Whitecaps playing at home hold the advantage in turf wars
Vancouver’s home record is stellar, and the B.C. Place playing surface might have a bit to do with that
In their 2011 book, Scorecasting, behavioural economist Tobias J. Moskowitz and veteran Sports Illustrated writer L. Jon Wertheim studied, among other things, the hidden forces behind home-field advantage.
After wading through the conventional wisdom, from crowd support to travel, their conclusion was that it had to do with referee bias.
Not intentional bias, just the kind related to human psychology, which, in soccer, apparently results in more favourable cards, penalties and injury time.
If they studied the Vancouver Whitecaps of 2013, perhaps they’d conclude that playing surface can also have something to do with it.
The Caps are 8-1-3 at home this season — 9-1-4 including Canadian championship play — and that one loss might well have been another victory had Jun Marques Davidson not head-butted his way to the showers in the first 10 minutes against Philadelphia.
Vancouver is one of four MLS teams playing on turf, and unique in the fact it’s a Polytan surface, as opposed to the FieldTurf in Seattle, Portland and New England.
And there’s no doubt in midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker’s mind that it’s part of the Caps edge.
“I think it’s a big advantage,” said Reo-Coker, whose Caps host to the L.A. Galaxy at B.C. Place on Saturday (6 p.m., TSN 2, TEAM 1410).
“For us, we’re used to it. We’ve played on it quite a bit now and not many teams really fancy it. I don’t think a lot of teams like coming here.”
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, for one, has not been shy of admitting that. Asked about the Jeld-Wen Field turf in Portland in July, he took a shot at the rest.
“This (Portland) is the best one available,” Arena told reporters.
“The other ones in the league are really atrocious and they shouldn’t be allowed. The fields in Seattle, Vancouver and New England are not good fields.”
Attributing too much of the Caps home-field dominance to the turf hardly seems fair. They’ve build a stronger team this season and made a greater effort to play more attacking soccer at home.
The Caps lead the league in home goals with 25 and are second in home-goal difference at plus-12.
For the sake of comparison, Seattle (6-1-3 at CenturyLink Field) and Portland (7-1-4 at Jeld-Wen) also have strong home records on turf this season, but New England is just 5-4-3 at Gillette Stadium.
Still, Reo-Coker’s at least an interesting gauge on the topic because he’s new to the artificial stuff this season.
“It takes a while (to adjust),” he said. “I’m still not 100 per cent used to it, if I’m honest. The bounce, the weight of pass, it’s completely different.
“It’s a difficult transition from playing on grass, but we’ve made it our own and we’ve made it difficult for anyone who’s come here.”
Caps’ fullback Jordan Harvey figures the mental edge of playing on turf is as advantageous as anything the surface does to the ball.
“If other teams don’t like it, we’re good with it,” he said. “That works for us.”
And both Reo-Coker and Harvey pointed to other elements of their home success, too.
Harvey talked about the importance of starting off the season with a couple of quick home wins and building on that confidence.
That belief, he said, is a big reason why they’ve been able to achieve first-ever MLS wins over L.A. and Seattle at B.C. Place.
Reo-Coker mentioned the crowd, and Saturday’s going to be another sell out.
“A lot of the credit has to go to the fans,” said the 29-year-old Englishman. “They’ve been fantastic this year. Even in games where we’ve gone behind, they still stay cheering and get behind the team and we’ve come back and turned things around.”
GALAXY (11-9-4) AT WHITECAPS (10-8-6), SAT., 6 P.M.
Venue: B.C. Place
TV: TSN 2
Radio: TEAM 1410
In May, it was Russell Teibert coming off the bench to score twice as the Caps beat L.A. for the first time in MLS. With one win in five, it’s time to channel those vibes.
Whitecaps’ last game:
Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin denied Russell Teibert, Kenny Miller and Darren Mattocks as the Caps fell 2-0 at Colorado. MLS form: L-L-T-W-L
Galaxy’s last game:
Robbie Keane scored a hat trick and L.A. beat first-place Salt Lake 4-2 at home to make the West race even tighter. MLS form: L-W-L-T-W
Predicted Caps’ XI (4-3-3):
Miller / Camilo / Hurtado
Teibert / Reo-Coker
Harvey / Leveron / O’Brien / Lee
Three things to watch:
What to do with Daigo?
With Japanese playmaker Daigo Kobayashi struggling to find any sort of rhythm in his attacking midfield role, Caps coach Martin Rennie might be inclined to look for another solution. One option is to slide Russell Teibert into a more central role and add some speed on the wings through rookie Kekuta Manneh or Erik Hurtado. Forward Darren Mattocks is pushing for a start, too.
O’Brien itching for time
With L.A.’s Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane coming off recent hat tricks, it’s clear the Caps’ centre backs are going to be in for a busy night. Rennie’s got a choice to make there. He’s stuck with Carlyle Mitchell and Johnny Leveron, but has veteran Andy O’Brien available, too, after a lengthy hamstring injury. “He’s very experienced and has done well against Robbie and Landon in the past,” Rennie said of O’Brien.
‘Keepers in the spotlight
The Caps are the highest-scoring home team in MLS. The Galaxy are starting to fire on all cylinders — seven goals in their last two games. It sets up as a game where the goalkeepers might have a say, and both teams made transfer-window moves to strengthen that position. The Caps’ Danish signing, David Ousted, has looked strong. L.A. counters with Panama’s No. 1, Jaime Penedo, who made his debut last week.
Goals: (MLS) 14, Camilo, VAN; Mike Magee, CHI; (L.A.) 10, Keane
Assists: (MLS) 12, LeToux, PHI; (VAN) 8, Teibert; (L.A.) 9, Keane
Goalkeepers: (VAN) Ousted, 1-1-1, 1 SO; (L.A.) Penedo, 1-0-0, 0 SO
Injuries: (VAN) Rusin (ankle), DeMerit (Achilles), Salgado (foot); (L.A.) Perk (concussion)
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