On a sunny Saturday in Vancouver, the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps convened once again for a famed Cascadia Cup clash. The Whitecaps, reeling after 3 straight losses and some poor refereeing decisions that went against them, were determined to get their season up and running against their longtime rivals. They did just that, picking up their first point under Marc Dos Santos and their first MLS clean sheet in 11 months and managing to slow down one of the highest flying teams in the league right now. While the point they picked up was huge for their confidence and considering the opponent, the Caps can feel hard done by as they failed to convert some chances at the end of the match, and VAR showed up once again to crush the dreams of fans, although this time it was justified. This should give the Caps plenty of confidence heading into their next match on Friday, as they take on the middling LA Galaxy, ready to pick up that first victory of the season in front of their home fans.
Vancouver came into this one ready to play, starting positively and weathering the expected Seattle storm. They looked better on the ball than they have in the other matches, and for the most part were succeeding to get the ball up the field. The progress from two weeks ago was clear to see, and they started to actually look like an MDS team. While there was little things to work on, such as using the midfielders more and switching the play when caught out wide, there were still positive moments of interplay that gave a glimpse of what to expect going forward. The first part of the half had a few too many poor long balls for my liking, but a few of them did land in the right places and allowed for some positive counters. The defence remained tidy, not allowing Seattle to generate much and get their dangermen like Nico Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz into space, while Maxime Crepeau and his two centre backs, Erik Godoy and Doneil Henry, mopped up all of the crosses and other chances that came in and around the box. The first 15 minutes gave reason for fans to believe, as many had predicted and were expecting a offensive explosion from Seattle. As that looked less and less likely, there started to be a belief that A. The Caps could actually hang with Seattle and win, and B. That they could keep a clean sheet.
The Caps grew into the game after that, as they started to move the ball around with more authority and do some of the things that they know they can do going forward. They had one move in particular around the 20th minute where they strung together a 20+ pass move, but they just couldn’t get the ball into the danger zones offensively. Probably the best part about the Caps keeping a clean sheet in this match is that it allowed for them to play their game and try and assert control on it, instead of chasing their opponents and letting them dictate the play. So far in the first three games this season they had allowed the first goal in the 37th, 21st and 15th minutes of play, forcing them to stray from their game plan and chase the game. By neutralizing Seattle and keeping them to the outside, they had a few chances to counter and cause some damage. While some fans may complain that the Caps sat back and only had 42% possession, especially considering it was a home match, but it was necessary and they nearly pulled off the victory because of it. If Hwang was able to start this one, the outcome could have been different, but he was too fatigued to start as mentioned by Marc Dos Santos after the match.
After making it through that first half, the Caps had every reason to believe that they could snatch a result heading into the second. They had showed a lot of positive signs, and just needed to get that one chance or that one moment that would allow them to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. They started rather slow the first 10-15 minutes of the second half, as Seattle finally started to look like the team that had everyone talking before this one. They started to move the ball smartly in attack, finding the open man and whipping in dangerous balls that gave Henry, Godoy and Crepeau a lot to deal with. The Caps remained solid once again, continuing to mop up the danger and give belief that the clean sheet that had been so long in the making could finally make its triumphant return. Everybody was defending, getting back and making sure Seattle couldn’t get anywhere near the six-yard box. They would counter effectively, getting the ball wide and finding the pockets of space that Seattle left defensively, but the Caps were undone by the lack of a dangerous final ball.
In the 75th minute a dangerous ball from substitute Lucas Venuto nearly found a man back post, but Stefan Frei mopped up the danger for Seattle. Crepeau stayed strong at the back, making a big save in the 87th minute off a free kick to keep the Caps alive as they managed to make it to the 90th minute with the clean sheet still intact. With 3 added minutes, it did not look like the Caps were going to find any way to score, as Seattle continued to attack and attack and force the Caps under siege in their own box. They somehow weathered the storm, and all hell broke loose when they countered in the 93rd minute of 93, as Joaquin Ardaiz ended up one on one with the keeper after some great footwork. He took a decent shot, which of course was saved by the reliable Frei, and Hwang attempted to slam home the rebound. His attempt was blocked, however he ended up being clipped on the way down, inciting the referee to blow for a dramatic last second penalty. Somehow, the Caps had appeared to gotten some fortune that looked likely to give them the first 3 points of the MDS era, against their strong rivals from down south. But it was all not mean to be on the night, as VAR decided that the referee’s decision was a clear and obvious error and that he needed to check out on his screen to make a choice. He had the moral integrity to realize his decision at first was pretty harsh, and decided to overturn it. While he was pretty much correct in doing so, it hurt to see after the Caps got screwed over the last two matches by decisions that should have not stood after VAR remain unchanged, as for whatever reason the referees in either match did not believe that they had made a mistake. It was another bitter pill to swallow for Caps fans, and one has to think that they’re due for some referee karma after the way things have gone so far.
