While the game did not end exactly as the Vancouver Whitecaps had expected, they continued their decent form of late, picking up their 4th victory of the season as they downed Dallas FC at BC Place Saturday night. They have slowly worked their way back into playoff contention of late, with points in 6 of their last 7 matches, as they start to look more and more like the team that was expected to grace the turf at BC Place when Marc Dos Santos was hired 7 months ago. It bodes well for the near future, as things start to heat up with Canadian Championship and the Gold Cup just around the corner. Despite the match grinding to a halt in the second half as the Caps attempted to hold on after a rough week, there is still a lot to unpack in this one, so we’ll get right to proceedings.
Once again, the Whitecaps came out with a 5 at the back formation, as they were missing a few of their first choice attackers. The different approach allowed them to field a stronger lineup, due to said injury rouble, and the bolder approach allowed them to dictate the flow of the game right from the get-go, despite the possession stats not really being in their favour. One key adjustment was that the back 3 played higher up the pitch than against New York, allowing them to control the midfield battle and take the game to Dallas.
Fredy Montero looked up for this one, coming out of the gates firing, looking as good as he has so far this season. He showcased some of the more underrated aspects of his game, winning a foul deep in the Dallas half nearly immediately. Pairing him and Lucas Venuto allowed the Caps direct avenues when caught deep in their half, as they found ways to fill the channels left in between the Dallas defenders.
After controlling the game defensively and keeping possession tidy in midfield areas, they were soon rewarded with a moment of genius, as Ali Adnan went on an adventurous run deep in the Dallas half. While he loves to take on defenders, often successfully, he often would lack the finishing piece, at least when it came to getting the ball on target. He was not lacking any of that in this run, as he left two Dallas players in the turnstile and gleefully chipped Jesse Gonzalez, allowing the Whitecaps to take a key 1-0 lead around 30 minutes into the match.
The energy in BC Place was noticeably improved after the goal, as Adnan’s run provided the spark that the crowd desperately needed. The momentum seemed to carry the Caps, as not long after Lucas Venuto turned up to provide a second. After a great ball in from Jake Nerwinski, Fredy Montero brought down the ball nicely, squaring up to shoot, but instead backheeling the ball right into Venuto’s path. Venuto layed it home with class, neatly curling the ball around the sprawling Gonzalez, doubling the lead and sending the crowd into a frenzy.
It provided a huge boost heading into half time, as the game seemed destined to fall for the Caps. While the morale was high heading into the break, it had to be with an asterisk (in classic Vancouver fashion), as Ali Adnan was forced to retire with a muscle problem right before the break, another one in a long line of them the last few weeks. While this is an unusually bad run of injuries, one can’t help but wonder if there is something that Vancouver could do to avert this swath of muscles problems of late.
The second half started a lot slower, with Adnan’s absence being a lot more noticeable as the Caps sat a little deeper and attempted to grind out 3 points. This approach proved successful, as game was eventually ground to a halt, with Dallas unable to push the initiative and make Vancouver pay, turning the game into a match in which the next goal scored would be paramount to provide any sort of change to the complexion of the game.
And that eventual goal took ages to come, with both teams trading big chances, including a memorable crossbar from Dallas midfielder Pablo Arranguiz and a darting run from Lucas Venuto, in which he rounded Jesse Gonzalez but got stopped after dribbling his way into the trouble. Shortly after, Dominique Badji turned up for Dallas, cutting inside neatly and carefully slotting home Dallas’s opening tally, giving them a much needed lifeline to get back into the game with around 10 minutes remaining.
While the Caps had seemed to have all but sealed three points, their lead was suddenly in a much more precarious position than originally anticipated. It completely changed the nature of the match, as Dallas was allowed to carry the balance of the last 10 minutes, throwing attack after attack at a very beleaguered Vancouver backline. But despite the absence of star defender Doneil Henry in this one, the resilient Caps defence held on for the 3 points.
While the match did not end exactly as anticipated, there was a lot of positives to bring out of it. The Caps have looked really good at home, showing they can hang with some of the top teams in MLS, and they proved it once again today, despite missing several key pieces to their puzzle. The 5 at the back also looked good today, as many have questioned its execution away from home this season. With the next few weeks at home, the Caps have plenty of time to continue to grow and pick up points before heading out on the road again, and hopefully they are soon able to dictate play both away and at home, which would be key if they are hoping to compete for MLS Cup this season and in the future.
Maxime Crepeau was solid once again, as his steadying hand in goal was immense for the Caps. He has truly grown into his own over the first few months of the season, going from prospect to bonafide top 10 MLS keeper over the span of 15 matches. He has been as advertised and more, providing a good aerial presence, good shot-stopping and excellent distribution, kickstarting a lot of Whitecaps attacks with his feet. Him keeping up his strong play will be key if the Caps look to make any noise in the playoff race heading into the middle and end of the season.
At the back, we once again saw an experimental back three, with Derek Cornelius, Erik Godoy and Andy Rose partnering up once again to hold down the fort. While they had defended well individually against New York, the back 3 on a whole looked shaky, so when it was announced that the Caps would once again trot out the same unit on Saturday, there was room for some skepticism in some quarters. Those worries were quickly averted, as they looked a lot more cohesive right from the get go, playing a high line and filling in their duties exactly as expected. While there were some awkward moments, each member of the line had noteworthy performances, with Rose looking like he’s played the position his whole career, Godoy looking impressive as usual and a surprise standout performance from Cornelius. If they are to continue to turn in consistently impressive defensive performances like this with this formation, it would no longer be worrying to see them turn to it in times of need.
