Post-Match Review #17– Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Colorado Rapids FC: Kicking off the Summer With a Bang

After a lengthy absence from MLS play, the Caps returned to action against the Colorado Rapids at BC Place. After the Caps took 3 points in their first matchup back in May, the Rapids were more fortunate this time around, as the teams split the points in what proved to be a rather entertaining match between two Western Conference foes. With Kei Kamara and Nico Mezquida returning to Vancouver for the first time since both of them were moved on to Colorado during the offseason, it provided plenty of emotion for a match that easily could have been swept under the rug with both teams being out of the playoffs for the moment. Instead, they gave anyone who tuned in a treat, as there were chances galore, passionate tackles and a nice comeback from Vancouver, leaving the match with a result that both sides can ultimately satisfied with. With many absences on the Vancouver side due to international commitments, and Colorado coming off a US Open Cup match, the effort level from both teams was impressive and it should give the Caps hope heading into the midweek clash against Dallas. As usual, we have a lot to unpack, so let’s get to the thoughts and performances.

Thoughts:

Match:

The first few minutes of the match proved uneventful as both teams took some time to feel each other out. While the Caps looked comfortable going forward, their defensive line seemed to really feel the absences of Doneil Henry and Max Crepeau in the first 25 minutes, as their passing was lacking that crispness that fans have had a chance to see all season, and Rose and Godoy looked uncomfortable in a back 4 after having done so well in a 5 at the back in recent matches.  

That nervous energy ended up coming back to bite the Caps, as some poor turnovers at the back led to a couple of consecutive corners for the Rapids, as the pressure mounted on the Vancouver backline. While the first ball Mezquida delivered was headed over rather unspectacularly from Kamara, the second one he sent a few minutes after ending up finding its way through a mess of players at the front post, slipping the ball right through the six-yard box before bouncing in off what appeared to be Diego Rubio’s head and in.

While it was pretty impressive for Mezquida to basically score off a corner, it was more of a capitulation from a Whitecaps backline that has not had many of them this season, leaving them to chase the match from much earlier than they would have ever expected. On their hot run of late, the Caps have seemed to avoid those early conceded goals that can plague a team so badly, so to see them give one up so easily was not a great sight to see in a home match after a long absence.

It went from bad to worse from that point on, as the Caps desperately chased an equalizer. Despite some promising exchanges of play between the three frontmen in blue and white, Colorado struck once again, nabbing a goal against the run of play, giving them an unlikely 2-0 lead away from home. While the ball from Mezquida to Kamara was certainly something to admire, the marking from the Caps was definitely not. An unmarked Kamara was able to nod the ball towards goal, where a completely left alone Andrei Shinyashinki put it home fairly easily, silencing the BC Place crowd once more.

The Rapids, inspired by their bright first 30 minutes, continued to ramp up the pressure and were unlucky not to find a goal soon after, as yet another counter-attack nearly ended up in the back of the net, as Kamara found the woodwork from a tight angle, before the ball bounced around in the box and found a nice goal line clearance by Jake Nerwinski off a shot from close range by Nico Mezquida, keeping the score at 2-0.

Not long after, Vancouver continued their ill-fated relationship with VAR, as a great attack ended with a penetrating ball from Lucas Venuto hitting a Colorado arm in the box, eliciting shouts of handball from all over the park. But, as has been the case for much of the season, VAR proved to be fruitless, as the ref did not even make it to the video board to have a look despite a pretty good shout for a penalty based on what the replay board showed.

While it may be easy to bemoan the referees and use them as an outlet to blame opportunities like that, it seemed surprising that he did not ponder to even glance a look at the video board, instead of trusting an invisible voice in his ear. After watching international football for much of the month, seeing how they are unafraid to have a quick peek at the board has been a breath of fresh air after watching a few months of MLS and their reluctance to use the technology at hand.

The match continued to tilt in Colorado’s favour after that one, as the Caps looked destined to head towards a blowout with the way their luck was turning. A harmless looking Kamara cross nearly found the back of the net as MacMath had an absolute calamity in Between The Sticks (™), nearly palming it into his own net, barely clawing it off the line.

That moment, however shocking as it was to see, seemed to wake up the Caps, giving them some new life in attack as Colorado’s relentless counter attacks started to fizzle out. Not long after, Hwang found some space for a good hit at goal, forcing a good save from Tim Howard, and a decent run from Venuto led to a chain of set pieces that all threatened at goal, just lacking that final touch to send it netbound.