At the back, Crepeau was solid once again, picking up his first MLS clean sheet and showing no sign of giving up his starting spot. One has to almost feel from Zac MacMath, who once again is stapled to the bench, but Crepeau has earned his shot and has taken it well, showing that he belongs in this league. He marshalled his backline relatively well, and made good decisions when he decided to come out and claim crosses and long balls. He had a few nice stops as well, including a strong stop against a bullet from Gustav Svensson and one on a close range free-kick from Victor Rodriguez. He looks confident and hopefully he can keep this run going for the Caps and for Canada as he looks to be the next starter for them when Milan Borjan starts to slow down or retire.
As mentioned, Doneil Henry and Erik Godoy were spectacular at the back, blocking shots and making great tackles. They seemed nearly impenetrable, as Seattle’s best chances came from longer range strikes and a free-kick. If they continue playing like that, they will appease a lot of the worries that Caps fans had about the backline heading into the season. They have established a great partnership, and seem very comfortable with each other. They are improving offensively as well, helping the attack out with their calculated passing and good forays going forward. As Jesser Khemiri looks to be about a month away, and Derek Cornelius tries to get some confidence back, they will have to play themselves out of the lineup at this point, which looks unlikely in the near future. Henry, in particular, looks like a completely new player as he showcases off his athleticism with some acrobatic clearances and last-ditch blocks. He has done very well to polish off his game, so continue to expect good things from him and Godoy as they continue to mop out the little mistakes.
Out wide, Ali Adnan made a huge difference and Jake Nerwinski bounced back rather nicely to round out the back 4. Adnan had an impressive debut, and he will only get better as he gets back into the swing of playing regularly. Despite that, you can see that he is a gamer, and the kind of player the Caps will look to desperately persuade to stay in MLS. He has the size, he can move, and he has a magical left foot, while being able to do good things with his right as well. He caused a threat going forward, and it was a shame he was not unleashed into space enough so he could get some more shots off. Defensively, he did what he had to do, neutralizing the on-fire Jordan Morris and keeping him pretty much out of the game.
Nerwinski had his moments on the right, but still doesn’t look quite at the level that he can play at. He did look a lot better defensively than the first two matches, putting some well-timed challenges after giving away penalties in his first two starts. He got burned a couple of times, but thanks to the safety net that was Crepeau, Godoy and Henry on the night, he escaped unscathed. MDS has options at the position, as Sutter is solid as well there, as the right back position appears to be the only question mark at the back after this match. Hopefully Nerwinski starts against LA and puts in a great performance, as it is enticing to imagine him and Adnan wreaking havoc and flying up and down either flank.
It was pretty industrial from the middle of the park, as they looked to neutralize the threat that Seattle posed through the middle. Jon Erice did not have the greatest of matches, as his passing wasn’t as pinpoint as we are used to seeing and he had some pretty horrendous giveaways. It wasn’t much to worry about for now, but hopefully he can have a bounceback performance against LA. Felipe had a lot better match than he did in the opener, as he moved the ball quicker and with more purpose than he was in that one. He did what he did best, and that was draw fouls, getting his team out of tough situations as he absorbed a lot of contact. While he can be better offensively, he gave no reasons to have fans worry if he is in the lineup against LA. Russell Teibert was tenacious as usual, impressive considering he played the match with a separated shoulder!!. While a few people were concerned when that news came out after the match, it was impressive to see Rusty show so much grit and spit when in a state like that. He always provides the Caps a spark plug option through the middle, and will be especially useful the next few matches as Andy Rose recovers from facial fractures. Hopefully his shoulder is better by Friday, as he or Felipe fights for the last spot in the midfield for Friday as Hwang Inbeom and Erice look likely to start that one.
Out wide, PC and Lass Bangoura turned in solid performances. PC was a bit of a surprise start at wing, as many expected Lucas Venuto to start. PC ended up being a great choice for this match, as his contagious energy on the press forced Seattle into a few mistakes as they played out the back. While PC may not have the skill of a Reyna or a Venuto, his energy gives the Caps a little more defensive stability from the front. He generated a few positive chances as well, and came close to scoring in the 75 minute after a great ball from Lucas Venuto. On the other wing, Bangoura was a little quieter than expected after a good performance against Houston, but he had a few chances to get a coveted birthday goal. He whipped in a few good balls as well, but the usually reliable Fredy Montero looked a bit off his usual standard. Hopefully we see Bangoura once again on Friday, as he could do some damage against the LA Galaxy backline, but it will likely be Venuto and Reyna after a strong performance from the former.
