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Three things: How the 'Caps handed Columbus their first loss of 2018

COLUMBUS, OH – Vancouver Whitecaps FC (3W-1L-1D) maintained their joint-lead of the Western Conference with a 2-1 road win over the previously-unbeaten Columbus Crew SC (3W-1L-1D) on Saturday afternoon at MAPFRE Stadium

Here are three things that stood out to me.

ROAD WARRIORS

Earlier this month, I wrote about the secret to Vancouver’s success on the road over the last four plus years (they’ve had the most wins away from home since the start of 2014) and how the ‘Caps have mastered “the art of the smash and grab.”

Guess what? They’ve done it again. Well, kind of.

Columbus controlled 66.7 per cent of possession on Saturday, so you could make an argument that it was another “smash and grab” result for Carl Robinson’s men.

But I’m going to argue the opposite.

Yes, Columbus controlled the vast majority of possession, as they often do. But the ‘Caps actually kept them at bay for most of the match – quite comfortably, at that. Columbus, who were unbeaten coming into the match, only had two shots on target. Vancouver had three.

And it’s not like the back line was under constant pressure either. In fact, the entire ‘Caps roster only had 19 clearances. By comparison, they had 47 earlier this month in a 2-1 away win vs. Houston.

“They didn’t really hurt us in certain areas,” said Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson. “They played some good stuff in front of us but not behind us. I said to be positive, make positive decisions and when you get your chances take them. It’s all credit to the players today because at halftime I did give them a little poke and they responded.”

The ‘Caps followed a similar formula to some of their previous wins away from home, rotating the squad, staying disciplined in their shape, and striking on the counter.  

And it worked to a tee.  

KAMARA, DAVIES DAZZLE AGAIN

All the talk in the build-up to Saturday’s match revolved around Kei Kamara and his controversial departure from Columbus in 2016. So it was quite fitting that Kamara scored the game-winner for Vancouver with another perfectly-taken header.

“I said to him before the game, sometimes you don’t need to say anything,” Robinson said. “Sometimes you let your football do the talking on the pitch and that’s exactly what he did.”

Kamara, in fact, was a force all afternoon.

He wasn’t credited with an assist, but Kamara helped set up Brek Shea’s goal with a nice ball out wide to Bernie Ibini. And he set up Alphonso Davies’ disallowed goal as well.

Speaking of Davies.

The kid came on as a sub on Saturday after starting Vancouver’s first four matches and played the final 23 minutes. And in addition to scoring a lovely goal that was called back after video review due to a handball, Davies recorded a game-high four tackles and did things like this.

It’s been an absolute treat to watch the 17-year-old develop over the last few years, and he certainly appears to have taken a big step so far in 2018.

MIDFIELD OPTIONS

Central midfield was an area that Robinson revamped this offseason, bringing in Felipe, Jordon Mutch, and Efrain Juarez to compete with and complement Aly Ghazal and Russell Teibert.

It has given Robinson a myriad of options in the middle of the park.

On Saturday, he went with a trio of Felipe, Mutch, and Teibert, and they put in a shift against Columbus’ Federico Higuain, Wil Trapp, and Artur – one of the best midfield trios in MLS. Felipe didn’t give Higuain an inch all game, helping keep him off the scoresheet for just the second time in Higuain’s last nine MLS regular season outings.

It was also Felipe that delivered the cross to Kamara on Vancouver’s game-winning goal.

At that point, the Brazilian was playing a little further up the field, which was made possible by the insertion of Ghazal, who did an excellent job shielding the back line after checking in for his first minutes of 2018 in the 74th minute.

Now that Ghazal is healthy, it will be interesting to see how the midfield comes together in the coming weeks and months.