Going into halftime up 2-0, our ‘Caps looked like they were coasting to another road victory Saturday at PPL Park. Instead, Philadelphia Union scored three goals in eight minutes to take a 3-2 lead before Pedro Morales preserved a 3-3 draw with a late penalty.
So, what did we learn?
Tale of two halves
Highlights: Philadelphia Union 3-3 Vancouver Whitecaps FC
For most of the first half, we looked like one of the best teams in the league.
There was a lot to like about the way Vancouver played in the opening 45 minutes. Erik Hurtado extended his goal-scoring streak to five games, finishing off some beautiful build-up between Nigel Reo-Coker and Russell Teibert with a header of great quality.
There was more great combination play from our ‘Caps on both goals, which made the Union look all at sea and a little demoralized going into the break down 2-0.
The second half was a complete transformation.
The Union found some belief in their play and looked dangerous on almost every attack. They would go on to score three goals in the span of eight minutes and if it wasn’t for the play of David Ousted, the game could have very well been over.
A couple things seemed to happen in the second half that turned things around for the home team. First of all, our ‘Caps appeared to be quite fatigued, which could be partly attributed to what was a hot and humid day – not to mention the travel from West to East Coast and the three-hour time change. We just seemed to lose our legs.
Secondly, we’re a very young team that looks to get forward at every opportunity. Last week, I spoke about the balance between attacking and playing sound defensively. This young team has to learn how to switch on defensively, especially on the road where the home team is going to have some good spells and put you under pressure.
In the second half, we needed to be compact, keep our shape and adopt a defensive mentality to ride out the Philly storm. In the end, it was another road result and another lesson learned.
DeMerit contests an early Casey header
Another thing that didn’t help the team Saturday in Philadelphia was the loss of our starting centre back and captain Jay DeMerit.
At the start of the season, I wrote about how DeMerit was such an important signing for this club. He provides leadership on and off the field and he’s a presence commanding the defence.
It was a big blow when DeMerit went down with a left foot injury in the 24th minute. Up until that point, DeMerit was hanging in there battling with the big Conor Casey, who ended up scoring two of Philadelphia’s three goals in the second half.
There will be many fingers crossed that DeMerit won’t be out long term. It’s not that we don’t have other capable centre backs in the squad, but a fit and healthy DeMerit just gives us that drive and leadership on what is a very young team.
Like any team, there are a few key players that are hard to replace and Mr. DeMerit is one of them for Whitecaps FC.
'Caps find space in midfield, strike on the counter
It wasn’t always the case when our boys went on the road that we’d be excited to see how they performed. Prior to this season, we’d hope to grind out a good result or hope for one of those days where everything came together.
How times have changed.
We scored three goals on the road and were disappointed with only getting a point. That speaks volumes to how far this club has come.
Some of the football we played on Saturday was an absolute joy to watch. The team’s one-touch soccer and combination play in midfield had the Union chasing shadows.
Our fullbacks look to join the attack at every opportunity, we have many options through the midfield and an attack that can hurt you in many ways. And as good as our attacking play has been, we also have a goalkeeper that has repeatedly come up with the big saves at the right times.
This team is playing exciting soccer at home and on the road and it’s producing positive results against even the top teams in Major League Soccer. In the last two games, both on the road, we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly but it’s never been boring. And we still claimed four of a possible six points.
We have learned a lot of things through the first 13 games of the season. Perhaps above all: this is a really fun team to watch.
It’s not too late to participate in the best sporting experience in Vancouver. Whitecaps FC offer a flexible range of ticket products, including prorated season tickets ($220), 5-packs ($149), student season tickets, and a youth soccer half-season ticket. Single-match tickets start at $22, subject to applicable fees. For more information on all Whitecaps FC ticket options, call 604.669.9283 ext. 2 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.