After somehow finding a lead in the 57th minute, the Vancouver Whitecaps were left winded in Chicago as VAR continued its season-long rampage on the Caps with another game defining decision leaving them chasing that elusive first victory of the season. While the Caps were left under siege most of the night, they found a way to get that crucial goal, leaving fans imagining the faint possibility of a victory actually falling into the hands of the Whitecaps when Yordy Reyna found a way to capitalize on a horrendous David Ousted turnover, opening his account for the season. The Caps appeared to be in smooth sailing to the finish line despite the wind that Chicago is so famous for, as they made it to the 80th minute with the lead still intact. It’s from there on where everything fell apart, as VAR turned up in an unlikely moment and gifted Chicago a penalty. While it was a very controversial decision, one that is probably correct due to how decisive the VAR was on the play, it was still very hard to tell from the angles provided on the Canadian broadcast. One would have hoped that the referee could have trusted his original decision, but whatever he saw on the TV was good enough for him, leaving the Caps frustrated as their lead atop the VAR cup standings continued. While it was a tough result in the end, the Caps did pick up an important road point, giving them something to build on heading into the crucial home clash against LAFC on Wednesday. The performance itself left a lot to be desired, but there was still some good individual moments, as well as some decent moments of interplay. It is always tough to control road games in MLS, so it is completely understandable to see them struggle to control the game, but the match against LAFC will truly show where the Caps are right now, as they face the hottest team in MLS. Anyways, onto the thoughts on the match and individual performances.
The game started slowly, as not much went on during the first half. Both teams started slowly, as each team tried to slowly feel out the match and feel the other one out. A rare cross-conference clash, it was a case of the teams trying to get used to opponents they do not see very often. The Caps looked lethargic going forward, as there were a lot of missed passes and they struggled to get many touches in the Chicago half. It was tough to see but was manageable to watch as the Caps held on tightly, nullifying the Chicago attacks. While Chicago was carrying the bulk of play, their dangerous attacking options did not get much going in the half. Their best chances came from outside the box, as the Caps made sure to keep them to the outside and make life for Maxime Crepeau a lot easier.
Overall, it was probably the most boring half of the season, as there was not much to talk about for either team. The highlight of the half was probably when Maxime Crepeau continued his strong play so far this season, as he made an acrobatic stop on a strong effort from outside the box. He looked good once again, making Dos Santos look good for the belief he has had in the young Canadian, as he looks to be the goalie of both the present and the future. It was good to at least see the Caps leave the half with a clean sheet, keeping up the good defensive form they have shown in recent games. Doneil Henry and Erik Godoy looked good once again, making life a lot easier for Crepeau. Also, there was this tackle:
The second half started out a lot like the first one, as there was a lot of scrappy play and no one could seem to get a hold on the game. It looked destined to be another 0-0, as the Caps looked unlikely to conjure up much on the evening. It was around the 55th minute when the tide finally turned in the Caps favour, as a Jon Erice cross looped to the edge of the Chicago box, where former Whitecaps keeper David Ousted made a play to get his hands on the ball. It looked a routine play, but he completely misjudged his slide, leaving the ball behind. Vancouver pounced on the mistake, as Scott Sutter was immediately on the ball, forcing Ousted to swipe it away. Luckily, it fell right to Yordy Reyna, who showed great reflexes and composure to hit the ball first time right into the empty net. He made it a lot easier than it probably was, which was nice to see from the Peruvian International. After having had so much go against the Caps so far this season, it would have not been a surprise to see it clatter off the post or cleared off the line, as good breaks have been hard to come by.
From that point on, the game looked like it would belong to Vancouver, as they tightened things down at the back, giving Chicago absolutely nothing to work with. They had to content themselves with some speculative attempts from distance, as the Vancouver box looked to be an impenetrable fortress. With Crepeau getting hands to anything near his 6 yard box, the result looked more and more likely to side with Vancouver, as the second clean sheet of the season remained a real possibility.
