City continues its North American excursion in the early hours of Tuesday morning UK time with a visit to Vancouver to play the Whitecaps of Major League Soccer.
So we continue our interview series with American friend and colleague Marc Stein from US broadcasting giants ESPN to assess what’s happening just over halfway through City’s adventure in the States.
The second of three Q-and-A installments with Stein, a lifelong Blue, looks back at the 2-0 victory in San Francisco over Mexico’s Club America and previews the match against City’s Canadian opposition.
Q: What impressed you most about the Club America performance?
A: I had to make do with watching it on US television as opposed to actually being there, but the game was broadcast domestically in Spanish only, which I thoroughly enjoyed. When I was in my teens, after the North American Soccer League (NASL) folded, televised football in English was pretty scarce in the States for a while, so seeing the Blues send those famously excitable Latin announcers into hysterics was a fun rewind. The footy itself was a good show, too. City fans are obviously used to seeing Yaya Toure shift through the gears and steam past defenders, but I lost track of how many times Vladimir Weiss, Micah Richards or Adam Johnson zoomed down a flank. America’s players looked shellshocked by the size and speed they were confronted with all over the pitch.
Q: Who were City’s standout individuals?
A: Weiss is the obvious choice, not only for his thoroughly positive play down the left after a year away from the club but also because he’s the only Blue who played in both halves. Honestly, though, you could single out several players. Shaun Wright-Phillips had a lively first half and couldn’t have taken his goal any better. Edin Dzeko looked more comfortable leading the line and holding the ball up than he did when we last saw him. Gareth Barry was on the ball a lot in the first half; Johnson, Richards and Yaya carried on with that approach in the second half. Also can’t leave out a couple memorable stops from Stuart Taylor.
Q: Club America are about to start their season later this week, but City really did look the fitter side, didn’t they?
A: For sure. But City also looked like a side, most importantly, that knows how to keep its shape and play the way Roberto Mancini wants. Maybe that’s why this performance was so much better than the first game of last summer’s tour in steamy New Jersey against Sporting Lisbon. Mancini was obviously able to play a much stronger team this time, but one year on -- after what by all accounts was an ideal week of training -- City’s understanding and execution of the game plan is so much more disciplined.
Q: We’ve been reading all the reports about the trouble they’ve been having with the pitch in Vancouver. Assuming the match goes ahead, what kind of game can City expect from the Whitecaps?
A: The Caps have won only two of 20 games in their first season in MLS and are a long, long way from the established NASL side that City faced on losing trips to Vancouver for friendlies in 1980 and 1981. You’re encouraged to dial up YouTube for the wonder goal Caps forward Eric Hassli volleyed in last month, but the Caps don’t offer much of a scoring threat and are frequently overrun in midfield. They’ll be fitter than Club America, because the MLS season started in March, but weaker overall. The good news: Vancouver is one of the best soccer cities in North America and helps form a triangle of footy passion in the Pacific Northwest with Seattle and Portland. The atmosphere should be quite good and the stadium should be far fuller than it was in San Francisco … even if it pours Manchester-style on the day.
Q: City old boy Terry Dunfield was “traded” from Vancouver to Toronto just last week. Can you explain why?
A: Vancouver were expecting Dunfield to be a midfield creator and soured on him when he didn’t deliver. But from what I’ve seen he’s better suited to playing a bit deeper in midfield as he did for Canada in the recent Gold Cup. That’s apparently the role Toronto have planned for him, but the news still came as a jolt in MLS circles because the trade not only denied Dunfield his reunion with City but also because the former Academy graduate was the only Vancouver native in the Caps’ squad.