After a tough last week out for the Vancouver Whitecaps, they made their way home to face Sporting Kansas City in what was a statement game for both sides. The Caps came out on the wrong side of that statement, however, as they fell 3-0 in what was a underwhelming performance from the blue and white. While there were glimpses of hopes here and there, overall it was a forgettable match for Vancouver, who have fallen into a rough patch of form as of late. With playoffs slowly becoming more and more of a pipe dream, they will need some investment into the squad, as well as a jolt from within to get this campaign back on track, starting next Wednesday in New England. At least they appear close to rock bottom now, so things can only be up from this point on. Here are some thoughts on the match.
The game started out slow, with both teams trying to feel each other out. Theo Bair was instantly noticeable for the Whitecaps, as his size and his much-improved hold-up play providing a new element to a front line that has been lacking it for most of this season.
Kansas controlled possession for most of the first 10 minutes but were unable to break down a resilient Vancouver backline. The Caps would be rewarded for that solidity in the 10th minute, when they countered through a couple of nice passes in the midfield, with the move ending with Bair deflecting a cross into Tim Melia’s arms, with the Caps faithful applauding the speed and efficiency of the move from Vancouver.
That chance seemed to breathe a new life into the team, as the next time they won the ball in the midfield, they countered efficiently once more, with the move finishing with a Bair volley attempt that was easily saved by Melia. While it was not amounting to much in terms of tangible results, the positives were definitely there for the Caps in terms of chance creation.
SKC responded well to the Caps threat, however, as they would win a free kick in a really dangerous position in the 12th minute, which MLS veteran Graham Zusi stepped up to take. He curled his attempt around the wall well, forcing surprise starter Zac MacMath to step up with an important stop, keeping the match level.
After a flurry of chances on the subsequent corner, the match slowed down, with the game settling down into a bit of a lull. It was a real gritty battle in the midfield, as both teams were really holding strong to ensure that neither of them would be the first to have to roll the ball out of their net, with a 1 being added to the scoreboard.
SKC got a nice break in the 23rd minute, as a poor Hwang turnover in the midfield led to Kansas breaking forward in numbers, but Jake Nerwinski did a great job to track back. But SKC would break the deadlock on the ensuing corner, as their cross from out wide pinballed around in the box before falling to Gerso Fernandes, who crossed the ball in off Ali Adnan to find the game’s first goal. It would go down as an own goal for Adnan, and left Vancouver to dig out of an early hole once again, as they failed once more to keep another clean sheet.
Vancouver would nearly equalize soon after, as a long ball into the SKC box pinballed around, before dropping to Bair, who did well to get a shot off in tight space, but his goalbound strike was well blocked by SKC, forcing a corner. The Caps were unable to convert the corner, leaving them still down 1 heading into the 30th.
The match got really chippy after that point, as Ali Adnan started to get into things with Gerso, while Reyna had an encounter with Graham Zusi that ended with Zusi taking out the corner flag after a Reyna hip check. While there was a lot of petulant behaviour going on, there was certainly no lack of emotion in this one, with both teams battling for an important 3 points to keep up their playoff hopes.
After a slow 10 minutes, the Caps nearly found a goal in the 43rd minute, as Ali Adnan picked off an errant SKC pass, and he did well to find Reyna in the middle, but the Peruvian’s shot lacked conviction, as he struck the ball right at Melia, keeping the Caps behind.
The first half would end without much fanfare, leaving the Caps to go into the dressing room and regroup. While they had their glimpses of hope, they needed to find some consistent life if they were to have any sort of hope to get back into the game.
The second half started off brightly for Vancouver, as Hwang won a free kick in a great position in front of the SKC goal. He stepped up to take it and slammed the ball top corner, the ball only held out by the outstretched arms of Tim Melia. While it was tough for Hwang to see his strike stay out, it was a positive sign from the Caps, who seemed to have a bit of life after the half time talk.
And they would continue to knock at the door. A botched SKC clearance off a Caps cross led to Theo Bair being left alone in the SKC box, and he struck the ball well, but not true, as he sent the ball well wide. While it would have been nice to hit the target, he did well to find himself in that space nonetheless, he just needs to be more consistent in finding the target if he is to continue to start going forward.
