Post-Match Review #14 – Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs New York Red Bulls – Chomping at the Big, Red Apple

After a sleepless night with their flight coming in from Kansas, the red-eyed Caps were unable to take advantage of the Red Bulls in this one, drawing their second match in a row after the thriller over the weekend. Marc Dos Santos came up with a very different lineup for this Wednesday night clash against New York, rotating heavily and going for a more defensive unit to sit deep and attack through the counter. They were plagued with a multitude of injuries and seemed to be resting a number of players as well for their Saturday match vs FC Dallas, so this match was always going to be an interesting one, at least from a tactical standpoint. Despite struggling early on, especially defensively, the Caps latched onto the few opportunities given, picking up 2 goals and leaving Red Bull Arena with 1 point. While looking at the balance of the game, it appeared that the Whitecaps were lucky to pick up anything, but they still had chances to win and can feel hard done by the result, especially with how close they came at the end. Luckily for them, they get right back into the swing of things Saturday, taking on Dallas FC as the season slowly starts to shift into must-win times for the middle grouping of the MLS standings.

Thoughts:

1st Half

Similarly to last weekend against Kansas City, the Whitecaps started off pinned in to their own end, left to absorb pressure as the Red Bulls imposed their will on the match. New York carried most of the play, creating chances and leaving Vancouver to resort to the counter-attack to find chances. While it was understandable considering the circumstances, seeing the Caps absorb all the pressure was disappointing to see considering New York was missing a lot of regulars, especially in the back, which could have allowed them to get more on the ball and find more chances. The pragmatic approach has worked for the most part on the road, but one can’t help wondering if the sitting back and playing 5 defenders has cost the Caps victories in matches that they have drawn, and draws in games they have lost.

The different look at the back appeared to only push Vancouver deeper. On many occasions, the Whitecaps had all five defenders in a line halfway into their own penalty area which left defenders stuck to each other while they didn’t have any players to mark. It seemed doomed to fail and was a far cry from the defensive solidity we have seen of late.

Some hustle from Ardaiz was what gave the Whitecaps an opening going forward. In the 29th minute, he got first to a Brett Levis back-heeled flick to get past Sean Nealis and then rounded him with the ball at his feet before finding Scott Sutter at the back post who put a surprisingly neat shot into the top of the net to give the Caps a surprise lead. It was completely against the run of play, but it was almost poetic in a way as the Whitecaps tactics of old came back to help them for this one. It was peak MLS, and one could feel the pulses of Caps fans raise after the goal, as a result, had suddenly seemed possible after the poor start to the game.

The first half finished with the Red Bulls having had 69% of the ball and they had a reason to be disappointed not to be leading heading into the interval. While the stats did not paint a pretty picture for the Caps, they still found a way to get some chances and cling onto the hope that a victory could remain achievable. The highlight of the half was probably on the defensive side of things when Erik Godoy showed off great athleticism and reflexes to clear the ball off the line and keep things level.

2nd Half

To start off the second half, Montero got the sub for Levis, and the Caps looked to improve on a rocky first half. Felipe had a great chance with a good header but he couldn’t convert with Luis Robles making a nice save, and the caps couldn’t turn in the rebound, leaving the game wide open. Soon after, Ali Adnan had another promising run up the wing with a shot to end it off, but he couldn’t bend it into the far post, leaving many to wonder why he cuts in so much on his week foot when he so rarely hits the target with it. While it may be hard to find an ideal position for him, it would be nice to see him get on that wonderful left foot of his more often.

Soon after, the game took a negative turn for the Caps, with Andy Rose deflecting a New York shot into the Whitecaps net, leaving the game suddenly out of their hands, foiling their grand plan. It was unlucky for the tall Englishmen, who was one of the best players on the evening, as he was played out of position for this one, looking comfortable in that unfamiliar centre back position.

It completely changed the complexion of the match and left the game seemingly destined for a New York victory. But then, the Whitecaps finally got granted some luck with VAR, with a potential infraction being flagged down by the assistant referee, granting them a rare penalty, which was cooly slotted by the mercurial Colombian, Fredy Montero, who has quietly heated up with 3 goals now in his last 5 matches. Although the Whitecaps struggled to Find Fredy during this one, he did do well to score the goal. Otherwise, he looked lively and created many of the chances the team had the second half.

Despite the balance of the half leaning slightly towards the Red Bulls, and the match on a whole being dominated by the team in red, the Caps did have a chance to steal 3 points at the death, as Lucas Venuto had a golden chance late on. He took on Robles on a half breakaway, cutting inside on the defender and tickling a strike that was destined to touch the net, with the fingertips of the New York keeper just stopping it short. It then fell to Hwang, who unfortunately had his head down and missed the swath of open Whitecaps that were left in the box, leaving the game to finish all square.

