Post-Game Review #2: Whitecaps FC vs Real Salt Lake (VAR 1-Clean Sheet 0)

After kicking off on a bright sunny day in front of the Vancouver faithful just over a week ago, the Whitecaps made their way down to a snowy Salt Lake City, which cleared itself just in time for a beautiful sunny match day as the teams narrowly avoided a repeat of their famed snow game back during the 2017 season. Having only won once in 9 matches in this stadium, the Caps futility streak in Rio Tinto stadium continued as they ended up falling 1-0. After scoring 2 goals in an offensive breakthrough of sorts in the home opener, they failed to build on that magic, with many chances falling to the wayside or sticking to Nick Rimando’s hands. Despite the scoreline, the Caps should feel hard done by, as their clean sheet curse of sorts continued with a very bad luck penalty early in the match doing them in for the day. All things considered, there was a lot of positive performances and things to mull on before the Caps make their way to another tough opponent down in Texas next week as they face Houston. There is a lot to unpack in this one, so we’ll get going on our deep dive into what was an eventful match in sunny Utah.

First Half:

No surprises from this lineup, as it was what most had projected after the performances last week and how things had gone in training all week, with Andy Rose coming in for Felipe in the middle, PC for Derek Cornelius at left back and Lucas Venuto for Lass Bangoura out wide. The match started out uneventfully, with some back and forth play and some clumsy fouls from both sides. The Caps started out bright, with a half-volley from Hwang InBeom causing trouble for the all time MLS appearance leader Rimando. This would become a theme on the afternoon, as a particularly dominant performance from the young Korean would not end up being rewarded by a goal or an assist. Rimando stood tall when needed, commanding his box well and doing everything you’d expect from a keeper with his experience. As expected after the opening day defeat, the Caps came out bright once more, sustaining it for longer and doing a lot better in terms of moving the ball forward. The interplay was a lot brighter, and the long balls to Fredy Montero were kept to a minimum. The press was solid enough, but Real Salt Lake proved their quality in the ball movement department and managed to string some moves together.

It was those moves from RSL that would be the only point of concern from the first 20 or so minutes, as carefully constructed passes were finding their way into channels of space behind Caps defenders, getting key RSL players like Luis Savarino,  Brooks Lennon and Albert Rusnak to on the ball in space. They got into some dangerous positions, but like in the Minnesota match Doneil Henry and Erik Godoy stood tall and made Maxime Crepeaus life a lot easier. It was pretty relieving to see, as many fans have had a lot of questions for a backline that didn’t have much of a personnel upgrade over the winter after a porous defensive season last year. Godoy continues to establish himself as a good, no-nonsense defender who can move around well for his size. Henry has done well sliding in next to him, providing reliable support and being a good aerial threat. At times the two would make some questionable passes going forward, but if they continue to limit chances at the back the other parts of the game will sort itself out. Right now it is important that they continue to work together and grow as a partnership, as limiting goals and getting back to clean sheets should be a priority for the squad.

Speaking of clean sheets, the Caps ended up getting theirs soiled when a very questionable penalty call ended up being their downfall in the 22nd minute. It was extremely disappointing, as the team was holding off the RSL attacks rather well, but one poor decision by VAR ended up undoing all of that good work. It looked like a good decision in real time, but after a few glances of replay it was evident to see that there was not much in it. Despite that, the penalty was allowed to stand, leaving many fans around the league to ponder the point of VAR existing if it could not stop clear and obvious errors such as that one. Hopefully they are transparent with how the communication was between the on field referee and the VAR in this case, but one can only ponder how the dropped points may affect two teams likely battling each other for a playoff spot come September. If you have not seen the incident yet, here is a good view of it.

Last thing to note on the penalty, before we go on, is that no matter if it was a penalty or not, it’s not a great look on Jake Nerwinski. The usually reliable defender has made two poor mistakes the last two weeks that have helped the other team get a lead after positive starts for the Caps. Nerwinski was careless on a nothing play against Minnesota, and in this match he was carved open too easily by the pass that led to Corey Baird getting fouled, getting caught on the wrong side of the ball. Nerwinski is a good player, and will be important for the team as the season goes along, but last season he started poorly as well, getting dropped for veteran Sean Franklin. With Scott Sutter ready to step in, it may be good for Nerwinski to get a break and work hard in training to get his spot back, as he has looked off at important times in each match. It’s not to rag on him, as he has had positive moments as well, but in a position where defensive consistency is required to succeed, he’ll have to shrug off the defensive rust and get back to where he can be as a player.

On the other side of the defence, we had PC. Coming in for Derek Cornelius, who struggled out of his natural central defender position playing left back, PC did what he did best, and that’s to be solidly unspectacular. As we see with every match he participates in for this team, he works his tail off, gets up and down the field, passes the ball well and provides a good spark for his team. He brings key attributes that will definitely be useful as a super sub or as a starter in matches where his team brings a spark plug. With the talented Ali Adnan officially coming in this week now, PC will likely be relegated to bench duty as the reliable Iraqi international likely makes the position his to lose for the next 12+ weeks. As mentioned in our article here, Adnan is a talented left back who is good going both ways, and from the sound of things can be one of the best in MLS at his position. The biggest concern with him would be how his contract situation ends up working out, because if he comes here and does really it will leave the Caps in a weird situation if he ends up actually going back permanently to Serie A side Udinese, who own his rights. Hopefully Dos Santos has a plan when it comes to the position, because bringing in a talent of Adnan’s pedigree for only 12 weeks at the beginning of a season seems like a weird stopgap method, as you would expect that for a reclamation project a la Marvin Emnes, not a top 25 year old Serie A left back.

All those concerns aside, it is encouraging to see the Caps attract top talent no matter how long they end up staying, and Adnan and PC will be good cover at a position that looked shaky 2 weeks ago. Hopefully Adnan stays, but if not we will have the chance to bring in a similar pedigree of player once the European seasons start to end in May and June. Going back to the match, PC finished the half on a bit of a low note as he left the game in the 45th minute after picking up an eye injury, so hopefully his recovery goes well with that and he can train in the week and be an option if Adnan is not ready for Houston.

In goal, Crepeau was solid in the half, doing well and keeping his number one spot safe for now. He distributed evenly, was aggressive when he needed to be, commanding his area on many teasing balls. The penalty from Rusnak was perfect, so it was a good match overall for a keeper only making his 5th MLS start.

The midfield was solid in the half, with Hwang InBeom leading the way with an outstanding performance in the half. He seemed to have the Midas touch on the occasion, as everything he seemed to do turned into gold. He would track back defensively, push forward vigorously, spray pinpoint balls around the park, take venomous strikes at goal and get stuck in on tackles. For a 22-year-old having spent most of his career in the Korean second division, he is quieting the many doubters that had him taking a while to adapt to this league. In only his second match (including preseason!), he bossed a match away to a team with the second best home record in all of MLS the last 10 seasons, only second to perennial powerhouse New York Red Bulls. Hwang appears to have all the makings of a dominant player in this league, so most fans should be salivating at the thought of him doing things like that all season long as he continues to grow.

Alongside him was two veterans in Jon Erice and Andy Rose, with the two playing pretty well and complimenting the things Hwang was doing well. Erice did well in the half, avoiding any major mistakes, and distributed the ball nicely once again. His passing ability is off the charts, and seeing him bypass the phases of play with incisive passes is something to marvel at. One play in particular stood out to me, where Erice opened up his body as he was going to switch the ball to Yordy Reyna wide, and struck one hard and low around 30 yards right onto the feet of Fredy Montero, engaging the Colombian and allowing him to do what he does best in linking up with the players around him. Erice needs to continue to do balls like those ones, as the long balls are better suited for when Joaquin Ardaiz is on the pitch or when he has runners like Lass Bangoura and sometimes Lucas Venuto to chase them wide and in behind.

Rose complimented the side very well, using his lanky legs to get all over the pitch and do what everyone had expected Felipe to do last week going forward. He made some good runs, with one bursting run in particular getting met by a spectacular ball by Hwang, with the slippery turf making it tough for Rose to open his account and make my prediction of him scoring look brilliant.

Overall, it was a great half from the mids, with Hwang looking untouchable most of the half, Erice looking every bit the reliable vet he was brought in to be and Rose being serviceable as expected. With Teibert now being fit, it will be interesting to see how Felipe ends up reacting in training and when he gets his next chance, as he went from key starter to bench pretty quickly after that first match. With lots of matches to come as the season goes along, we’ll likely see those three rotated quite often depending on the match, and it is entirely possible Erice and Hwang need some rest games as they get used to the league.

Up front, the front three was lackluster on the half, with Reyna looking dangerous at times but fading out, Venuto being highly ineffective and Montero not getting into the match enough. Venuto will be disappointed in his performance, as he was not noticeable at all in the half, losing a good chance to get ahead of Bangoura in the winger carousel. Along with Reyna, he did not provide enough of a consistent threat in wide areas, which will have to improve as the season goes on. The half could have used more of that wide threat, as RSL full back Brooks Lennon was constantly bombing forward, leaving space in behind. Montero has had a quiet two matches up top, not getting on the ball enough, but doing decent when he does. Had a few good link ups in the half, but we were left wanting more as the half ended.

Second Half:

The second half started out positively, with the Caps getting forward and pressing well, getting stuck in on some good tackles and coming out strong. Scott Sutter had a good half, playing on his weaker left side but doing well filling in for PC. The centre backs continued to be solid, not giving RSL much to work with in terms of space and chances. It had potential for a great road result if it were not for the penalty, leaving the Caps to chase the match a lot more than they would have liked. If the match had remained 0-0, it would have allowed for RSL to be more aggressive going forward, leaving the Caps space to exploit going forward. Instead, the Caps had to chase the game, but they did well generating chances while keeping the back rather steady for the most part. It turned into a track meet for a good 20 to 30 minutes, but the Caps showed good fitness and held strong.

Overall, most players stayed at the same level in the second half as they did the first, but a few subs picking up the team and getting them going forward. At the back Nerwinski looked a little more settled, with him and Sutter solidifying the flanks. Along with Henry and Godoy keeping the backline tight, it didn’t allow for RSL to have much to work with going forward, with their main chance being an offside goal as the game opened up. The defensive progression has been good from the squad, with the only worry being diagonal long balls finding targets in behind a bit too often, but they have found a way to limit the damage that those balls have done with some excellent recoveries. The team seems up for defending, and that mentality will take them a long way as they continue to improve their overall defensive play.

Hwang continued to be imposing, getting stuck in on some tackles, having some aggressive strikes and fizzing the ball around. He definitely gave Caps fans a lot to cheer about in the half, and it will be thrilling to see his passion and energy when the Caps play rivals Seattle in a big derby match in 20 days. Erice did good, but Dos Santos gave him a rest, bringing in Ardaiz to switch to a 4-4-2 and get more juice going forward. It was nothing on Erice, who had done well up to that point, but bringing him off allowed them to go more direct, especially with the energetic Bangoura having been brought on as well.

One big note from the matches so far his how well Dos Santos manages his substitutes, making purposeful subs that have energized the team when needed. As the season goes along and his team finds itself in different scenarios, we will see how creative he gets, but so far he has done well to spark his team when trailing. Along with Max Crepeau holding down the fort and making some good saves, the team made a good push to get at least a point, but their finishing let them down. The lack of offensive contributions on the scoresheet from the Caps attacking players may leave some cause for concern amongst some fans, but there has been some positive stuff to work with.

Bangoura and Ardaiz coming in gave a strong shout to be considered for selection next week, with Ardaiz showing good agility to go along with his size, getting in behind on a few runs. It might be a good idea to give Montero some rest next match, as he looks a bit off his usual standard so far. Ardaiz has looked good in his limited cameos in the two matches, and he might have a lot to provide against a Houston side next week coming off a midweek champions league tie and known for leaving open space on counters. Montero thrives in more technical matches, so seeing some combination of Ardaiz, Bangoura and either Venuto or Reyna could give the Caps a lot going forward against a backline that has a lot of question marks, including an ancient DeMarcus Beasley.

Bangoura did very well in his cameo, with his performance last week getting all sorts of positive and negative reviews from the fans and media. He redeemed himself this week, supporting those who believed he had done well and proving himself to those who had questioned. He is very rapid, and has good technical ability, so if the midfielders and strikers are able to link up with him he can get behind defenders and cause problems. Look for him to do well in a Houston match well suited for his abilities.

Despite the newfound energy once the subs came on, the Caps were not able to get any behind Nick Rimando. Much will be made of the lack of results so far, but positives continue to come up and give reason for fans to be optimistic. There have been some bright spots so far, so hopefully things come together as the matches roll on and everyone gets integrated. Losing is never fun for anyone, but for a rebuilding team they will have to absorb some of that sting as they continue to learn and adapt.

BTSvancity Player to Watch:

For this match we went with Jon Erice, and he did pretty good, passing the ball around well and defending well. He is the kind of player that can impress going forward, but a lot of his dirty work on the defensive end will go unnoticed, which is perfectly fine. He has good versatility for a deep lying playmaker, and will only get better as the options around him get more used to the system.

MOTM:

Without a doubt, this one goes to Hwang InBeom. He was nothing short of dominant in the match, flying around, getting stuck into tackles and clashing with others, fizzing balls around the park and having a few spectacular strikes that fell just short. He is everything you could want in a midfielder, and has adapted a lot faster than anyone would have expected, showing you how intelligent he is. He will only grow as the season goes along, so expect big things from someone who’s future appears to be so bright.

Honourable mentions: Maxime Crepeau, Jon Erice

Moment of the Match:

Tough to pick, but the best moment will go to all the people who helped clear the snow off the field after a snowstorm the night before, turning the surface from winter wonderland to impeccable with their manual labour. It was good to see everyone collaborate their, and the surface ended up pretty good on the afternoon.

Wholesome Moment:

It was tough for Kyle Beckerman, seeing the guy take a bullet from Hwang from about 10 yards right into the gut, but to see Hwang check up on him after was a wholesome moment from someone who has shown signs of great character with everything he does. He may get heated as the match plays on, he has a good respect for his opponents and the people around him. .

Random stat:

Not much of a stat, but MDS has yet to pick up a victory in 7 matches. Kind of surprising to realize that, but hopefully he can pick up that first win and get that monkey of the back.

Quote of the Match:

Brilliant quote from Dos Santos, showing good humour and charisma after a tough loss. It is unfortunate and everyone should feel hard done by the call against them on the penalty, but it is tough and hopefully karma gets everything evened out in the end. Dos Santos continues to impress with his blunt interviews, giving insightful quotes instead of the bland phrases of Carl Robinson.

Score Prediction:

As outlined in the match preview, here were the predictions from our team.

Alexandre: 3-2 Whitecaps, Venuto, Rose and Ardaiz scoring for the Caps, Rusnak and Savarino replying for RSL

Karim: 2-1 Whitecaps, Reyna and Montero for the Caps, Kreilach for RSL

Keveren: 2-1 Whitecaps, Reyna and Hwang for the Caps, Kreilach for RSL

Jan: 1-1 Draw, Montero and Rusnak the goals.

Alex and Jan gain points, as they correctly predicted the scorers. No one got the result nor the Caps tally correct, so Jan remains in first with 3, Alex is second with 2, Keveren in third with 1 and Karim last with 0.

Looking Forward:

The Caps make their way to a tough Texas opponent in Houston Dynamo. They won this fixture last season, with an impressive road performance, so they will be looking for more of the same there. Houston will be coming off a tough midweek champions league game, so how they manage that may influence the match. Look for the Caps to come out hard as they chase that first victory in the MDS era.

12:00 PST, Houston Texas.

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One thought on “Post-Game Review #2: Whitecaps FC vs Real Salt Lake (VAR 1-Clean Sheet 0)

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