VANCOUVER, BC – It’s good to be back.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC kicked off the 2018 MLS regular season on Sunday with a 2-1 win over Montreal Impact. Here are three things that stood out to me about the match.
KAMARA, DAVIES DAZZLE
It was the Kei Kamara and Alphonso Davies show at BC Place.
All afternoon, Davies was flying down the left flank, causing problems for fellow Canadian international Michael Petrasso. The 17-year-old finished the match with a game-high six dribbles – defined a successful attempt to beat a defender in a one v. one situation. That would have been the second highest total of any MLS player in all of 2017.
Kamara, for his part, was a menace up top, working his tail off out of possession. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, because he had been doing that since the first game of the preseason. The 33-year-old striker, who certainly didn’t look his age on Sunday, was involved in a game-high 21 duels, which speaks to his desire to fight for every single ball.
“He sets the tone with the work rate up front, holding the ball up, flicking it on, and he allows the wide players and the midfield players to get up the pitch a bit more,” said Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson. “He was the focal point of our attack.”
Both players got their rewards in the second half.
First, Davies sent in a pinpoint cross to Kamara, who found the back of the net with a world-class header that has been nominated for MLS Goal of the Week. Davies attempted a game-high eight crosses, which was something he touched on after the match.
“Being a winger, I need to supply crosses for my strikers,” Davies told reporters.
Here's the thing about Davies adding a crossing dimension to his game: it’s going to keep defenders honest. Get tight to him, he’ll go around you. Give him space, he’ll deliver a ball into the box.
Pick your poison.
Shortly after Kamara’s opener, Davies scored his first MLS goal with a point-blank finish on a cross from Cristian Techera. After both goals, Davies and Kamara broke out in dance, including a “Wakanda Forever” tribute in reference to Black Panther.
“They spend a lot of time together off the field as well, around the training facility,” Robinson said. “When it works on the field, you see the big smiles on their faces. I think Phonzie has a dance partner now. Kei’s a character. And a good character for Phonzie. And that’s what we need.”
TEIBERT SHINES IN NEW ROLE
Last week, I asked Russell Teibert where his confidence level was at after a strong preseason. Some trolled me on Twitter, calling it a soft-ball question, but I thought his answer was quite telling.
Without hesitation, Teibert said: “High. Very high.” And it certainly showed on Sunday.
As you can see below, the 25-year-old Canadian started as a lone, deep-lying midfielder in Vancouver’s 4-1-4-1 formation – rather than playing next to a midfield partner – and was influential from start to finish.
Whitecaps FC player position map - courtesy of WhoScored.com
“We made a slight adjustment and he’s responded very well,” Robinson said of Teibert’s new role. “We know he’s fit. He’s probably the fittest player we have on our team. I challenged him at the end of last year to come back in and play in that first game.”
Not only did Teibert put in a shift defensively, recording a team-high four tackles while acting as a shield in front of the back line, he also saw a ton of the ball and did a fine job distributing it to Vancouver’s attacking players. Teibert completed a game-high 63 passes on the afternoon, only missing five, and recorded a second assist on Kamara’s goal with a nice ball out wide to Davies.
“He saw a lot of the ball, broke up plays when he needed to, kept it simple, played forward a lot of the time which is really important, and got our key players on the ball,” Robinson said. “So it was a very good performance.”
There were 27,837 boisterous fans in attendance on Sunday, which was a full lower bowl sellout and the biggest-ever crowd for a ‘Caps home opener. And we’re not just talking about the Major League Soccer era. That’s since the club’s inaugural season in 1974.
“The noise was brilliant,” Robinson said, “and the players responded.”
They sure did.