However, in classic Vancouver fashion, they failed to push it across the line, as their luck went sideways after the goal. Joaquin Ardaiz came off the bench and provided an immediate impact, putting Bastian Schweinsteiger through the spin cycle as he burned him for pace. As he came in one-on-one with the keeper for the third straight match, he ended up getting the ball past him for once, but was denied as the ball slammed off the bar. It was disappointing for Ardaiz, who has done well to generate chances and put his efforts into good spots, just being undone by posts or great saves. You would have to think he is due for a goal real soon, as the rate at which he generates chances has been sublime.
With that chance going to the wayside, along with some other speculative efforts missing the mark, the Caps left themselves a very little margin for error heading into the last 80. They were defending well, but in a match like this one moment can turn the game on its head. That game-defining moment came not long after, as there was a scramble in the box and Doneil Henry looked to have blocked the ball with either his chest or his arm. Play continued on, as the ref initially did not believe that there was enough to warrant a penalty decision against Vancouver. However, VAR disagreed with him, letting him know that he had missed a decision, giving him a chance to review it.
The referee, Jair Marrufo, went over to go have a quick check on the video board, and he confirmed what VAR had seen, gifting a penalty. While the decision was tough, it appeared to be correct by letter of the law, as the ball looked to bounce off of Henry’s harm, it still was tough due to how close he and Aleksandr Katai really were. Henry had to react to a falling Katai, as he attempted to keep his hands away as Katai fell to the ground. He had no time to react to the quick shot from Katai, as the ball was less than a metre away when fired. While he did make himself bigger, giving him an advantage, it was tough to see him punished like that after a good performance. It was also tough to not have any good angles provided in the broadcast, as it was unclear to see how obvious of a penalty it actually was. The penalty was still given, giving Chicago a lifeline to get a goal and get back into the match.
Nemanja Nikolic, who was unusually quiet on the night, stepped up to the spot, and slotted home with ease, tying the game up at 1. Just like that, the Caps were left back at square 1, as the victory that they were mere minutes away from achieving had fallen to the wayside. They went from cruise control to white knuckling the wheel, as Chicago pressed to get all 3 points. While Hwang came close in the 87th minute with an audacious volley attempt, Maxime Crepeau ended up being the hero on the night as he made a stupendous reactionary save a minute from full time on the in form CJ Sapong, denying the Fire 3 points. While a draw was probably the fairest result, given how Chicago statistically imposed themselves on the Caps, it was still another gut punch for fans given how close they were to those vaunted 3 points. It leaves them with 2 points from a possible 18, chasing that first victory nearly a month and a half into the season. The Caps need to start finding a way to turn these close games into victories, as at a certain point moral victories are not going to get them anywhere.
In between the sticks, Maxime Crepeau was lights out, claiming crosses and clawing away any threat of danger. He was efficient, turning in a good performance for the Caps. He essentially got a clean sheet, as the lone goal was the spot kick, on which he did not have much of a chance to save. He has been better than advertised so far, giving the Caps a steady hand that often eluded them so often last season. The ball stuck to his gloves like glue, as he got to tons of balls in the air. He made a couple of five-alarm saves, with a crucial first half fist and his last ditch effort saving the Caps the point. While it is tough to see proven keeper Zac MacMath pushed to the sidelines, Crepeau has given fans no reason to feel worried. While one might think that a MacMath start may be in the cards given the fixture congestion, but either way the team should remain in safe hands.
At centre back, Henry and Godoy were good once again, penalty decision aside. They mopped up most of the danger, once again making the Caps defensive box one to be feared. They forced most of the central shots to come from outside the area, with most of the efforts that came from inside originating from the flanks. They look comfortable playing with each other, as Henry looks a lot better than he did last year, with Godoy providing a stabilizing influence alongside him. While there is the occasional passing error and mix-up when it comes to defensive assignment, they have shown to be one of the strong spots of the team so far. While one may point to 10 goals conceded, which averages to around 56 goals against, which only one playoff team made it in with last season (RSL), they have had the 4 penalties against, inflating those totals. If they got rid of the two that PRO determined to be incorrectly ruled, all of a sudden they’re at a 45 goal against pace, right at the ideal level to compete. As Henry and Godoy continue to get used to each other, and as the full backs find some consistency, things will only get better defensively for the Caps, especially with Crepeau putting in some solid performances.
