After coming off an eventful week of football, the Vancouver Whitecaps capped things off with a visit with their longtime rivals, the Seattle Sounders. With many Vancouver fans and media alike making the trip down to catch the match, there was a strong Vancouver flavour in the stadium for this one. But, for as much energy both sets of fans brought to the encounter, both teams looked lethargic, with Vancouver looking especially tired, with the week and lack of rotation playing a big factor. Despite that, they hung around to the very end, but were sent home with nothing as Seattle broke their hearts with a 96th minute goal, sending the Century Link Field crowd into a frenzy, as they broke a 4 game losing skid themselves. This match also spelled the end of Vancouver’s positive run of late, as they lost for the first time in 7, and the 2nd time in 11, a strong run dating back to early May. But, despite the negative result, there is still a lot to unpack in this one, as always, so let’s jump right into it.
The match got off to a slow start, as both teams seemed unable to match the energy shown by both sets of supporters. With MLS defending legend Chad Marshall getting a well-deserved retirement ceremony before the game, it seemed that both teams were unable to get their legs going after, as all the standing around for the national anthems and the subsequent ceremony undid the effects that kicking the ball around beforehand was supposed to have for them.
So, with both teams trying to re-find their legs early, the first 15 minutes best resembled a team warmup, with a lot of passing moves falling apart early, as both teams struggled to impose much of their will into the midfield area. Because of that, the game looked a U15 slugfest, with both teams keep the balls high and to the flanks, unable to create much besides a whipped ball from out wide that Zac MacMath just kept out with a punch and a Felipe strike that glanced over the bar, keeping the match deadlocked.
The intensity slowly started to pick up after that point, but it was still lacking the pace one would expect from a midseason derby match between bitter rivals. Justin Dhillon, a young academy call-up stepping up in lieu of Seattle’s many absences up front, got in behind the Vancouver backline, but his shot was shut down by a great MacMath save before the ref decided that the whole sequence was in fact offside.
Right after, Yordy Reyna got the ball on the flank, and the Caps combined to generate a nice offensive move, but they were unable to generate much from it, as Reyna whipped an outside ball right into the hands of Stefan Frei, who made no mistake catching it. It wasn’t much, but it showed signs of intent from the blue and white.
Seattle continued to press after that, and they started to control the balance of the match. They generated a few chances, keeping Vancouver deeper in their own half than they would have liked, testing their backline with a few long balls and shots from distance that were expertly handled by the Caps defenders.
The Caps limped into the 40th minute, as Jon Erice was hobbled by a rough challenge in the midfield, remaining down for several minutes. While he was ok to continue, it was wondered how much he would be affected by the injury.
But, the Caps got a bit of juice after the injury break, coming out strong. Fredy Montero made a good run down the flank, providing a teasing ball for PC, which was just cleared by the Seattle defender. Not long after, the Caps won a foul from around 30 yards out, giving Montero a crack at goal. He did alright with the strike, getting it up and over the wall with pace, but it lacked placement, falling right into the hands of Frei.
The half came to a close soon after, as the ref blew his whistle to signal the end of the first 45, mercifully giving the Sounders and Whitecaps fans a break to recollect themselves mentally. While both teams could feel satisfied defensively with the scoreline, both teams attacks were lethargic and lacking in intention, making for a dull affair.
Things started out a lot brighter the second half, as the Caps came out with strong intention. A wide ball from out right found Yordy Reyna in the box, and he danced around, creating space himself before launching a strike that was just deflected wide, which the referee somehow missed, as he signalled a goal kick.
The Caps were unable to build off that, however, as Seattle immediately started to control the ball after that. While they struggled to penetrate Vancouver, it seemed likely that they would find a quality chance.
Which they did, as in the 50th minute a wide ball was taken hard and low from Brad Smith, and the ball pinballed around the box before sliding narrowly wide for a Seattle corner. The pressure continued, as Kim Kee Hee found some space at the back post on the corner, striking his volley just wide. With Vancouver under siege, it was a warning shot to the men in white that they needed to find some attacking magic to keep their hopes at 3 points alive.
The chances continued to mount for Seattle after that, as an Erik Godoy and Andy Rose mishap led to Harry Shipp finding himself one-on-one with Zac MacMath, with Jake Nerwinski saving the day with an impressive last-ditch block, throwing himself in front of what appeared to be a goalbound strike.
Vancouver sort of woke up after that, as they combined well to get Yordy Reyna into some space, but he clunked his effort just off the crossbar, a close ball but one that Frei would have saved every day of the week.
