I’m not going to write full game stories from tonight’s matches — you can read the Fire’s account of its 3-2 win over Houston here (and Houston’s version here), plus Vancouver has its report on its 3-2 win over Charleston here. When the Battery posts its game story, we’ll add it here.
Instead, I’m going to keep it simple and within my capabilities and round up some notes from an interesting — but COLD — evening of soccer.
VANCOUVER 3, CHARLESTON 2: This one looked like it was going to get out of hand almost immediately. Going into this match I was curious to see what kind of style Vancouver was going to play with all that attack talent, in in the first 30 minutes of the first half the Whitecaps looked like the Wermacht and the Battery looked like Poland. The key to the Canadian blitzkrieg: 18-year-old Gambian wunderkind Kekuta Manneh, the 4th pick in the MLS Superdraft. With Manneh and second-year striker Darren Mattocks playing combinations off each other at full-speed, and with midfield force Gershon Koffie blowing up everything the Battery tried to put in motion, Vancouver looked ready to run the Battery right out of Blackbaud Stadium.
After what looked like a sure goal in the second minute (disallowed by a fortunate-for-Charleston offsides call), Manneh outran the defense for a score that counted in the 4th. In the minutes that followed, Battery keeper Kevin Klasila looked absolutely besieged, logging three fairly dramatic saves between the 22nd and 27th minutes as the Mattocks-Manneh duo ran down through-balls and created openings in the penalty area. Klasila came off his line to smother attacks twice in the 27th minute, succeeding the first time but letting the ball bounce off him on the second assault.
Vancouver didn’t really let up the pressure with the 2-0 lead, but the Battery withstood it. One thing that may have had an effect: A collision over a 50-50 ball put Manneh on the turf and brought out the trainer, who checked the rookie’s right knee carefully before walking him off the pitch. Manneh returned, but without quite the same raiding aggression. And though the Battery remained unable to get much going offensively, the home side almost pulled back a goal in the 43rd minute when Zach Prince controlled a long ball in the penalty area and found Jose Cuevas on the left. His bending strike curved just wide.
In the 50th minute, Japanese newcomer Daigo Kobayashi scored a goal that actually made me ask the person next to me if I’d just seen that (video highlights say: Yes, it did). It was some kind of a backheel flick volley in front of goal. Very clever stuff. At any rate, it pushed the Whitecaps lead up to 3-0, and with the weather deteriorating, you could have seen the Battery pack it in at that point.
I’m not quite sure what the Battery did after this point, but not only did they open the second half more calmly, they began building possession up the field, too. At one point I wondered whether Koffie had gone off and I’d missed it, but he was till there. The Battery just seemed to be finding ways to solve him.
For me, the best Battery moment of the night came in the 71st minute.
A ball through the central midfield wound up traveling from A dribbling attack up the center by 2012 Battery leading scorer Nicki Paterson ended with this sequence: a pass to substitute Dane Kelly on the left, who passed to substitute (and former Wilmington Hammerhead) Gibson Bardsley, who passed back to Paterson, who was running the channel. It was high-speed, whiz-bang, one-touch football and it produced a sharp finish by Paterson… whose substitute was already standing beside the fourth official waiting to enter the game (The secret to showmanship: Always leave them wanting more…).
Kelly drove home an eye-popping blast from the left side nine minutes later, but despite several legit chances (including a Kelly header that went over the bar in the 85th) the Battery weren’t able to find the equalizer.
Still and all, not the worst outcome given the conditions and the match-up.
SPEAKING OF THE CONDITIONS: They started off sloppy in the first match and got miserable as the night wore on. It’s not that the field is in poor condition. It looks great. It’s just that it was wet, and cold, and slick, and players were falling down every couple of minutes. The wind seemed to shift direction late in the first half, picking up strength as the temperature dropped. We moved to the West Stands for the start of the second half, and the East Stands cleared out like Metallica fans at a Justin Beiber concert.
According to the national weather service, the game temperature at the nearest weather station at the end of the match was about 39 degrees, with a wind-chill of 32. I think most people who gutted it out at the stadium would agree: It felt colder than that.