At full back, Scott Sutter and Ali Adnan had differing performances. Sutter was spectacularly unspectacular, one of the best traits a full back can have. He gave up next to nothing defensively, as nothing seemed to get through that flank. He did not offer as much as Jake Nerwinski going forward, but leaving him in will definitely give the Caps defensive solidity as Nerwinski has struggled in that regard so far. On the other flank, Ali Adnan turned in his worse of the 3 games he had played so far, as he looked sluggish on the night. He gets a pass for this match, since this was his first road game in MLS, a 4 hour flight to a city that was hit with some pretty cold weather, a tough fixture for anyone new to the league. He got embarrassed a few times defensively, as Katai had some fun throwing him in the spin cycle in the first half. His usually strong crossing was off the mark, and his shooting left a lot to be desired. He will bounce back, as most top players do, and the Caps will expect him to soon, as it would be unlikely to see anyone but Adnan make the start against LAFC Wednesday. It would be cruel to throw in Brett Levis for his first start of the season against the hottest player in MLS right now, Carlos Vela, who has been torching people down the wing all season long. Expect Adnan to have a statement game in that LA one, as he looks to prove some doubters after the Panenka last week and the defensive miscues this one.
In the middle, the Caps fell off a bit from where they were last week. Hwang was consistent as always, doing all the little things well, but he did not get into the dangerous areas enough, as he often got isolated. Jon Erice was consistent as well, being the outlet to move the ball forward and provide the Caps with solid play going forward as well as back. One reason that Godoy and Henry have shined has been due to the play of the midfield defensively, with Erice providing a nice shield as most teams try and go wide to avoid him, Henry and Godoy in that middle. He and Hwang should start every game, as they are the team’s best passers and each of them provide well going both ways.
The conundrum is who to play next to them, as Felipe and Russell Teibert provide an interesting dilemma. They are both undersized, hardworking players who like to occupy the same areas and pass the ball into low danger situations. While they can be good to have if you are trying to keep possession, having both of them on at once can be frustrating at times, especially in a match like this where the Caps did not have much of the ball. Against LA they did well, as they got a lot of touches and helped the Caps generate attacks, but in this one they were often left isolated as the team struggled to play with the ball. Felipe probably has the upper edge, as he has been more consistent the last two matches, but Teibert is a key weapon for pressing as well as tackling. Either way, the Caps likely look to bring in a DP midfielder in the summer who is either a box-to-box 8, pushing Hwang to the 10, or bring a creative 10, making Hwang more of an 8, which would make both Felipe and Teibert bench options. Until that actually happens, the key for Dos Santos will to figure out the best way to use the two, but the experiment of using them both together looks to be dead in the water for now.
Up top, that left Yordy Reyna and Fredy Montero, with Reyna pushing inside a lot. Montero looked a lot better in this one than he has so far, with his touch looking a lot crisper and his passing more accurate. While he did not get any chances to score, he gave the Caps more than he had in most games so far. Reyna was a bit of a mixed bag, as he wandered inside a lot, as expected. He gave away possession a lot, which he can tend to do, but often he was uncharacteristic in how he gave it away, with poor touches or lackadaisical dribbles. While the goal will do wonders for his confidence, he still is slowly getting to where he needs to be. He is a tough one to crack, as it is clear he fancies playing in the middle, but there is not much room for him to operate in this system. It would be interesting to see him in a 10 or a false 9 role in one of the matches, but for now it looks like he will have to get his game going out on the wing.
The substitutes were effective once again, with Venuto providing energy off the bench, Ardaiz getting chances and Lass Bangoura being bright in his 5 minutes of action. While Bangoura and Venuto have been good off the bench all season, they have struggled to do it when they start, making things tough for Dos Santos. I would like to see them play together, as having both of them run at full backs could be for a fun night, since Reyna, PC or Hwang don’t really provide that same danger. Ardaiz was energetic as always off the bench, likely earning the start against LA if he has a good few days of training. While Montero was solid, Ardaiz was more direct and got a shot on target right away, which Montero did not have in 71 minutes of action. Personally, I would want to see what a Venuto-Ardaiz-Lass B trident can do against LAFC, as they all attack defenders well and would give the Caps some more speed in the wide areas.