It left a sour taste in the mouths of those involved, as despite the result being positive on a whole, it felt once again more like a case of 2 points lost instead of 1 gained. While it may be easy to look at the point gained considering how the season has gone, they can come back to haunt you, something the 2018 iteration of this team can attest to.  

Performances

Between The Sticks(™) we saw Zac MacMath make his second start of the season, and he was solid, for the most part. While his distribution is severely lacking compared to his Canadian counterpart, Max Crepeau, he commands well and gets onto the end of balls. There was not much he could do about either goal, with both coming from close range, and he made sure the Red Bulls didn’t convert their many chances. While it’s clear to see that Crepeau is head and shoulders above him right now, MacMath is still solid and a good asset to have, whether they chose to keep him or trade him for cash/players.

At centre back, we saw a new look 3, with Derek Cornelius sliding in alongside Andy Rose and Erik Godoy. Surprisingly, they were great, at least on an individual level, with Godoy providing some nice clearances, Rose being solid besides the own goal, and Cornelius looking more and more like an MLS centre back. While the formation was more the issue, the players did their best to make sure that it would be the only issues, mostly clearing out the individual errors that have cost them all season (Rose goal aside)

At full back, we saw workman performances from both Scott Sutter and Ali Adnan, providing stability on the flanks. Sutter has shown to be a reliable rotation player, filling in admirably when called upon. While he is not as dynamic as Jake Nerwinski, he can put in a solid shift and was finally rewarded with a beautiful goal today. On the other side, one can wonder when the same might happen for Adnan, who was good once again, but unable to work magic with his devastating left foot. While he does his job perfectly at left back, one can be left to wonder what could happen if that left foot was pushed further up the pitch to do more damage.

In the middle, we saw a midfield two, with Jon Erice and Felipe playing together, signifying the Caps intent to sit deep and counter forward. Erice was largely unassuming, as he can often be, not really influencing the game but adding a veteran presence to the midfield. Felipe was more lively, picking up a few chances as he returned to his longtime MLS club, and was unlucky not to turn in a few of the attempts he delivered. While it may have lacked a dynamic element at times, they did what they had to do.

Up front, we saw a makeshift front three as Joaquin Ardaiz, PC and Brett Levis started together. It was quite surprising to see, consdiering the options, but they did put in a solid 45 together before Levis made way for Fredy Montero. While one could lament what a Lucas Venuto could have done on a high line like New Yorks, Levis and PC worked hard and made sure things were kept calmer at the back. With Ardaiz acting as an outlet, they had a recipe to defend deep and counter, with the goal scored at the 29th minute being the best example of it. While it would not be exciting to see every week, it was good considering the circumstances and was well executed by the three.

Substitutes Fredy Montero, Lucas Venuto and Hwang In Beom were solid, with Montero providing more spark, Venuto bringing the speed and Hwang the panache, as they all changed the complexion of the match. They were top substitutions from MDS, and nearly won them the match on their own. You would likely think all 3 start together 3 days from now.

MOTM:

Andy Rose had a good performance at the back today, in a role that he is not necessarily most comfortable with. He did well defensively, and he even contributed up front with a close header opportunity coming off of a cross. While it’s clear his best role is up the pitch, he showed off his versatility and why he has been so trusted by the coaching staff so far this season.

Honourable Mentions: Fredy Montero, Brett Levis.

BTSVancity Player to Watch – Derek Cornelius

Derek Cornelius got some good experience today at CB for the Caps, picking up a start with the team being thin at the back. He made the most of the opportunity, showing his growth as he looks more and more like an MLS veteran every time he steps on the pitch. While he could have done more with an early header, he didn’t set much of a foot wrong on the defensive side of things.

Tweet of the Match:

Uhhh…yeah maybe MDS was onto something with this one with another defender scoring…

Clearance:

Just going to note this defensive play by Godoy. Just wow.

Yikes of the Match:

With the game in the balance, it’s just not what you want to see. Good attempt from Hwang, but he needs to keep his head up there.

(Video)

Moment of the Match:

Whitecaps getting help from VAR? What is going on?

Looking Forward:

The Caps have little time to bounce back after this one, as the pivotal Western clash with Dallas FC looms on Saturday. They are hoping to have a closer to full-strength lineup for that one, so stay tuned for that. Until then, time to enjoy some nice weather before some good weekend football at BC Place.

16:00 PST, BC Place

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