Up top, Fredy Montero continued to link up well with the midfielders and wingers, springing a few chances, but he looked quite off. His usually dependable touch looks a bit heavy and he looks every bit the player who looks rusty after some injury trouble in Portugal. He hesitated on a few chances, and had a few balls clang off his shins. It’s entirely possible that he gets rested on one of the upcoming matches, giving a chance for Ardaiz to shine, but MDS might not want to sacrifice the hold-up and link-up play he brings to the table. Whatever it is, one would definitely think that a goal from open play would do wonders for his confidence right now.
Dos Santos once again had positive impacts from his subs, as Venuto, Hwang and Ardaiz all made an impact off the bench. Venuto came off the bench and shined, posing a conundrum for Dos Santos. Now through 4 games, Bangoura and Venuto have each started twice, with the other coming on and being a lot more effective than the starter each time. I’m surprised he didn’t take the chance to start both of them today and see what can happen, but starting PC ended up being a smart move. I do want to see both of them up together soon, maybe with Reyna as a false-nine or with Ardaiz in a pacey front three. Hwang was good, but look a little tired as he recovers from the international break. He did well on the ball, but his legs looked a little heavy. He got clattered on the penalty shout, but could have done a bit better at getting the shot off quickly. He will likely start on Friday as he gets his legs back after all his travels, and will hopefully dazzle once more in front of the BC Place crowd. Ardaiz rounded out the substitutes with another good performance in his 4th appearance as a sub. One would have to think he will start soon, as he has done well in his cameos. Especially with Montero looking a bit off, it may be a chance for the big but fast attacker to make his first start and bring a different element. We asked Dos Santos post game what he thought of Ardaiz so far, and he said that he has been happy, but we will see if he merits a start or not on Friday.
BTSVancity Player to Watch:
We decided to grant the honour of player to watch to Maxime Crepeau for this one, and he delivered, getting his first clean sheet in MLS. As mentioned, he was solid and looks to have established himself as the number 1 for now. He rewarded our faith in him quite nicely, and hopefully our pick for Friday does just as well as Crepeau did in this one.
Doneil Henry takes the honours for this match, as we give credit for his spectacular blocks and solid defensive play. He commented in the post-match press conference that defenders often don’t get the praise for when they win, but get villainized when they make a mistake, so for this one we will give the praise where it is due. He has really stepped forward so far this year and silenced a lot of the doubters, which undoubtedly satisfies him. Look for him to stay confident and continue to turn in consistent performances.
Moment Of The Match:
The last minute scramble by the Caps as they chased the winner was pretty entertaining, despite them not getting the penalty they so badly desired. It was an exciting finish to a derby match and really got the crowd excited at the end. While Ardaiz should have done better with keeping the finish hard and low, his dribbling was amazing and his shot did squirt loose to Hwang for a second chance. Everyone in the stadium was screaming and yelling for this sequence, and provided entertainment for all fans involved.
The block by Godoy in the 5th minute was, er, very sketchy to say the least. Thankfully the referee agreed that his hand was doing a natural motion, but it is likely that becomes a penalty under the new FIFA rules. It was a bit sketchy from Godoy, and one can imagine the outrage there would have been if that had been given. Thankfully the penalty streak ended, with the help of decisions such as that one.
Random Stat/Stat of the day:
With the clean sheet, the Caps got their first MLS clean sheet since April 27th 2018, which is 11 months (335 days). Of course, in Caps fashion, they broke it against the hottest offensive team in MLS, because why not, but it is a weight off the shoulder for defenders and fans like myself that do enjoy them. Hopefully they can get a few more of them as the defence looks solid.
Quote of the Match:
“No its not by design, we want the ball to pass the first guy in the zone, but again in Playstation its easy, you control the power, here of course we work with that and were on them and it needs to become better, the deliveries” -Marc Dos Santos, on what he thought of the set-pieces were too flat.
Another great quote from MDS, as he continues to mine out the soundbytes in his post game press conferences.
Alexandre: 2-0 Whitecaps, Godoy and Montero scoring.
Keveren: 2-0 Seattle, Ruidiaz Brace.
Jan: 3-1 Seattle, Ruidiaz Brace, 1x Morris Goal and Montero replying for the Caps.
Karim: 2-0 Seattle, Ruidiaz and Morris
Felix: 2-2, Ruidiaz and Kee Hee for Seattle, Reyna and Montero for the Caps.
Alex, Keveren and Karim all gain points as Alex predicted the Sounders would not score, while Keveren and Karim predicted that Vancouver would remain scoreless. Newcomer Felix gains a point for guessing a draw, while Jan does not gain any points.
Alex: 7 Points
Jan: 4 Points
Keveren: 3 Points
Karim: 3 Points
Felix: 1 Point
The Caps welcome in the LA Galaxy on Friday, who look to gain some momentum after some sporadic performances. It is unclear whether dangermen Romain Alessandrini and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will start as they recover from injuries, but it should be a good fixture. Vancouver has done well against LA at home in recent years, and would like to continue their momentum built after the good result against Seattle. It will be a good one!
19:00 PST, Vancouver