Joevin Jones showed up with a decent strike not long after, but the real jolt this match so desperately needed came in the 60th minute, as Zac MacMath made a great save on a 1 on 1 with Justin Dhillon, sending the ball into midfield. He remained down after the stop injured, while Seattle kept possession of the ball. The ball fell to Danny Leyva, a 16-year-old midfielder in his first MLS start, who showed great composure to chip everyone who crowded the Vancouver line to cover for MacMath, opening his MLS account.
Or so he thought, as VAR decided to give Vancouver a break from all the tormenting it has done this season, telling Alan Kelly to go take a peek at his VAR board. From there, he realized that he had supposedly made an error in his original judgement, and returned to the field to overturn the goal, calling a foul on Dhillon for crashing into MacMath on the 1-on-1. While Seattle fans may think the call was soft on Dhillon, the fact remains is that he made a lot of contact with MacMath, injuring him and rendering him unable to save the ensuing goal. Goalkeepers don’t often stay down for no reason, so MacMath was justified to receive the benefit of the doubt on that one.
So, with the result of the VAR on the positive side of the ledger for once, the Caps chased the game’s first goal. Hwang In Beom had a great run down the left flank, but his shot was sent just wide.
Seattle continued to press after, fuelled by the hatred thrown by their fans towards the referees and MacMath. While they were unable to convert their many chances, it seemed that they would be the most likely recipients of the games next goal.
Fredy Montero seemed to find life around the 70th minute. He found a chance right beside the goal, plucking the ball out of the sky before sending the ball just over the frame, and 5 minutes after he found himself all alone out wide, but he sent his shot right at Frei. While it was unclear if a goal would fall to the snakebitten Whitecaps talisman, he was certainly not lacking for effort against his old team.
But while both teams should have been pushing for a win, the match fell into a bit of a lull, with nothing really happening the last 10 minutes. MDS, sensing that, threw in Theo Bair for his second MLS appearance, hoping his size would change the complexion of the affair.
Which it somehow did. While it was hard to determine if it was Bair directly who woke up the game, but the intensity turned up a few notches, as both teams started to play some end-to-end football, trading slugs on the counter, just lacking that final shot.
And, unfortunately for Vancouver, it would not come from them, as Seattle’s pressure seemed too much for the Vancouver lads to cope with. Like a ship taking on water, more and more holes opened up, allowing Kelvin Leerdam a chance to find himself all alone with MacMath after a scramble in the box, and he made no mistake, all but sealing the 3 points for Seattle.
And, despite a late push from a tired Caps squad, the Sounders took all 3 points, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of the Vancouver faithful. While the result was entirely merited, the Caps sure gave quite the fight considering the tired legs that their team had after a long week. While some crafty MDS “load management” may have changed things, they still put up a good battle and should have a well-merited rest before taking on LAFC next week.
In goal, Zac MacMath had a much-improved performance after looking shaky most of the last two matches he featured in. While he could have done better to claim some of the balls that found their way into the box, he did a good job to ensure that they did not end up in dangerous areas, something he had been lacking in previous matches. Despite becoming the centre of attention in the second half, due to the play where he got fouled and Seattle subsequently scored before it then got cancelled out, he handled the extra attention quite well, looking much-improved from even as recent as last week against Colorado. His distribution is more efficient, despite being rather limited in his ability to do so, and his shot-stopping abilities are starting to shine through, with his rebound control cancelling out his supbar handling. While the net appears to belong to Max Crepeau long-term, he has filled in admirably during the absence of the Canadian international, giving him a shout for more minutes be it with the Whitecaps or with another MLS squad.
At the back, we saw a return of a back 4, as Dos Santos went with the quartet of the Ali Adnan, Andy Rose, Erik Godoy and Jake Nerwinski. They were solid on the night, at least defensively, as they did well to ensure that the Seattle pressure that they had succumbed to all game would not come back to haunt them. While Adnan and Nerwiski both looked fatigued, struggling to add much going forward, they had enough in the tank to minimize Seattle chances for the most part. Godoy and Rose were solid in between them, stifling the Seattle attackers, leaving them to play through the outside, whipping inconspicuous balls into the box, which were dealt with well by the good aerial battlers in Godoy and Rose. Overall, the defenders performed admirably, with Nerwinski being the best of the bunch, as his many blocks stopped what appeared to be near-guaranteed Seattle tallies.