The Caps attacking revitalization continued late into the first half, as soon after a Fredy Montero header was narrowly tipped over the bar as Tim Howard turned back the clock and found some spring in his step making an impressive stop from short range.

Right before the end of the half, in extra time, is where the Caps finally made good on that attacking promise shown after the Kamara chance, as they got into the box and won a penalty courtesy of some elite body positioning from Ali Adnan, who left no doubt in the referees mind as he pointed to the spot emphatically, gifting Vancouver a much-needed opportunity.

It allowed Fredy Montero a chance to continue his excellent run of late, and he did just that, slotting the ball into the side net with some conviction, halving the Rapids lead and giving a lifeline to the Caps for the second half.

But, as promising as that lifeline seemed, the start of the second half failed to pick up any of the juice that had been rampant between both sides the first half, as both teams played a listless first 15 minutes, with the lone memorable moments being a dangerous Colorado cross and a clear yellow card from Shinyashinki as he dragged down Venuto on a runaway counter.

Marc Dos Santos looked to liven up the second half with a pair of substitutions 10 minutes apart from each other, but bringing on Scott Sutter for Jake Nerwinski and PC for Venuto did not do much to inspire excitement from what had become a lethargic BC Place crowd. The game seemed to have tapered off, and it looked likely that Colorado would grind out a positive result away from home.

But, seemingly out of the blue, the Caps found some energy, as a foray into the box resulted in a mad scramble, with Lalas Abubakar making some acrobatic clearances and denying an impressive Montero bicycle attempt. On the resulting corner, the ball bounced around again before getting redirected towards Howard, who made another impressive stop, keeping the Colorado lead intact.

After, the Caps continued to press, as an impressive back post cross fell to Hwang, who hit it with his weak foot off the volley, forcing yet another great save from Howard. Montero slashed out at the rebound, but Colorado’s resilient backline held strong, keeping the game 2-1, keeping their dreams of 3 points alive, as faint as they were starting to look.

The onslaught continued into the 78th minute, as a clever Felipe dribble ended up with the Brazilian on the floor as Abubakar was forced to stick in a leg and upend the Caps number 8, giving the Caps a clear chance from 25 yards, with the dangerous Ali Adnan standing over the ball.

But, somewhat surprisingly, it was not the Iraqi international who ended up striking the ball, with Yordy Reyna stepping up and having a go off the free kick. And what a go did he have, slamming an impressive knuckleball off the post and in for a sure MLS goal of the week contender (No matter what our friends over in Colorado may think (Check our tweet of the match for that whole story)).

That meant that all of a sudden, at the 80th minute, everything was to play for, surprising considering how dominant Colorado was in the first half. While the Caps controlled the possession game, it seemed like every wave of Colorado attack would be destined for the Caps net, making getting back into the game seem impossible.

But, as the case can often be when the score reaches 2-0 so early in the match, the next goal becomes so important, as whoever scores next picks up the momentum and it can either turn the game completely on its head if the one team makes it 2-1, or shut it down completely if the other team reaches 3-0.

While the match seemed destined to find a winner like the first meeting in Colorado, it was not meant to be on the night, as the flurry of chances after the 80th minute eventually amounted to nothing, as neither team was able to find a precious win. The closest either team came was a second attempt off a dead ball from Reyna, but he went just wide with his strike, marking the end of the match.

Both teams will end up likely regretting not picking up the 3 points, but all things considered, a draw seems the best result for this second edition of the “Toilet Bowl”. Both teams continue their points run in MLS, and any international break points picked up can be chalked up as a positive. While these lost points may end up haunting the Caps in the long run, they will only be judged when the whole picture is complete, so, for now they look good as the Caps claw their way back into the playoff picture.

Performances:

Zac MacMath was an adventure in goal tonight, having his moments with some good palm saves, but overall he struggled to control his catches, leaving some questionable second-chances for opposing teams. While he is a solid keeper, he does not appear suited to the style of play the Caps try to play, as he can struggle with the ball at his feet and doesn’t really have the commanding presence in the air that the team needs off wide balls whipped into the box. Overall, he has been solid filling in for the Caps, picking up 2 draws and a tight loss to Orlando, but considering what we see on a daily basis from Crepeau, it may (unfairly) seem underwhelming from a viewers perspective.

