Goals have been few and far between for Whitecaps lately, except on planned plays
By Steve Ewen
The Tampa Bay Rowdies' lone foible right now may be defending set plays. The Vancouver Whitecaps' majority of goals have come off corners and free kicks.
Storylines don't get much simpler than that.
Tampa Bay (5-1-3) comes into this afternoon's USSF D-2 encounter at Swangard Stadium red hot, looking little like the expansion team they are.
Vancouver (3-2-3) heads in lukewarm, with four scoreless draws in their past seven games, if you include the Nutrilite Canadian Championship contests.
Still, when you count the Nutrilite, Vancouver has scored six of its nine goals in its 12 games off dead-ball plays (three corners, two free kicks, one penalty) and Tampa Bay has assorted troubles there, including all four of the goals they've allowed at home (two penalties, one corner, one free kick).
You have to wonder if that will have an affect tonight as Vancouver looks to spark their offence; the Whitecaps maintain that they've played better than their record.
"We seem to be doing pretty well with the corners and free kicks, but we don't want to be scoring all of our goals off set plays," said Whitecaps captain Martin Nash, a midfielder. "We feel like we've been pretty dangerous during the run of the play of late and we have to keep it up.
"We feel confident. It's one of those things. It's a bit of a mindset. We scored one from the run of the play in our last home game, and we need to keep that going. Until we have that breakout game, it will still wear on our minds."
Nash has been a major reason for the dead-ball success, as his deft touch has set up four of the tallies. Vancouver is also loaded with size and a willingness to bang and battle for balls in the air.
Why haven't they been able to score consistently from the run of the play? It's a mystery. Whitecaps defender Nelson Akwari, like many involved with the club, insists that the talent is there and it's only a matter of time.
"We're still a very new team," said Akwari. "We have a bunch of guys with experience from different places, but, together, we're still very new.
"We're working very hard and the coaches are preaching to be consistent. Eventually, things will work out."
As for Tampa Bay, the first-year Rowdies are a mishmash of players from Major League Soccer, USSF D-2 and abroad. They're run by technical director Perry Van Der Beck, a former midfielder with the NASL Rowdies, and coach Paul Dalglish, the son of Liverpool great Kenny Dalglish.
Among the Vancouver side, Akwari may have the best feel of all for them, since he had lengthy talks with Dalglish about joining their club.
Akwari, who had played out his contract with the Charleston Battery, opted for Vancouver instead.
"I really respected what they were trying to put together," said Akwari. "I thought they had a great coach and we made a great connection. For me, though, I really wanted to come to Vancouver."
The Rowdies have been putting up numbers, with 17 goals in nine games, but Akwari says that he wouldn't be surprised if they came to Vancouver defensive minded, "because they know that we've been tough to score against." The Whitecaps have given up just six goals in their 12 combined games.
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