In the middle, we saw a midfield 4 line up for Vancouver, as MDS went with a makeshift diamond that was meant to drop in and be compact defensively, allowing them to dominate a depleted Sounders midfield. And it worked, for the most part, as Seattle was forced to attack wide, with most of their chances coming from crosses and longer balls that bypassed the midfield all together, forcing them to stray from what is usually a strength for them. While PC, Felipe, Erice and Hwang all dropping and defending severely impacted Vancouver’s ability to attack, it was an approach that allowed them to chase a result with a really tired set of legs. While every match reinforces Vancouver’s need for a midfielder that can transition the ball to the attacking phases of play, until that comes they have at least shown to be solid defensively for long periods, and they can attack positively in bursts.
Up front, we saw a return of the Yordy Reyna and Fredy Montero pairing, after seeing good results the last two matches. While they lacked some of the production that they had provided those two outings, they did a good job to create chances in a system that was not exactly built up for them to do so. Montero created a lot of chances, finding a way to get oh so close to that third goal from open play on the season, but ultimately his finishing came up short once again. While his chance creation has been excellent of late, he needs to find a way to score some goals soon. For Reyna, it was more of the same from the Peruvian International, as he has appeared to find his midseason legs. He is dangerous in the box, dangerous in transition and dangerous anytime he finds himself on the ball, giving defenders problems with the way he runs at them. Whether the Caps return to a front 3 or stick with a front two, he should feature prominently in the middle, as he has more than shown that he deserves to get minutes at that position.
There wasn’t much to show for off the bench, as Lucas Venuto came off it once more but lacked that spark he showed against Dallas. While his energy was contagious and he did a good job to infuse some spark into the lethargic offence, he lacked that X-Factor he showed on Wednesday. Theo Bair made his second MLS appearance as well, but his 9 or so minutes were not much to write home about, as he didn’t get much of a chance to get on the ball and show his best qualities.
Man of the Match: Jake Nerwinski
After having what can best be described as a tumultuous campaign, he came out with a strong performance in this one. While he is usually more known for his offensive ability, he came alive defensively in this one, providing many key blocks and being in the right place at the right time, showing improved defensive intelligence. While he and Scott Sutter will continue to rotate, he looks to be someone that can have a good 7 or 8 years in MLS, providing good depth for a team at full back.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Fredy Montero
While Montero failed to find the scoresheet, he had a pretty big impact once again. He looks much better of late, especially physically, as he looked very slow to start the season. While he desperately needs a goal from open play, his performances as of late can only be viewed as positive. If the Caps can get some more talent in the midfield, Montero and Reyna getting on the end of more chances can only end up with more goals for the Caps.
Stat (graph?) of the Match:
For anyone who was unable to watch this match, this heatmap (Seattle on the left, Vancouver on the right), summed up the match well. Seattle attacked wide, left a hole in the middle, and was unable to penetrate the Vancouver box. Vancouver attacked wide, left a hole in the middle, and was unable to penetrate the box… a great recipe for a very attacking match. Let’s just call that hole in the middle of the screen a “black hole of attacking talent”…
Quote of the Match:
Marc Dos Santos went in on the MLS schedule, and he was completely justified in doing so. Matches, where many key stars are missing due to international commitments, does no one any good, and the lack of attacking display in this affair was a prime reason why.
VAR of the Match:
What should become a weekly segment, due to Vancouver’s love-hate affair with its presence, it made some more noise in this one, as Zac MacMath was struck with an errant foot on a one-on-one. While the subsequent goal that was scored when MacMath went down seemed harsh to disallow, keepers don’t go down very often so MacMath seemed to be reasonable with his reaction and the refereeing decision after. While it was surprising to see VAR consider morals for once, it was the right call overall, and finally gave the Caps negative points in the “VAR Cup”. I don’t know if VAR can be used in those types of situations, but I think no one on the Caps side will complain about that. It was really unlucky for Seattle, especially the 16-year-old Leyva, who showed incredible composure on his strike.
While it may be a pretty big rivalry, the players are still friendly and show sportsmanship on and off the field. Good to see former Sounder Rose feature prominently in his first return to the CLink, as he was all over the pitch being gritty in between the whistles, and classy when it blew.
The Caps get a much-needed week-long break before taking on LAFC down at the Banc of California stadium. Getting Russell Teibert, Max Crepeau, Derek Cornelius and Doneil Henry back will certainly bring a boost, so they should go into LAFC with all guns blazing, especially after the shocking upset the Colorado Rapids provided them yesterday. Should be an entertaining affair, especially after the juice shown in their first meeting, where Vancouver stopped LAFC’s strong start with their first victory of the season in what was a feisty affair.
Saturday, July 6th, 2019, Whitecaps FC vs LAFC, Banc of California Stadium, 19:30 PST