HERE’S MIKE ANHAEUSER POST-GAME:
“That’s a dangerous team on the counter attack, and it probably wasn’t who we wanted to be matched up against the first game because they came at us in that first 15 minutes. We settled down a little bit, could have scored there at the end of the half, that would have made it 2-1. But we came out great in the second half, changed things up a little bit. Could have caught them.
“We made some defensive errors, tonight, I think, that caught us, and taught us a couple of lessons with some of the players. We had some issues in the back line, and that’s not even something you can really work on. That’s more recognition and who you’re up against. That’s probably the biggest difference. They had so much pace on the outside and up front that they caught us on our mistakes in these conditions, and that was the killer. We had to get through those first 15 minutes. It could have been 2-0. I think it was. I don’t know how that was off-sides.
“We gave the ball away, and guys not being able to stand up, the way they played with the counter attack, you give the ball away on this slick surface or fall and they’re on you like — whoo! And even though we were playing a little bit defensive, just to try to make sure we were settled in, and it got caught. But really, you look up there (at the scoreboard), 3-2, we had two, three chances there at the end, the guys that came in here at the end. That’s great to see… I don’t like my guys to quit, and it shows that the guys that we have here kept the intensity up and got a couple nice goals. Nicki — great goal.
“Nicki and Dane, quality finishes. Even (the Whitecaps’ goals), I don’t want to say (we had) poor defending, but we gave them good opportunities. Ours, down the line, cut back, Nicki Paterson, top … of the near post. Dane, into the channel, into the box, cuts it back and then into the side netting.
(Did you do anything in particular to try to get more possession?)
“No, we just wanted to attack. Our outside backs weren’t getting the ball in the first half. So I said, let’s use them, we started using them, and made them defend. Where we were tying to be a little slow and methodical, in the second half we wanted to open it up and try to extend them. Like I said, we just got caught and it’s 3-0, but we came back and actually got a couple of goals. “
I watched Vancouver quite a bit last season, and the Whitecaps’ attacking style seemed to change month-to-month. Some of that was personnel, some of it was injury and form, and some of it… well, I don’t know. But the thing that was scary about watching them play against the Battery is just how good Mattocks-Manneh looked creating chances together at full speed. If that’s going to be their attacking style this season, look out, Western Conference. Things slowed down considerably after they left the pitch.
Battery substitutes looked good late in the match. In addition to Bardsley and Kelly, Jared van Schalt and Sean Ferguson looked good in relief.
Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film: Jay DeMerit.
FIRE 3, DYNAMO 2.
There were nice things about the 5 p.m. game, but the overall impression it left was weirdness. With people losing their footing in key moments, pratfalls were as much the story of the match as was the scoring. The deciding factor may have been an uncharacteristically dodgy outing by Tally Hall, who is typically one of the best keepers in MLS. Sean Johnson fared better, but had what appeared to be a lapse that allowed a sloppy goal to trickle in. I don’t remember Joel Lindpere playing so centrally the past couple of seasons, but he looked calm on the ball in traffic.
Weirdness aside, several players stood out. Patrick Nyarko made things happen out on the wing. Houston trialist and MLS journeyman LB Mike Chabala played an aggressive first half, particularly when joining the attack. Adam Moffat, another former Portland Timber on the Houston squad (one of four) had a good game. Austin Berry is going to be a beast.
The game had a couple of injuries. The most serious appeared to be Ricardo Clark, who left the field with his arms draped over the shoulders of two members of the Houston training staff.
STUFF AROUND THE STADIUM: So I did my first Regiment tailgate, and other than taking a beer from the wrong white cooler (no one called me on it, but I figured it out later), it went well. The big hit was the grilled pork loin (who knew?). Also in Regiment news: Someone stole a clipboard with some raffle tickets on it off the Regiment table. As President Mike Buytas put it, “Who steals a clipboard?”
VUVUZELA THREAT LEVEL: Other than a brief outbreak in the second half of the first match, the vuvuzela threat level never rose above Annoy. Thank goodness.