VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 19: Eric Hassli #29 of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Nana Attakora #3 of the Toronto FC battle for the ball during their match March 19, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
Benjamin Massey of 86 Forever, SB Nation's Vancouver Whitecaps blog, was nice enough to answer a few questions I had about the Whitecaps. The Whitecaps defeated MLS old boys Toronto FC in a 4-2 thrashing in the new Canadian derby. Read and know thy enemy:
SK: Were the Whitecaps that good or was Toronto that bad in last week's game between the Whitecaps and Toronto FC?
BM: Not to take the easy way out, but it was really a combination of both. Obviously Toronto struggled badly: their midfield play was more-or-less non-existent throughout the ninety minutes and their fullbacks were positively destroyed by the combination of Russell Teibert and Davide Chiumiento. Toronto's first goal came off a bit of a lucky counter and their second was just a lovely individual goal from Maicon Santos. As a team, Toronto was dreadful.
But part of that was because the Whitecaps gave Toronto very few openings. Particularly, Gershon Koffie and Terry Dunfield in central midfield made it very difficult for Toronto to get passes through. Toronto was forced to pass the ball back in their own half rather than mounting attacks even when down 4-1 or 4-2, whereas the Whitecaps kept coming in waves, forcing a number of corners and actually just missing a fair few chances besides their four goals. Obviously, Toronto did Vancouver a few favours with their sloppy play and bewildering lineup, but the Whitecaps took advantage of the holes Toronto had while giving Toronto very few avenues to hit back.
SK: Is designated player signing Eric Hassli for real?
BM: He's a surprisingly quick player who has proven over years in Europe that he can finish magnificently. He's got a big body and, as Nana Attakora and Adrian Cann learned, he's not afraid of rough play. Hassli's only played one exhibition game as well as the Toronto match since coming over to Vancouver, but unless his old injury problems recur the Whitecaps seem to have picked up a first-class player. You can never tell whether a player is "for real" in such a short time, but indications for Hassli are very good.
SK: What's the one thing that Union fans should know about the Whitecaps that isn't being talked about in the media?
BM: I touched on this in my answer to the first question, but the Whitecaps have tremendous ability in central midfield. Terry Dunfield is a veteran of the English Football League and plays an exceptional hard-nosed game. Fans of other MLS teams will doubtless start calling him "dirty" any day now: I prefer to say he's aggressive. But he's a tremendous ball-winner and his playmaking, while it tends to be simple, is very accurate and sensibly conservative.
John Thorrington (out injured for the Toronto game) is an MLS veteran and former United States international who needs no introduction, and 19-year-old Gershon Koffie is a promising Ghanian who has a fair bit of speed combined with good defensive instincts and a willingness to get his nose dirty. Alexandre Morfaw, a strong 22-year-old, and Vancouver's first homegrown player 19-year-old Canadian playmaker Philippe Davies round out the depth. None of them are players who'll make headlines (unless Dunfield keeps scoring), but they're all solid professionals who can get it done at this level.
For more on the Whitecaps, and a bit on Canadian soccer, visit 86 Forever.