BTSvancity Player to Watch:
Doneil Henry was our player to watch in this one, and he did well, mopping up danger and winning his aerial duels. While the penalty given up was due to some questionable arm work from him, his overall performance was good and he provided stability at the back. He will only get better as he continues to regain his form after some facing injury trouble earlier in his career.
Our MOTM on this evening goes to Maxime Crepeau, who was spectacular as mentioned. He was extremely unlucky not to get the clean sheet, as he commanded his area well and was confident in the air. He looks better each game, and has managed to carry over his strong form from USL last season. It is his net to lose right now, so let’s see how long he manages to keep this run going.
Moment of the Match:
This one has to go to the unusual goal the Caps scored. How? Why? Did Ousted misjudge the grass? Does he miss Vancouver that much? For whatever reason, it was a rare gift for the Caps in a season not full of many of them.
Spoke too soon moment:
Yeah this one didn’t age well (after the Reyna goal)… oh how good that GIF would have been if Ardaiz’s shot went bar down instead of bar out….it’s a nice one to have in the bank at least.
The attendance wasn’t great in this one, as evidenced by the results in this poll. It was hard to imagine the 10000 that somehow was reported, as there was nobody at the match. While it was a tough time, and the stadium is in a poor location (20 km from downtown!), it was still hard to see. MLS should have known better not to have this one on a Friday (give those to downtown stadiums), and the move to Soldier Field cannot come soon enough for the Fire. While many people over at the MLS reddit gave fair reasons why it is hard to make it out, it is not a good look on the league. They have top players, good history, now they need the right stadium.
Hope of the Match:
With the rumours of Dos Santos meeting with some people in Europe, it would appear that one of the many front office issues plaguing the team could come to end. It would be nice for the Caps to sign a technical director, giving them a leg up on player recruitment, as well as giving them someone who can help them manage footballing operations. While there are many other well-chronicled issues with ownership and other aspects of the front office, this would be a step in the right direction, at least for the product on the pitch. (Ralph Krueger step on up anyone??)
Stat of the Match:
Reyna’s goal was only the Caps second goal from open play in 6 games, not the greatest of starts…the Caps are also awaiting the first player to score their second of the season, with 5 players all now tied on one goal. The offense cannot come soon enough for goal-starved Caps fans.
Quote of the Match:
This absolute gem had myself and my watching companions laughing pretty hard. Steven Caldwell delivered this during the match, showing why many in the Vancouver market struggle to listen to him when he does Caps games. Absolutely brilliant stuff here.
Alex: 3-1 Caps, Felipe, Montero and Reyna for Caps, Frankowski for Chicago.
Karim: 2-1 Caps, Bangoura and Ardaiz for the Caps, Sapong for Chicago.
Keveren: 2-1 Caps, Hwang and Montero for the Caps, Sapong for Chicago.
Jan: 3-2 Chicago, Nikolic, Gaitan and Sapong for Chicago, Ardaiz and Hwang for the Caps.
Bryan: 1-0 Caps, Montero
Alex picks up two points, as he correctly predicted that Chicago would only get one and that Reyna would score. Keveren and Karim both pick up a point for correct Chicago outcome as well, with Bryan being the lone one to guess the Caps output correctly. Jan correctly guessed that Nikolic would score, but did not get the score, result nor any of the other scorers correct.
Alex: 9 Points
Karim: 7 Points
Jan: 7 Points
Keveren: 5 Points
Bryan: 1 Point
Felix: 1 Point
Very quick turnaround after this one, with the Caps in action on Wednesday against LAFC. The hottest team in MLS, they will provide an intriguing challenge for the struggling Caps. They will be a good gauge of where the Caps are at, as they have a chance to show off in front of the home fans. With names like Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and Mark-Anthony Kaye, as well as former Caps Steven Beitashour and Jordan Harvey, should be an entertaining affair.
April 17th, 19:00 PST, Vancouver