrated Caps skipper said after a 0-0 draw with the Carolina RailHawks at Swangard Stadium. "I think we are playing so well and really deserved to win the game. But that's not the first time this year."
The Whitecaps are desperately trying to hang on to the last USL-1 playoff spot but have scored just one goal in the past four games -- a stretch that has seen them post two draws and two losses.
It's not for a lack of chances.
Saturday's goalless effort against Carolina saw them outshoot the opposition 22-6, including a 12-0 margin in the second half when they literally did everything but score.
A combination of players missing seemingly easy chances, RailHawks keeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell standing on his head and unlucky bounces like Charles Gbeke's 63rd-minute header off the Carolina crossbar left the Caps shaking their heads after the game.
"We had so many chances that it's just incredible that we can't get them over the line," Thordarson said.
To be fair, the Whitecaps appeared to have been robbed in the first half when referee Dave Gantar disallowed a Marlon James goal because he fouled the keeper. The ball seemed to be well over the goal line before any infraction occurred.
Thordarson was clearly upset with the call but stressed his players have to start burying their chances if they want to defend their USL-1 title.
"We totally rolled over one of the best teams in the league," he said. "We created chances from the six- and seven-yard range, had an open goal. I don't know how many chances we had but we have to put one of those away."
A series of injuries and player departures this year has forced the Whitecaps to almost constantly insert new players into the starting lineup.
Tanzanian international midfielder Nizar Khalfan and former Wales U-21 international defender Shaun Pejic debuted for the Caps on Saturday and both had impressive outings.
Khalfan, 21, displayed strong tactical skills, setting up James for his near-goal and just missing himself on a long strike in the first half.
Pejic, 26, played a solid 90 minutes on the back line, making a strong individual effort to stop a dangerous Carolina scoring chance late in the first half.
"I was extremely happy with both of them," Thordarson said. "Shaun shows that he is a very steady centre back. He wins everything in the air and is tactically very good.
"Khalfan is a great talent and his first game showed just some of it. I think we have much more to come from him."
Pejic, who played with York City FC of the English Conference league last season, said USL-1 soccer appears to be on a par or slightly better than what he's used to in Conference play in England.
"I thought my fitness level might be a problem but I felt really good," he said. "Playing the full 90 minutes was a good achievement and I was pleased with the clean sheet."
The Whitecaps hit the road for two games this week -- a return engagement with the RailHawks in Carolina on Tuesday before playing in Charleston on Thursday. The team returns home to face Miami on Aug. 23.
Tuesday at Carolina RailHawks
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