Either side of them defensively was the tandem of Ali Adnan and Jake Nerwinski, with both relishing in the freedom a formation like this can provide. Adnan really had the shackles off for this affair, bursting up the wing and bagging his noteworthy tally. It was a massive disappointment to see him carted off early, as he was on track to deliver possibly the most impressive performance in a long line of them for him so far in MLS. The injury does not appear to be serious, so look for him to bounce back and get back to action next Friday, as he enters the last month of his loan from Udinese. On the other side, Nerwinski was dependable, as usual, getting up and whipping some dangerous balls into the corridors of uncertainty in and around the Dallas backline. One of those balls lead directly to a goal, with Montero plucking it down and laying it off to Venuto for the second Caps tally, which was positive to see from Nerwinski’s perspective as he has showcased positive growth since the beginning of the season. After a shaky start to the season, he looks much improved in both going forward and tracking back, making him more reliable and providing a good rotation for him and Scott Sutter.
In the midfield, we saw good performances from the midfield 3, with Jon Erice, Hwang In Beom and Russell Teibert being the preferred 3 once again. Erice had one of his best performances of the season, showcasing why his purchase has been one of the biggest offseason acquisitions so far, as he proves to be the heartbeat of any sort of offence generating from the middle, linking all phases of play together. His calming presence has been immense so far this season, so the only hope is that he can manage to keep it up all season with his aging legs. Hwang and Teibert looked good beside him, as they link up very well and have strong chemistry, looking like they have played together for years. While Hwang is clearly the superior player on the ball, Teibert has improved his ball skills massively since coming to MLS, providing useful when building up attacks. Defensively, him and Hwang are super useful as well, as they press with great intent and track back responsibly. In a game like this one, where the Caps looked to shut down the midfield the second half, having pieces like Teibert, Hwang and Erice proved vital.
Up top, we saw a new look front-two, with Lucas Venuto and Fredy Montero being paired together to bring the Caps a different look. They did just that, with Venuto turning up with one of the best games of his season and Fredy not far behind him. Venuto looked energetic, scoring, and getting in behind on many occasions with his pace. With Montero playing provider, including the nice backheel on the goal, they gave the Dallas backline a few things to worry about. While it would be nice to see Venuto turn in more of the many chances he creates, seeing him consistently set up the plate for himself should give fans belief that he can finally feast in one of the upcoming matches. With the Caps forward line in constant flux due to form and injuries, any sort of consistency at the moment is much needed for the club.
The three substitutes for this one ended up being PC, Felipe and Theo Bair, with the pair of Brazilians tightening the game up and Bair providing a nice outlet for the Caps defenders to play off of. It was good to see a debut from the young Canadian, who looked good as the game appeared to suit his finest abilities. While he can often be lacking a first touch, he thrives in the physicality and intensity of a tight game and should provide a useful sub should matches take that physical turn. PC and Felipe shored up areas of fatigue and injury for the Caps, ensuring that the 3 points would end up on the home side of the ledger, and their professionalism was much needed as the game took a sloppier turn at the end.
BTSVancity Player to Watch:
For this one, we tipped Jake Nerwinski as our player to watch, and he was excellent, turning in a strong performance, picking up a hockey assist and having some good moments defensively. With him and Sutter, the Caps have little to worry at the right back position.
Man Of The Match:
While there were many names that proved good choices for this one, our man of the match award goes to the young Canadian, Derek Cornelius. After some shaky performances at the beginning of the season, he has bounced back in a big way, looking good in the absence of Doneil Henry. It gives Canadian fans good hope heading into the Gold Cup, with Henry looking to be back by then and Cornelius on a good run of form himself.
Honourable Mentions: Max Crepeau, Lucas Venuto, Jon Erice, Andy Rose
Max proving every day he belongs among the top keepers in MLS, should be getting more MLS All Star recognition.
Tweet of the Match:
As usual, JJ Adams from the Province was on top of his twitter game, dropping this tweet instantly after Ali’s twisting effort. One of the most fun social media things this year has been the Iraqi army brought in with Adnan’s arrival, and their dedication has certainly been something to respect and admire so far. Maybe we should get onto some of that for Canucks abroad such as Alphonso Davies or Junior Hoilett….
Wholesome Moment (Night?)
As usual, the Caps pride night was first-class, with everything from the warm up shirts to the halftime festivities being done perfectly. The tifo looked great as well, and it was a nice touch to add the rainbow nets. Made for a great afternoon!
Stat of the Week:
Before the Red Bulls match, some users pointed out that the Caps defenders had scored half of their goals. In the two matches since? 4 goals scored total by the Caps, 2 by defenders. MDS is definitely onto something with these 5 defender formations….
Someone please sort out those muscles problems, it’s getting a bit concerning now. The less said on that the better, but hopefully the Caps can get some of the players back and avoid some muscle injuries for a week…
After a hectic two weeks, the Caps get a nice and relaxed week at home before facing rivals Toronto. While the boys from the Big Smoke have looked good this season, the Caps at home has been a tough matchup for most teams so far, so expect a good affair. Until then, we will be back with some few pieces as we get back into the swing of things.
Friday May 31st vs Toronto FC, BC Place, 19:00 PST