The Vancouver Whitecaps seem intent on making sure they give their fans their money's worth every time they play at Empire Field. To follow up their feel-good 4-2 pummeling of Toronto FC during First Kick, they pulled out all the stops in a nerve-rattling 3-3 tie with Sporting Kansas City.
But before the Whitecaps could execute their scintillating comeback, they needed to fall behind. And who better to put them behind than the man who has apparently become Public Enemy No. 1 among Canadian soccer fans: Teal Bunbury. As you may remember, Bunbury recently chose to represent the United States on the international level, despite being born in Canada and representing them at the junior level. During his first professional match in Canada since making the decision, he was booed almost every time he touched the ball.
So it seemed only fitting that Bunbury put Sporting Kansas City ahead on a strike from about 18 yards out that came during stoppage time of the first half and was completely against the run of play. Bunbury padded the lead with 58th minute goal. Four minutes later SKC seemed to put the game away with a Kei Kamara goal.
Trailing 3-0 with about 20 minutes left, it seemed like the Whitecaps were well on their way to a humbling loss. An Atiba Harris goal in the 73rd minute didn't seem to be much more than a footnote, but the game got turned on its head once it went into stoppage time.
Camilo Sanvezzo had different ideas, though. His first goal in the second minute of stoppage time revived what had been a pretty dormant crowd and his equalizer a minute later sent the stadium into joyous pandemonium. Amazingly, the Whitecaps barely missed taking the lead a minute later but Nizar Khalfan's shot sailed just over the crossbar.
What does this kind of match tell us about the Whitecaps? After all, this is a team that has still not faced a playoff team from last year. They've shown an ability to score at home (seven goals in two matches), but have also shown a propensity for much sloppier defending than we thought they would (their six goals conceded is the second highest total in MLS). The good news for them is that their schedule doesn't get much more difficult for a few more weeks, as their first match against a 2010 playoff team doesn't come until April 23 when they host FC Dallas.
Sporting Kansas City's wasted opportunity
SKC is just getting warmed up for the hardest chunk of their season-opening 10-game road trip and they will certainly be kicking themselves over dropping two points in this one. With four points in three matches, they are currently ahead of that pace, but the schedule gets tougher from here. Five of their next six games are against 2010 playoff teams. At the start of the season, I suggested they needed at least 12 points in those 10 games to feel good about their chances of making a post season run.
The SporKCs, as they are often referred to, are scoring in bunches (eight goals), but are also very shaky defensively (eight goals allowed). For a good indicator of the state of their defense, just look at the equalizing goal from Saturday. Leading by a goal with a few minutes left in stoppage time, they manage to leave two players pretty wide open near the goal. Predictably, one of them ends up scoring. Jimmy Nielson was forced into six saves on the afternoon, and the Whitecaps were basically taking target practice throughout. That they were even in a position to win says much more about their offense.
Saturday was the third different backline combination Peter Vermes has used in the first three matches and no player has been used in the exact same position every week. Matt Besler and Roger Espinoza have at least started every match, but Besler has played both center back positions and Espinoza has moved from right back to center back. Some level of instability was probably to be expected after allowing Jimmy Conrad to be selected in the Re-Entry Draft, but Vermes is going to have to find some kind of stability if his team is going to come out of this season-opening trip needing anything less than a miracle to salvage this season.
DeRo Debuts For Da Bulls (don't judge me)
Dwayne De Rosario didn't have to wait long to make his New York Red Bulls debut, coming on as a second-half substitute for Mehdi Ballouchy. Almost immediately, he made an impact, assisting on Dane Richards' goal just a couple minutes after entering the game.
His presence wasn't enough to kickstart the Red Bulls' season, though, as that was the only goal they scored and they settled for a 1-1 tie with the Houston Dynamo. Through three matches, the Red Bulls have scored just two goals, although they do have a tidy five points to show for it. Part of their struggles can be attributed to missing Thierry Henry, Richards and Juan Agudelo for one of those matches, but with the amount of talent on that team you'd think they would be having a little easier time of it.
But for all the talent the Red Bulls have assembled, and as good as they've looked when it all clicks, this team is still struggling to find the back of the net. There were definitely signs of progress on Saturday as they fired off 22 shots and only the goalkeeping of Tally Hall kept them from scoring several more goals (he's made 14 saves in the past two weeks). But signs of progress are of little consolation. Make no mistake, De Rosario was not brought in just make the Red Bulls look more dangerous. He was brought in to score and create goals. If that doesn't happen soon, it could start getting ugly.
Rapids Rolling Strong
Like RSL the year before, the Colorado Rapids weren't really seen as deserving champions. Following their rivals lead, the Rapids are also looking intent on proving their worth the following year. Three matches into the season, they have a MLS best nine points and +6 goal difference.
Their defense, a staple of last year's team, still looks strong, but their offense is what really looks dangerous. A team that already boasted Conor Casey and Omar Cummings now appears to have another big weapon in Caleb Folan. The big Irishman scored his first two MLS goals on Sunday, displaying surprising skill for a player his size. His first goal, was especially impressive as he juked Rodrigo Brasesco out of his boots before beating Pat Onstad inside the far post.
So far, their dominance has come against questionable opposition. This week, they'll face FC Dallas on the road, which should be a good test for both sides.
Something Is Wrong In Dallas
Three matches is an absurdly small sample size and certainly no reason to panic, but something is obviously amiss with FC Dallas. Coming off their most successful season in their history and boasting a roster overflowing with promising, young talent, they are winless in three matches with just one point and one goal. Their defense, which was so good a year ago, has looked much more average, allowing five goals and two goals in each of their past two.
Part of the problem is that for all the talent, they don't have a lot of experience. The Brek Shea-as-a-center back experiment is not going particularly well and Schellas Hyndman has been forced to use different arrangements along the back line in every match. Offensively, Milton Rodriguez has now apparently been replaced by rookie Ruben Luna and teams have been able to largely shut down David Ferreira.
Making this start more concerning is that this has been a relatively easy portion of their schedule. None of the three teams they faced were expected to be title contenders (although maybe that's because we all underestimated them) and they'll face the Rapids next.
Are The Revs For Real?
No, the New England Revolution did not look like world beaters in their 1-1 tie with the previously pointless Portland Timbers. But they once again did enough to earn a result, something they did with alarming inconsistency a year ago. This time they got an early goal from Stephen McCarthy, the third straight game they scored first, and then settled for another tie.
I'm still skeptical this is a team capable of making a serious run at the playoffs. So far, they've been lucky to tie the Los Angeles Galaxy, beaten a still-unproven DC United team and tied what looks like a bad Timbers team. They'll host Real Salt Lake this week, and we'll probably learn a lot more about what to expect from them this year.
Goal Of The Week
There's no question that Sanvezzo's goal was the most exciting. Either of Bunbury's goals could have qualified. But this goal from Khari Stephenson is just hard to believe.