After what had been a long 8 days of action, heartbreak, joy and travel, the Vancouver Whitecaps finished off their most brutal stretch of the season to date, taking on Orlando City on the road, a tough matchup considering that they took on league leaders LAFC at home less than 3 days prior. While it was a tough hand dealt out by the schedule maker, the Caps took it in stride, making 5 changes to their victorious lineup from the LAFC outing. While they have mostly stuck with a 4-3-3 on the season, looking to play attractive possession football, they went with a 5-3-2 for this one, attempting to stifle Orlando defensively and get their full backs wide as they constructed most of their attack through the middle. While it was sound, in theory, it ended up lacking in practice, as the Caps got stuck on the ball too much and ended up giving up way too much space. Orlando had too much time to do what they want, pressuring the Caps with their possession and attacks. While the Caps ended up trying to bunk down and collect an away draw, their dreams were dashed in the 88th minute when Orlando star man Nani popped up at the right place at the right time to deflect a Sacha Kleijstan shot into the Vancouver goal, sealing all 3 points for Vancouver. Let’s dive into our thoughts for this one.
It was a new-look from Dos Santos, as he went to 5 at the back, as mentioned. While it had potential to be successful, it ended up nullifying their threats on the attack, as they had too much space between the defenders to the strikers, with the midfield 3 getting way too spread out. With no wingers, the formation asks a lot of the wing-backs, who must get forward and back consistently to provide options for the middle players to interact with. Playing a porous Orlando defensive line, one could have wondered if the Caps could have done with an extra man up front instead of at the back, putting someone like a Lass Bangoura or Lucas Venuto to chase balls down and get in behind.
It ended up being a relatively dull first half, as chances were few to come by from either team. Orlando did end up holding on to the bulk of possession, but their best chance ended up being a set-piece effort that fell to the head of former Senegalese international Lamine Sane. For the Caps, they didn’t get much going from open-play, as they as well had their best chances from some Hwang inswingers off corners that found some heads near the penalty spot. The lack of speed in wide areas forced them to have to rely on Yordy Reyna to create moments of magic on his own, hoping he wins some sort of set-piece for them to have any chance at goal. It was a lethargic approach at times from the team and leaves you hoping that 5-3-2 formations take a nice break until they figure out the best way to coordinate defensive and offensive cohesion at the same time.
The second half brought much of the same, with the Caps struggling to create much going forward, with Orlando picking up some chances with the control they exercised over much of the half. While many of those chances ended up being non-threatening, you could feel that they were ready to pounce at any moment. Zac MacMath came up big, including a nice stop on Joao Moutinho early in the half, but was rather untested in terms of the big chances.
That all changed late in the match, when the game turned from the inevitable 0-0 it seemed bound to produce, with Orlando star man Nani turning up and putting the game away after he deflected the goal home. It was a tough end to a tough game, and was a gut punch for the Caps. While they could have done a lot better to make it a more entertaining affair, they did enough to earn a point on the afternoon and were left to rue small mistakes and lack of creation.
In goal, not much of a surprise move as Zac MacMath made his first start of the season in goal for Vancouver. While it would have not been a surprise to see Max Crepeau stay in between the sticks after some good performances including a clean sheet last time out, seeing MacMath make his first start while returning home to Orlando was good to see from the fan point of view, as the Caps proved their depth in an important position. MacMath looked good on the afternoon, stopping shots and providing stability behind the backline. While he does not hold the same passing acumen as Crepeau, he avoids glaring mistakes and plays the ball around with enough confidence to allow Vancouver to sort of build from the back. While his penchant for longer balls at times could have been met with some Joaquin Ardaiz size instead of Fredy Montero’s smarts, he showed the Caps should be in good hands no matter who keeps the goal.
At centre back, Erik Godoy and Doneil Henry were joined by a new face once again, as Derek Cornelius was slotted in alongside them for the second time this season. While the experiment went better than the first time of asking, it did allow some chances from non-ideal ranges and was eventually undone with the scoring of the goal. It’s clear that Godoy is a gamer, and that he and Henry fit well together, it’s just that it’s best they remain in a 2-centre back system for now. While Cornelius has potential and has shown flashes of what he can do, it appears that the two in the middle are sorted for the time being. While I would like to see Cornelius in his natural position paired in a two, there is no reason to shuffle what has been working defensively this season.
The full-backs were pretty good in this one as well, with Ali Adnan controlling his flank and Scott Sutter making a successful return to Orlando as he put in a solid shift once again after being rested in the midweek. They should be a pairing that can and should stick together, with Adnan showing why MDS considers him to be the best left back in MLS, and Sutter providing the stability and balance he is meant to provide. Nerwinski has been alright, but he can be better, so it may not be the worst thing in the world to have a veteran light a fire under him and make him want to be better.
The midfield was a bit of a different story, with there once again being bright moments but also some lower lights. The bright spot was that they were working hard and shutting down the middle (for the most part), but they were also overmatched as the formation didn’t necessarily cater to what they were aiming to do going forward. Felipe, Teibert and Hwang did what they had to do to help the team stay solid defensively, but it would have been nice to see more going forward as the two front men ended up very isolated. A lot of it is due to the formation, as they have been pretty good of late, so chalk it up to a temporary issue.
Up top, we had a bit of a new look, with MDS pairing Fredy Montero with the Man of The Match from the LAFC game, Yordy Reyna. While Reyna was not the same as he was against LA, he still got in behind and did what he could. He often got very isolated, with some of it due to his own accord, but he still was decent and doing what he needs to do as a striker. It would be better to see him with two wingers like against LAFC, but hopefully, they will go back to that in the future. Montero looked average, but again, it is hard to be too negative on the forwards for the system being restrictive to their success.
The substitutes were hard to grade, with two of them coming in the 92nd minute, but the first one was the talking point of the match, with Joaquin Ardaiz putting in a listless display off the bench. Usually energetic when brought on, he walked around and looked generally disinterested in playing. Be it the weather, sickness or the weather, it was disappointing to see from the young DP. Hopefully, that was just a blip in the radar, as he has shown flashes since the Caps need him to score goals going forward.
Alex: 2-1 Vancouver: Erik Godoy, Hwang for Vancouver, Dwyer for Orlando
Karim: 1-1: Akindele and Reyna
Keveren: 3-1 Vancouver, Reyna, Adnan and Bangoura for Vancouver, Nani for Orlando
Jan: 1-1, Nani and Montero
Bryan: 2-1, Hwang Brace, Brian Rowe for Orlando
Alex: 11 Points
Jan: 10 Points
Karim: 9 Points
Keveren: 8 Points
Bryan: 2 Points
Felix: 1 Point
The Caps take on the Philly Union on Saturday, as they have a nice week-long break after a tough schedule. Should be a good one!