While it may not have been exactly how they drew things up at the beginning, the Vancouver Whitecaps finally took care of business at BC Place on Wednesday, picking up their first 3 points of the season after a massive result against MLS league leaders LAFC. While many people may have favoured the high-flying LA outfit against the struggling Whitecaps in what seemed to be a big mismatch on paper, Vancouver found some defensive magic once again and managed to keep the big guns on LA quiet on the evening. They started out the match positively, which has been a common theme in home matches so far this season, taking the game to LA and showing that they were indeed an opponent that shouldn’t be taken lightly. This was probably the best Whitecaps performance to date, as the victory was well-merited, unlike the Chicago game where they ended up being second-best for most of the night. The Caps did end up sitting a lot deeper than they would have liked in the end, absorbing a lot of pressure as LA chased an equalizer that would see them continue their unbeaten run, but they did what they had to do to slow down LA. There was a lot of positives in this one, so we’ll get right into thoughts on the match and on the performances.
The match started out positively for Vancouver, who came out on the front foot, taking the game to LAFC. It was positive to see, especially after witnessing a listless first half last match around against Chicago. The Caps appeared to have a lot more jump from the get go, giving the fans in BC Place something to cheer about. The changes to the front line from last match payed dividends, with Yordy Reyna, PC and Lucas Venuto getting in behind and getting into good areas going forward.
There appeared to be a lot more intent from Vancouver in this one, as Marc Dos Santos showed fans some of what’s to come in terms of attacking football, especially in home matches. They moved the ball, built things from the back, played one-twos and got the ball into the right channels, pushing a rotated LA backline deep and putting them under a lot of pressure. They picked up some early chances, with Reyna smacking a peach of a volley that sailed just wide, and Hwang Inbeom following it up with a dangerous inswinger with his left.
They finally looked the team that everyone had expected to see from the get-go, and it got the crowd of 17038 something to cheer and enjoy after a tense past few days. They looked motivated both offensively and defensively, controlling the game and looking dangerous every time they got up the field. They were much the better team, but as in most matches so far, it was wondered if they were going to be able to convert some of these chances, giving them a much needed cushion.
And, in the 27th minute, they did just that, with Hwang turning up in the right place and in the right time to finish a beautiful dipping PC effort that had come off the woodwork. It was his first goal in MLS, and you could tell the impact it had on the young South Korean international, as he had come so close to opening his account on many occasions. It gave the crowd a big lift, and instilled some belief that the Caps could finally find this elusive victory.
While the product on the pitch was entertaining, the game hit a bit of a lull after the goal, as neither team was able to do much. The Caps continued to press, chasing that second, but they were not able to produce the kind of chances that they were earlier in the match. It segwayed into the big talking point on the evening, when the Southsiders and Curva Collective, two of Vancouver’s official supporter groups, went through with their planned 10 minute walkout meant to protest the front-office in light of their handling of allegations stemming from their Women’s program 10 years ago. While the protest was not meant to be big, it got a lot of attention, especially online, so it was a big talking point when the 35th minute came and they filed out of the stadium.
With the two groups protesting on the concourse, the stadium became noticeably more quiet, as the two main hubs of energy were not there to provide the usual noise. While it was quite weird to see and hear, not much happened in the last 10 minutes of the half, which felt quite strange with the dead atmosphere. It would have been very interesting to see if Vancouver had found a way to score, with how the noise would have been, but nonetheless they executed their plan and it will remain an interesting situation to monitor on the whole.
The second half started out positive for Vancouver, a good sign as they have often struggled to come out the gates after half time in matches. Just as they had started the game, they went after LA, getting some good balls into dangerous areas. Lucas Venuto had a great chance, showing off the pace and intelligence that he can bring to the field. While the finish was severely lacking in the end, it showed a lot of what he can offer to the club.
As the half went on, the team looked creative, they looked free-flowing, and it was an overall positive mood in the building. They tried an audacious corner routine that ended with Ali Adnan lacing a powerful volley just wide, a sign of their increasing confidence. While they did not find a way to double their lead, they showed a lot of spunk and grit against a team that they had no business doing it to, at least on paper. They looked calm defensively, the ball movement was relatively composed, and all the signs were there for that monumental Whitecaps victory.
They made it to the 70th minute with the 1-0 still intact, as that belief continued to grow. At this point they resulted to some Carl Robinson era tactics, getting behind the ball and using speedy outlets such as Reyna and sub Lass Bangoura to get some chances when they did manage to dispossess LA. While many may be disappointed in the employment of the tactic, it was understandable considering the opponent and the scope of past results. A team may want to have a style of play to strive to follow on a consistent basis, but sometimes all you need is to get 11 men behind the ball and grind out a result.
They made it to the 90th minute with that lead intact, avoiding any VAR drama such as the decision that plagued them in Chicago. The crowd was roaring, players were lumping the ball to the appreciation of the Whitecaps faithful, and Maxime Crepeau continued to make clutch stops and catches. All of their hard work and belief that they have maintained throughout the season was finally reward in the 97th minute when the match official put his whistle to his lips and officially signified that the Whitecaps would leave a pitch victorious for the first time this season.
While it got hairy at times at the end, it was super positive to see the Caps finally put all of the positive things they had done during the season into one match, as they managed to keep a clean sheet, score a timely goal and find a way to avoid costly individual errors. Given the opponent, it was no small feat to manage what they did, and it should give them plenty of energy and motivation going into the cross-country clash against Orlando on Saturday.
Maxime Crepeau was solid once again on the evening, proving his value as he was clutch when relied upon. While he was not as flashy as he had to be in Chicago, he was there when needed, which is all you can ask for from a keeper in a game like this. Had chances such as the one in the first half managed to sneak through and tie up the game, it could have completely changed the game, so to see him come up in those moments is a huge positive for Caps fans. While it may be disappointing for Zac MacMath, who has yet to feature, seeing a Canadian keeper string together consistent performances like this one has definitely been a huge positive on the season. With Milan Borjan only getting older, and Alessandro Busti still finding his way to the first-team, it would not be a stretch to see Crepeau starting for les Rouges in the future if he is able to maintain this level. While it is obviously quite early to judge his overall performance and how he’ll hold up in big matches, he has stepped up to every task he has faced so far.
Through the centre of defence, Erik Godoy and Doneil Henry proved once again that they can be relied on at this level. While there were some close calls (when is there ever not with MLS defenders) they got the job done, and like when they played Seattle a few weeks ago, they did what had to be done to earn a clean sheet. They have done a lot to help stabilize the Whitecaps defence, and fans can feel a lot more confident heading into matches defensively than they had the last 14 or so months. They manage to compliment each other well, as they have a good balance of athleticism and speed to compensate for each other, which allows them to be confident knowing the other will be there if something were to happen. With Jhesser Khemiri still being a ways away, and Derek Cornelius having some struggles so far this season, fans can rest easy knowing Henry and Godoy will take care of business.
At full back, we saw bounceback performances from a pair that could have used them, with Ali Adnan and Jake Nerwinski looking a lot better on the evening. Nerwinski looked confident, as he started to show some of the form that he has shown over his time in MLS. While he had a few hairy moments defensively, he kept things simple and was reliable, which is never a bad thing to do when playing fullback. If he can continue to grow on that, and start attacking with the ambition that he has shown to have in the past, it would go a long way as the Caps look to rack up some victories. Adnan was also immense on the night, keeping Carlos Vela quiet, which is no small feat considering the rampage the Mexican international has been on all season. While Adnan was not as rambunctious going forward as he has been during prior games, he had a good balance between defensive responsibility and getting up the pitch, finding himself up for some good crosses and a good strike at goal. If they can continue to get performances like that from him, it will show why MDS believes in him to be the best left back in MLS right now.
Through the middle, there was a bit of a surprise as Russell Teibert slotted in alongside Hwang and Jon Erice. It was a smart decision, as Dos Santos looked to press LAFC up the pitch, so having the spark plug that Teibert can be in the centre of the park was highly beneficial in that regard. He did what he can do defensively, as his tenacity and grit got him stuck in on challenges and pushing Latif Blessing, Eduard Atuesta and Peter-Lee Vessell further down the pitch than they would have liked. He also got the ball forward a lot more, a complaint that many fans have had in prior performances. Alongside Hwang, who was immense as usual, there was a lot of energy and ambition to go around. The South Korean was fired up on the night, picking up his goal and putting in an industrial performance, including a dust-up with noted agitator Diego Rossi. While he did not have some of the flair that he has shown to provide in other matches, he did exactly what he needed to do, showing fire and courage. With Jon Erice putting in another unassuming quality performance, spraying his passes to the tune of 91.3% along with 3 tackles, the Caps did exactly what they needed to do to match to what many had predicted to be a mismatch for them in the midfield.
Out wide, we saw the Brazilian duo of PC and Lucas Venuto play together in this one, and they showed a lot of value as a tandem, with their speed posing challenges for the defence. While PC tends to use his speed more in defensive situations, with Venuto loving to get in behind the opposition’s backline, the combo of pace they offer can provide a good look for Vancouver going forward. While PC is obviously not the most technical players in the world, as we have seen since preseason, his hard work and great shooting ability can provide value, especially in matches like this one. With Venuto putting in a more consistent performance from the start, it allowed the Caps to pose a continual threat in wide areas. While Venuto did fade towards the 65th minute, he did generate some good chances and provides Vancouver with a good conundrum with Venuto, PC and Lass Bangoura all showing different qualities in performances so far.
Lastly, we had a bit of surprise up top, as Yordy Reyna started at striker for the first time since preseason. While the move had many perplexed, especially after some uncharacteristically quiet performances to start the season, Reyna looked great in the role, proving that he likely belongs in the middle going forward. He had speed, getting in behind on many key runs, he had passing, setting up many of his teammates, and he had workrate, busting his tail off for the whole 90 as he pressed a lot going forward. It was a breakthrough performance for the Peruvian, who has struggled to get going after finishing last season on such a positive note. If he can do that on a consistent basis, it will provide the Caps with another good option to have up top, especially with Fredy Montero struggling to start the season. With the Caps having two DP strikers sitting on the bench for this one, it leaves the question as what to do if Reyna does continues playing like this, as it may appear the best option at striker was there all along. While I do believe in Montero, and Ardaiz as shown a lot as well, it does bring up an interesting situation going forward.
Off the bench, we saw Lass Bangoura, Felipe and Fredy Montero enter the match for Venuto, Erice and PC respectively. The Bangoura-Venuto sub happened once again, and was effective once again, as Bangoura had a good time running at the tired defenders. It is definitely a good option to have, and one that Dos Santos has used on many occasions, with the starter between the two often making way around the 65th minute. Felipe came on not long after, and did exactly what he need to do, shore up the midfield as Erice seemed to tire. It was another positive performance for the Brazilian, and while he did not do as much on the ball as he would have hoped, it’s another step in the right direction. Lastly, we had the Montero sub, which was more tactical in nature as the Caps looked to kill some time ahead of the final whistle. Montero will likely feature in Orlando, possibly alongside Ardaiz, but it gave him a chance to get his legs going and help the Caps grind out a result.
BTSVancity Player to Watch:
Our first real strikeout in this segment for the season, as our player to watch did not even feature. It would have nice to see Ardaiz make an appearance against LA, but it was not meant to be on the evening. Expect him to play a significant role against Orlando on Saturday, as he looks to bully a backline that has had it’s fair share of struggles to start the season.
Our nod in this one goes to the surprise striker Yordy Reyna. As mentioned, he was excellent in his new role, working hard and making things happen. It was good to see his high workrate in this one, as he seemed to be a pace behind in the earlier matches so far this season. If he can continue to play like this, he can be an influential player and remind fans why they were so excited about him heading into this campaign, after such a strong finish to last year.
Moment of the Match:
The protests were a big talking point heading into it, and will remain a talking point after. While it was positive to have the team pick up a key first victory, which will mean a lot to everyone around the squad, there is still a lot going on off the field. It will definitely be an interesting one to see progress in coming weeks.
Hwang Inbeom got stuck in during the second half, sending the flamboyant red card magnet Diego Rossi flying. While the foul was a very tactical one in nature, with Hwang taking a well-deserved yellow to mop up a dangerous LAFC counter, Rossi took exception to Hwang, getting in his face and giving him some words. The usually calm South Korean did not like that, going off and trying to get a piece of Rossi. While many debate what Rossi said, Hwang’s subtle comment in his post-match presser does give an idea that Rossi singled him out in a racial manner, providing him the source of his anger. While we have no idea how it will turn out for Rossi, seeing Hwang angry had to be motivation for the Caps to close out this one.
Stat of the Match:
Simple stat for this one, but a very important one nonetheless as Vancouver picks up that important first 3 points of the season, bringing their total to 5. If they can continue that to Orlando for Saturday, all of a sudden things look a lot better for a side that started so poorly results wise.
Quote of the Match:
Grumpy old man Bob Bradley delivers some gold in his post-match press conference, referring to the BC Place surface with a very polite word that starts with shi and ends with a t. You would have thought a week after the other LA team came in and pulled a result that he would known better, but he went straight after the surface, giving it blame on the night. While it is understandable he would be disappointed after their first loss on the season, it was surprising to see him use as such an excuse.
Bonus Quote of the Match:
More gold from Inbeom on the Vancouver side of things, as he finishes off his press conference with the words “I’m Korean”, adding fuel to the fire that Diego Rossi not only apparently abused him verbally after the crunching tackle, but that he misidentified him. It will be interesting to see how it’s handled, especially if the referee did hear anything, but a word of advice for Rossi, if you are going to insult someone, stick to remarks about their intelligence or playing ability, try and avoid bringing in race unncessarily.
Alex: 4-2 LAFC, Goals for Ramirez, Vela, Rossi and Blessing, Ardaiz and Hwang for Vancouver
Karim: 3-1 LAFC, 2x Vela and 1 for Rossi, Ardaiz for the Caps.
Keveren: 2-1 LAFC, Vela and Rossi for LA, Montero for Caps
Jan: 3-1 LAFC, Vela x2 and Rossi, Lass Bangoura for caps.
Not much gained during this one, with everyone predicting a LA victory. Alex correctly predicted Hwang would score, giving him a point, while Karim, Keveren and Jan all get a point for predicting the correct Whitecaps score.
Alex: 10 Points
Karim: 8 Points
Jan: 8 Points
Keveren: 6 Points
Bryan: 1 Point
Felix: 1 Point
After this victory, the Caps have very little time to savour it, as they take their talents down to Orlando to face a middling Orlando City side. While the Lions look improved on their team last year (not saying much), they struggled defensively, which may be what the Caps need to get some offensive form going. After seeing the Caps produce chances against LAFC today, there definitely is potential for there to be goals on Saturday. While the Caps may be affected by the impact of 3 matches in 8 days as well as the cross country travel, this one promises to be an interesting affair as Dos Santos’s squad depth is severely tested.
April 20th, 12:00 PST, Orlando