By DAN KARELL
COLUMBUS, Ohio — If the first 10 weeks of the MLS season are any indication, few teams will be able to slow down the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The speedy and talented Canadian side went into Crew Stadium on Saturday evening and took down the Columbus Crew, 1-0, in impressive fashion. Young forward Erik Hurtado scored the Whitecaps’ only goal but the final scoreline wasn’t representative of the amount of chances that the Whitecaps wasted.
The defeat was the third straight shutout loss for the Crew after playing three matches in seven days.
“I think it was a super match of football today, I really did, against two teams that want to try and play,” Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson said following the match.
“Obviously Columbus is at home, playing an attacking style, (they’re) not getting the breaks at the moment, if you’ve seen them in the last couple of games. The game was set up for them to have a little bit more possession than us but us to maybe catch them on the counter-attack and that’s certainly what happened.”
The Whitecaps came right out from the opening whistle putting pressure on the Crew back line, with Jordan Harvey and Steven Beitashour sending long balls forward for Kekuta Manneh and Hurtado to run on to.
Within the first 15 minutes, the Whitecaps had created four legitimate chances, with Sebastian Fernandez putting a couple of counter-attacking chances over the bar and Gershon Koffie wasting an opportunity off a turnover.
“I try to set up my team with the two wider guys in threatening positions and I think from the first couple of minutes we nearly nicked (a goal) and Sebastian Fernandez should have scored,” Robinson said.
“I wanted to just put a little bit of doubt in their mind because they are a good possession team but the only reason why you have possession is with a purpose, and to an end product, and obviously today they didn’t have the end product (tonight).
After the first 15 minutes, the Crew began to look more comfortable, making fewer turnovers and using quick passing in midfield to move the ball around, probing for weak points in the Whitecaps defense.
In the 18th minute, Crew forward Jairo Arrieta had his best chance of the game, powering a header off a Bernardo Anor cross, but placed the header right at Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted. That chance was just two minutes following Arrieta nearly having a breakaway, though Ousted beat Arrieta to a through ball.
It was one of the few real chances the Crew would get all match.
I think you need a certain explosiveness, dynamic and certain poise in front of the goal to capitalize on your opportunities,” Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “I think there are times in the first half when we were in crossing position and it ends up a counter attack for the other team. We’re going to look at that and analyze that, but certainly we’ve got to get better at that aspect of the game around the goal, and we’ve got to get better.”
The Crew held possession in the middle of the half but couldn’t do much with it against the strong Whitecaps defense, and late in the first half, the Whitecaps would strike.
Somewhat against the run of play, Erik Hurtado controlled a goal kick from Ousted in the 37th minute and dribbled to his right towards the middle outside of the box. Hurtado looked up and beautifully curled a ball with his left foot past the outstretched arms of Steve Clark and in for a goal to give the Whitecaps the lead.
“I chested it towards the goal, got the little touch that set me up for the shot, and just kept my eye on the ball,” Hurtado said.
“It hit my sweet spot, right on my left foot, it felt good. I saw it go over the keeper and I knew it was going under the crossbar,” he added.
From then on, the Whitecaps controlled the match, speeding up the Crew and just sitting back waiting for the Crew to turn the ball over. Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter brought on Justin Meram at halftime and Dominic Oduro in the 63rd minute but neither player could make a big impact because the Crew failed to keep possession.
“I think once you have seen us give up a goal, you can see a change in urgency and push numbers forward,” Crew midfielder Wil Trapp said. “Sometimes we funnel it in to tight areas, lose it and get counterattacked. I think that we need to be a little bit more patient and not get so excited after we concede a goal. It is going to happen in games our character has to be a little bit stronger.”
The Whitecaps came out in the second half and continued to press the Crew high up the field, forcing turnovers and uneasy play from the hosts. Berhalter hinted following the match that the fatigue from a three-games-in-seven-days stretch had caught up to the team during the match.
“The guys are running on fumes,” Berhalter said. “You can see the difference, it was clear. [Vancouver] had a bunch of players running around fresh, running around and we didn’t have it physically.”
Former Whitecaps No. 1 overall draft pick Omar Salgado came on for Hurtado in the 74th minute and nearly added an insurance goal in the 88th minute as he chipped Clark but the shot went just wide of the far post.
Robinson brought on Russell Teibert and Nigel Reo-Coker for late cameo appearances to hold on to the result and take some more time off the clock while the Crew pushed everything forward heading into stoppage time.
Meram and substitute Ethan Finlay had late chances on goal that were blocked by the Whitecaps and the final touch of the match was a curling effort by Finley that went over the bar.
Here are the game highlights: