After dropping their second match of the season to fellow conference foes in Real Salt Lake, the Whitecaps continued their whirlwind of a start to the season, flying down to Houston to play in a stadium that had been unfavourable to them over the years, hoping for a repeat of last years victory. Houston, fresh off a disappointing elimination from the CONCACAF Champions League, came out with 7 of the same starters from that match, going with a stronger eleven knowing that an international break awaited them at the conclusion of this one. The Caps came out risky as well, trying out a 3 at the back formation after sticking with their trusted 4-3-3 the first two matches. It ended up backfiring, with Derek Cornelius having a nightmare of a 30 minutes after starting well the first 15, tanking their hopes for the afternoon as they went down 2-1 heading into the half. Bringing on Lass Bangoura offered some hope, as he tied up the match as a substitute after making a great run, but another defensive lapse undid the Caps, as they got ripped apart on a counter. They then lost Andy Rose to a head injury after making all 3 substitutions and were not able to pull it back from down 3-2, coming up just short once again. There were a lot of positives shown in this one, which is always positive for a rebuilding side, but they ended up shooting themselves in the foot, playing from behind most of the match. They have some mistakes to clean up and some decisions to make, but with 2 weeks to analyze their first 3 matches and further integrate their players into the system, they should come out strong in their derby match against high-flying rivals Seattle.
The lineup they came out with was a huge surprise, as the Caps came out in a 3-4-2-1 that was very narrow down the middle, with Hwang and Reyna playing underneath the striker. It was meant to counter Houston’s dangerous array of wide options while maintaining good midfield support to play a possession-based style. Jake Nerwinski was dropped out of the side after a rough first two matches, and more surprisingly Bangoura did not start after doing very well as a sub last match. Besides that, not much of a surprise in terms of the personnel used, with the biggest surprise being the formation.
The match started out slow, with the Caps easing themselves into the match, looking a bit unsure of the formation. A lot of the players looked stranded, with Hwang Inbeom, Yordy Reyna and Scott Sutter in particular getting isolated on the ball a lot. Derek Cornelius, Erik Godoy and Doneil Henry had a strong first 15 minutes, suffocating most of Houston’s attacks. Cornelius looked a lot more comfortable this match, after starting the Minnesota match out of position at left back, defending well and making some decent passes forward in his natural position of centre back.
It was all quickly undone, however, as he was caught in possession as he attempted to move the ball forward from the back, turning over the ball to one of the guys in this league that should not be allowed any time and space, the ever-dangerous Alberth Elis. Elis capitalized almost immediately, fizzing a dangerous ball across an empty box to an in-form Memo Rodriguez, fresh off a MLS Goal of the Week, who put it home with ease. It once again killed the Caps clean sheet hopes, which at this point looks like it will never come. It has been way too long since the Caps have held one and at this point it’s almost comedic what they do to get rid of them. It’s not even close anymore, with the Caps yet to make it to the first half with one in their 3 matches. It’s not much of a concern for this season, but after going nearly 25 matches without one last year it is certainly annoying for people such as myself who crave them.
This killed the little bit of momentum that the Caps had, stretching out the match and isolating their main threats even more. Elis came close once more, almost making it 2-0 with a dangerous header off the bar, and it was a miracle that the Caps made it to the 34th minute only down 1-0. From there, a bit of magic came out of nowhere, as their dangerous set-piece proficiency continued with a great ball from Hwang, that Fredy Montero was able to bring down, getting behind the defender and winning himself a penalty in the process. He slotted it home with composure, marking the first goal all season (including preseason) that was not from a defender. It was a good moment for the Colombian, who was surely starting to wonder if the goals were going to come to him after banging them in with regularly in his first tenure here. It looks good for him going into the Seattle match, as he scored quite a few goals against his former club in that season here.
But, as the Caps have done a lot this season, they gave away the lead, with a clumsy challenge by Cornelius, giving up the Caps 3rd(!!) penalty of the season. Like last week’s decision, it was heavily debated online, as Cornelius appeared to get a good chunk of the ball. VAR disagreed, leaving the penalty to stand, which Elis calmly slotted away. Whether or not it was a penalty, it doesn’t really matter as once again the Caps defender was out of position when he made the challenge. Cornelius got stretched out and made a last-ditch tackle to recover, which ended up going wrong for him. Hopefully, the decisions do start going the Caps way as the season goes along, but their defenders have to stop letting players get into space behind them to force these kinds of reckless challenges that can go either way with MLS referees.
At the back, Maxime Crepeau had another decent performance, not being able to do much on either first-half goal, as they were a result of poor decisions being made around him. He saved what he could, parrying some decent efforts and commanding his box relatively well. He moved the ball around decently as well, making some good long balls forward and slicing some nice incisive balls up to the midfielders, helping out his defenders. One may start to wonder if Zac MacMath would start to get consideration for a start after the three losses, but Crepeau has done nothing to displace himself. If MacMath were to start, it would be more to mix things up instead of Crepeau losing his spot on merit. It’s nice to have the cover if Crepeau were to falter, but for now it’s the least of their worries.
The back 3 was an interesting experiment, as it worked relatively well for the first 15 minutes as mentioned. However, as space opened up throughout the half, they started to get torn apart, as the pace of Elis was too much for any of them to handle. PC and Sutter would get caught up the field, leaving the back 3 to take care of Elis, which he had a field day with on the occasion. Henry was pretty good on the half, as well as Godoy, but Cornelius had a nightmare 30 minutes to end it as evidenced by this graphic of his whoscored rating for the half.
Not the best of halves from the young Canadian, but he should improve as he starts to get comfortable at this level. It probably wasn’t the best idea to put him in this back 3 on the day, which leads to another point. Marc Dos Santos, who has been pretty good tactically so far definitely got it wrong on the afternoon(which he later admitted with his second-half subs). The idea to limit Houston’s width with a 3 at the back with defensive full backs was a good one in principle, but it was not executed properly. Firstly, PC and Sutter had to do too much work on the flanks, bombing up and down as the midfielders and attackers played narrow. By doing this, Elis and Rodriguez were able to get in behind the defenders, serving up some tasty balls and causing problems to the Caps. It also caused the midfielders and attackers to get isolated going forward, as they got contained in the middle with a lack of wide threat tightening the field. Houston pounced on that, getting balls in the channels between the advanced full backs and the centre backs, which allowed them to generate their chances. It also made it a struggle going forward, as the Caps would look to build up the play and either get stuck having to constantly recycle the ball at the back or cause turnovers further forward as they tried to do too much work with the ball.
It was disappointing to see, as Houston are known for being a team that plays directly, so it was not much of a surprise to see them exploit the spaces left. If Dos Santos wanted to go with a back 5 to nullify the winger threat, he should have gone with a 5-2-3 that had two wingers, or something similar to it. It would have been tough to have only two midfielders, but one of the centre backs pushing up along with Montero dropping back would have helped massively in that regard. By not having wingers, it caused the full backs to have do too much work to try and help the players in the middle from getting isolated, and they were not able to keep up. The formation would have worked against a team that had more narrow threats, such as a Portland or a Toronto, where their best players are in the middle and they recognize that with the way they play. Another option would have been to stick with a 4 at the back, with two traditional full backs nullifying the winger options and removing one defender to supplement the midfield or the attack.
PC and Sutter ended up having a rougher half because of that, running all over the place and not being able to provide much going forward nor defensively as they were all over the place, trying to cover as much ground possible. Sutter had some nice defensive plays, as he tracked back well a few times, but he didn’t really get into the game much going forward. PC was relatively invisible in the half, and his aggressive pushes forward left the dangerous Elis to go 1 on 1 against Cornelius, which was never a good proposition. If Elis wasn’t such a danger, they could have had some more freedom going forward, but his presence made it a lot more difficult to do much either way as he is one of the true game changers in this league.
The midfield was an interesting conundrum as well, as Andy Rose and Jon Erice struggled to get into the game as well. Erice looked a little lost at times, as his support would be all over the place and he ended up giving the ball away a few times, uncharacteristic for him. Rose was industrial as usual, with his long legs doing some good work defensively but not providing much going forward. With Erice struggling to do his thing, it left them isolated and they had some rough giveaways as they struggled to get the ball forward to Hwang, Reyna and Montero. Rose appeared a lot better suited to the 4-3-3 played last week, as he looked a bit out of his element on the afternoon in his role.
The attacking trio had their moments, with Reyna having some good runs that led to good attacking situations, Hwang having some good dribbles and Montero linking up when possible, but they struggled to get any shots towards goal, getting isolated out wide or sucked into the middle. They got a few corners and free kicks out of it, but they did not get into dangerous areas enough, as evidenced by the heat maps for the half. Hwang in particular looked out of his element, as his position did not look suited for him. It asked too much of him to play as a winger as he appears a lot better suited to dominate the middle as he had done last matches. He could have done a lot of damage in the position he was in today, right behind the striker, but the lack of wingers around him left him in unfavourable positions at times. Reyna did better, as he is used to playing out wide and making space for himself, but he was often caught out in the corner and wide areas as he did not have many options to work the ball into the middle and make things happen.
All in all, not the greatest half, as it looked pretty disjointed and most players looking like they needed a nice jolt to the system. The tactics looked off, but the players did nothing to really help Dos Santos, especially going forward where they looked disjointed. It left a lot to be asked heading into the end of half, down 2-1 to a good opponent and lucky not to be down 3 or 4-1.
Dos Santos rectified his mistakes to begin the half, bringing on Bangoura for Cornelius, shifting to a 4-3-3. This helped immensely, as Bangoura was once again very energetic, going after defenders and collecting take-ons like a collector item. Helped by the formation change, the Caps went after the open space much better, getting Hwang, Montero and Reyna involved in the game as they started to fizz the ball around with confidence. Shifting Reyna out wide allowed him and Bangoura to push the Houston backline down, leaving space for Montero to hold up the ball and exchange with Hwang. They started to draw a lot more fouls as well, with some dangerous set-pieces nearly tying the match back up. Backed by a solid start to the half from Henry and Godoy, they did just that, with Bangoura opening up his MLS account with a great run down the flank, cutting inside and slotting home with ease. Look for him to come on strong the next few matches, as that looked to be a big boost to his confidence.
The 4-3-3 was a stroke of genius from Dos Santos, as it allowed the Caps to take advantage of the game. Obviously one could point out the fact that they had used it primarily as their main formation up to this point, but it was perfect for the conditions of the match, allowing them to do what Dos Santos had preached so much of up to this point. Hwang and Bangoura continued their unlikely partnership out in wide spaces, playing exotic one-twos and opening up space for Bangoura to go in behind and whip in dangerous balls. After seeing Carl Robinson go to stadiums and experiment with formations and having them blow up in his face, it was nice to see Dos Santos fix his mistakes and see him rewarded for it, as the Caps looked like a new outfit.
Hwang continued to be an energizer bunny, as he impressed once again. He did not have the greatest of halves, and this one did not have as many signature moments as the last match, but he had a great free-kick and some pretty good tackles, along with calm ball movement. Even on an off day, he knows how to make things happen, the hallmark of a good player.
Another stand out was Doneil Henry, who has looked a lot better this season. He made one tackle in particular that stood out, where he lunged in and recovered nicely after Houston had seemingly cut them apart and all but made it 3-2. He looks much improved defensively and does pretty well for himself going forward. The Godoy-Henry partnership should continue, as they have looked solid together and still have a lot of potential to become a good pairing in this league. They have had some growing pains, but overall it’s been positive returns for two player that have only played a few matches together.
Despite creating some good chances, the match ended up taking a turn in Houston’s favour, as they capitalized on a beautiful counter with some nice interplay. Elis continued to impress, picking up his second assist of the game on a spicy cross box ball. The Caps got too stretched out, which was to be expected with the way the game was turning out, as they lost the track meet that had gone on for the 15-20 minutes after the Bangoura goal. When a game is that stretched out when tied, often the next goal can win it as the team scoring will turtle down, and that is exactly what happened, with Houston tightening the match up and taking their 3 points. It wasn’t for lack of trying, however, as the Caps showed great fighting spirit, despite Rose leaving the match after a nasty clash, after the Caps had used all 3 subs. The subs they had brought on, Venuto and Ardaiz, gave them options to attack but Houston’s backline held strong as the Caps pushed.
There was a red card shout as well, as Montero got clobbered with a flying elbow, but it was not meant to be as the ref and VAR did not see enough on it. The positive out of that, however, was that it fired up the Caps, who showed great passion to back up their teammate. For a team with a lot of fresh faces who are trying to build up chemistry, it was a positive thing to see. They showed that they care about each other and that they want to win, which can only be good going forward. They were unfortunate to drop to 10 men, but well-done to the Caps medical staff for protecting their players as Rose got hurt in unfortunate circumstances, which we wish him a speedy recovery from.
All in all, lots of positives to take from this, and look for Dos Santos to study the next opponents intensely the next 2 weeks, as Seattle have been flying in their first few matches. If they come out with a good 11, with a lot of their mistakes behind them, they have shown flashes in these matches of what could potentially happen once they put it together. It sucks to not have a point to show for after the first 3, but as long as things continue to progress it can be easier to stomach.
BTSVancity Player to Watch:
Our player to watch today was Hwang, who did alright, but not great compared to his first two matches. As mentionned, it was mostly due to circumstances such as the position he played. He should have better matches as long as the system suits him, and he still provided moments of brilliance when he could. A great player who will continue to grow.
It’s rare that in a match that the Man of the Match goes to a sub, but in what was essentially a tale of two halves we grant it to one who ended up going 45 minutes, Lass Bangoura. The formation played a big role in waking up the Caps, but Bangoura was electric, skinning defenders and playing dangerous balls, finishing off a great run to open up his MLS account. He probably should have started, so look for him to get that chance when they host Seattle next around. He may have a little extra juice for that one, fresh off not being called up for Guinea’s African cup qualifier next week, after featuring in their last few matches. I’m not sure if its a mutual agreement or the coach looking to rotate, but it will give him a good break heading into that huge match.
Honourable Mentions: Henry, Montero
Moment Of The Match:
It was not a pretty moment, but the clash of heads between Mauro Manotas and Andy Rose was a defining moment in the match. The Caps were chasing an equalizer, and losing a player to a head injury robbed them of an additional player in a moment that they could have needed it in. Hopefully Rose is okay, as he was bloodied on the play and didn’t look too great coming off, and is able to make a good recovery. Kudos to the Whitecaps medical staff, who did very well to take care of him and make sure he followed correct concussion protocol.
Not sure what to title this, but Bangoura’s passionate calma celebration was quite hilarious. It was the last thing to expect from a flashy winger who plyed his trade for so long in Spain, but was quite funny nonetheless. In a match with a lot of frustrating moments, it was the rare glimpse of humour. Hopefully, his next goal is scored in more positive circumstances, and he can provide an entertaining celebration.
Seeing these heatmaps of the Caps were…uhhhhhh… not great. The second half showed signs of improvement, but the first half was ugly. The 3-4-2-1 did not do them any favours, and hopefully we do not see it for the next little while until they practice it a little more and use it against the right opponent.
Quote of the Match:
“We can’t just bring energy from the bench, we need to bring that energy from the start”
Marc Dos Santos, after the match.
Dos Santos did not mince words after the match, admitting what was pretty obvious for most fans to see and frustrating to notice. His subs have been great in all the matches, but the players who start need to make the most of the opportunity, allowing themselves to control the match instead of trying to chase it all the time. His brutal honesty is refreshing as usual.
Alexandre: 2-2, Lass Bangoura and Fredy Montero for the Caps, Elis and Martinez for Houston
Karim: 2-1 Houston, Manotas x2 for Houston, Montero for the Caps
Keveren: 2-0 Houston, Quioto and Manotas
Jan: 2-1 Caps, Venuto and Hwang for the Caps, Manotas for Houston
Alex has himself a decent outing, getting the Caps score and scorers correct, however missing out on the result. He picks up 4 points, pushing his tally to 6. Jan picks up a point, pushing up to 4, and Karim picks up a pair of points while Keveren gathers one himself.
Alex: 6 Points
Jan: 4 Points
Keveren: 2 Point
Karim: 2 Point
The Caps have two weeks off, with 6 of their players participating in the international break. Hwang will be in action for South Korea, Reyna for Peru and Crepeau, Henry, Teibert and Cornelius for Canada (Which will be at BC Place! More pieces on that to come). After that, there is a much anticipated Derby match against Seattle, which will be jumping as always. Look for the Caps to come out strong after the break and hopefully pick up a huge victory in front of their fans.
7:00 PST, Vancouver B.C.