The back 4 was equally inconsistent today, as the goals and chances conceded early were less than examplary. While it was normal that the first 25 minutes were horrendus, as it was Andy Rose’s first match as a centre back in a back 4. Him and Godoy had been solid in previous appearances together in a 3 with Derek Cornelius, so it was expected they would continue that form, but that adjustment period proved critical, as they cleaned things up massively after the two goals they conceded, shutting down Colorado for the most part the rest of the match.

Out wide, Ali Adnan and Jake Nerwinski were solid as usual, with Adnan pushing back a hairy start defensively to have an excellent offensive game, winning a penalty and constantly whipping teasing balls into the box. He will be sorely missed if he leaves the Caps, so most fans will live or die on how his contract negotiations go the next week. Nerwinski was solid on his side, as he had a solid goal-line clearance, some decent runs, and overall kept his position tidy. While Scott Sutter was eventually brought on to give the team more tooth offensively, he put in a good shift for 60 minutes.

In the midfield, Hwang, Felipe and Jon Erice were quiet and unassuming, popping up for a couple of key moments offensively, including a nice Hwang strike and Felipe winning the game-tying free kick deep in the Colorado half. While there was no man of the match performance stemming from the midfield, they provided the kind of quiet performance sometimes needed in a 34 game season. While they may need a more dynamic element added to it in the long run, for now these kind of performances will suffice.

Up front, we saw a great performance from a front three of Yordy Reyna, Fredy Montero and Lucas Venuto as they really gelled on the night, giving Colorado a headache all night long with their speed and smarts. They were unlucky to not pick up more goals in the match, but they should give Caps confidence heading forward for now. Reyna had a great game, running at guys and scoring the free kick, proving that there is still value for him as a wide man cutting into the middle of the park. With Venuto tearing up the right side, and Montero holding up the ball in the middle, it allowed for a lot of chances to be generated, especially with Ali Adnan being so bombastic up the wing.

The lone other sub besides Scott Sutter was PC, as MDS decided to go a little more conservative with his bench use for this one. PC was solid as always, but a Lass Bangoura or a Joaquin Ardaiz could have been useful in a game like this, giving an oomph that could have pushed Vancouver over the top. It was also curious to see MDS be so restrained with the subs, considering he consistently uses 3 subs each game, and that Vancouver has a congested fixture list soon awaiting them.

Man of the Match:

Fredy Montero goes up for a header against Colorado, June 22nd 2019 (Taken by: Keveren Guillou)

While Reyna is going to get a lot of the hype after this one, and deservedly so, Fredy Montero put in an excellent performance, bagging a goal, creating many chances for his teammates and being an overall presence on the pitch, looking as lively as he has been all season. If he continues this kind of effort and turns more of his chances into goals, he is on the way to having another fine MLS season.

BTSVancity Player to Watch:

Felipe spies out a pass option (Taken by: Keveren Guillou)

Tipped as our player to watch, Felipe was solid but unassuming in the midfield. While it would be nice to see him score some of the goals that he made a calling card back when he played in New York, this new version of him has proved to be pretty effective in the midfield.

Tweet of the Match:

As mentionned earlier, a Colorado-based blog was a bit salty about Reyna’s goal… this whole exchange was a pretty funny moment on a surprisingly quiet night on Twitter.

Stat of the Match:

With the Caps having 70 percent possession and heat maps like this, it was a dream night for Caps stats nerds, as they finally imposed their will on the opposition, controlling the statistical side of the game. While it would have been nice to see that dominance carried over to the scoreboard, it was overall a positive thing to see.

Post-Match Shenanigans:

Interesting post-match press conference backdrop as 20 or so lucky fans got to sit in on the one today. Dos Santos was equally as confused, making for an interesting encounter (around halfway in). A class act as always, he took the time to shake each person’s hand and thanked them for coming after, keeping things light hearted.

Yikes Moment:

Hopefully Smith’s Cojones were able to regain sensation after that, it did not look pleasant.

Looking Forward:

The Caps have a short turnaround after this one, playing a decent Dallas side away on Wednesday. With their shorthanded lineup and another match looming next Saturday in Seattle, they will certainly have a lot on their plate as they look to pick up a crucial 6 points. Until then, Canada’s men play their last group stage match at the Gold Cup tomorrow (Sunday) against Cuba and the Women play Sweden in their Round of 16 World Cup match on Monday, so enjoy the international footy!

Whitecaps vs Dallas FC, June 26th, 18:00 PST, Dallas Texas.

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