Whitecaps fall 2-1 in Houston as road trip finally ends

Vancouver Whitecaps FC lost 2-1 to Houston Dynamo on Friday night. Despite a late goal from Brek Shea, a controversial penalty for Houston prevented Vancouver from collecting their first ever points in Texas.

A month ago, the Vancouver Whitecaps were looking at four weeks on the road, including a match against Cascadian rivals Portland, a 3,000 mile trip across the continent to Montreal, and a visit to Colorado (where the ‘Caps had one win in eight), ending up in Texas (where they had lost every game). At that time, the thought of taking six points back to BC Place would have seemed like a huge achievement.

But six points is what the Whitecaps have ended up with. And with a little more luck on Friday night, they could have added to that tally, as well as getting their first point in Texas.

Unchanged XI, Yet Again

For Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson, it was a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. He named an unchanged starting XI for the fourth match in a row, keeping faith with the players who had earned him two straight wins.

Houston, however, have been unbeatable at home this season, and the size of the task facing the Whitecaps became quickly obvious. The Dynamo almost scored within the first couple of minutes. By the 15th minute, Alberth Elis had put them in front with a far-post header.

The Dynamo were the dominant team throughout the first half and at the start of the second, but Vancouver put in a respectable performance and managed to create some of their own chances. The task became twice as difficult in the 68th minute, however, when Kendall Waston and Mauro Manotas collided in the box and referee Fotis Bazakos pointed to the spot. Robinson diplomatically called the penalty decision “soft” in his post-match comments, but his real opinion wasn’t hard to guess.

Erick “Cubo” Torres sent David Ousted the wrong way, and Houston were up 2-0 and seemingly cruising. Vancouver managed to pull one back through a header by substitute Brek Shea with five minutes left, but couldn’t find the equalizer.

It was a respectable result at a very difficult venue, and Vancouver can take a lot of positives from their performances over the last month. But the penalty decision will leave fans wondering what might have been.

May 12, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Christian Bolanos (7) and Houston Dynamo defender A. J. DeLaGarza (20) battle for the ball during the first half at BBVA Compass Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Shea the Super-Sub

For the second week running, Brek Shea was substituted on in the 69th minute and scored. Last week it was a breakaway, this time he scored a header from a Christian Bolaños free kick. He also came close to scoring a second in the final minutes of the match.

Here are Shea’s last three outings for the Whitecaps:

  1. April 5th, vs. Tigres UANL: 10 minutes, one goal.
  2. May 5th, vs. Colorado Rapids: 21 minutes, one goal.
  3. May 12th, vs. Houston Dynamo: 21 minutes, one goal.

So over the last month, Shea is averaging a goal every 17 minutes or so. If he can manage the full 90 minutes next week, he should be able to score five goals.

Back Post Defending

The Whitecaps have given up a lot of chances from crosses to the back post in recent matches. The Impact came very close to scoring at the back post two weeks ago in a chance that was an almost exact replica of the goal Elis scored on Friday.

Ousted will be disappointed he couldn’t keep the header out, but it’s Jordan Harvey who should have been covering Elis. Waston and Tim Parker are commanding presences in the middle of the box, but teams are starting to exploit Harvey’s weakness in the air. That’s something the ‘Caps are going to have to work on.

Making Set Pieces Count

Houston committed 19 fouls on Friday night, and a good number of those led to free kicks for Vancouver in dangerous areas. So the Whitecaps will be disappointed they could only convert one of those into a goal.

Part of the problem is that Fredy Montero is not much of an aerial threat, particularly in a crowded penalty area. That leaves the Whitecaps largely reliant on the centrebacks in those situations. That’s where Shea brings a different level to their attack. It’s no coincidence that Vancouver’s best chances (and goal) came with Shea on the field.

Next up, the Whitecaps finally get to return home to BC Place. The ‘Caps will host Sporting Kansas City on Saturday afternoon.