SKC would nearly double their lead less than a minute later, as they countered efficiently down the right side, and put Gerso through on goal, but his goalbound strike was saved magnificently by MacMath, who was having himself a decent match through 50 minutes.
That strike would prove to be a vital warning side for the Caps, however, as SKC would find their second goal soon after, as a counter by them led to Felipe Gutierrez cutting into the middle from out right, where he struck the ball low and true past MacMath to double the SKC lead. It was a tough goal to concede, as the Caps failed to close out Gutierrez on the strike, and MacMath was slow to get down to what looked to be a saveable strike for the keeper.
The goal appeared to be the wake-up call the Caps needed at that point, as they really turned things up a notch. While it would have been nice to see from the get-go, it was good to see some signs of life after a rough first half. Adnan made a great run down the flank, but he was just unable to find the back of the net off the strike, as he failed to find his second in a Whitecaps shirt.
The fight shown by the Caps would be short-lived, however, as the match settled into a lull after the Adnan chance, with SKC content to sit back, and Vancouver unable to push the initiative. It was tough to watch, as the Caps should have fighting tooth and nail to get a goal back, but they were lacking the conviction necessary to do so.
It would be up to individual moments of brilliance to change the course of this match, and Yordy Reyna nearly had one in the 70th minute, but his strike went just over the goal, as he did well to open up and find the space to strike from just outside the box.
The Caps found a free kick in the 75th minute, as Hwang did well to shield himself from the SKC defender, winning a clumsy foul from about 25 yards out, leaving the dangerous Adnan and Reyna to stand over the ball, providing hope to the Caps faithful that they could find that crucial first goal.
And they nearly did score, with Reyna just about pulling off a repeat of his worldie from the Colorado match a few weeks ago, as he struck the ball well, nicking it just over the wall before striking the post. While the Caps were struggling to score from open play, moments like that left some slivers of hope for them to pick up a point.
Russell Teibert came close 3 minutes later, as the Caps started to find some open play magic. Teibert was left all alone at the top of the SKC box, but he was just unable to convert, as he couldnt quite lamp the ball into the back of the net with his weaker right foot.
SKC would nearly add a third in the 87th minute, as Salloi found himself all alone in front of the Caps goal after a nice counter, but MacMath did well to get out and catch the ball, partially redeeming himself for the earlier SKC goal. While it looked unlikely that the Caps would get any sort of points at that stage, a blowout would have been tough to stomach.
But SKC would find that third in the 90th minute, as star Johnny Russell provided a strong jolt for them coming off the bench, starting a well-crafted move that would lead to Gerso being left all alone in front of goal, and he made no mistake, hitting the ball in off MacMath to make it 3-0.
The match was left to the boobirds when the ref blew for full time a few minutes later, as it put the end to what was overall a pretty rough performance from the Caps. In what was a must-win game, they came out flat, and made a tough road back to the playoffs even tougher, leaving them 5 points behind the nearest team, Kansas, who happen to have a game in hand. It appears that a jolt is much needed for this Caps team, but exactly how it will come remains unclear for now.
In goal, MacMath was alright, as he did well to keep the SKC threat at bay for most of the match. While he could have done better on the second goal, he was faultless on the others, as he was caught out on an own goal and a point-blank shot, both tough to handle for any keeper. He does look better of late, though, which has been good to see for Vancouver, as it has given them a good fill-in when breakout star Max Crepeau has had to sit out this season. While MacMath lacks the distribution of Crepeau, he can still do alright with the ball at his feet, aiding the Caps approach to try and play out of the back. It will be interesting to see how many more starts he picks up as the Caps continue this gruelling run of games.
At the back, it was a tough outing for the back 5 of Adnan, Andy Rose, Doneil Henry, Erik Godoy and Jake Nerwinski, who left a lot of space for SKC to attack in, giving them easy entry on the second and third goals. It’s been a tough run of late for the defenders, who have done so well all season to limit chances, as they have been hit hard of late, as the Caps problems have compounded to a point where nothing seems to work for them, both offensively and defensively.
Adnan looked tired, with his yellow card suspension looking to be a good excuse for him to sit out next Wednesday’s clash against New England. Godoy and Henry were solid but were unable to impose themselves on the match, much like the team around them. Rose had a tough time on the goals, as he has started to show a few warts after doing so well in his out-of-position role as a centre back. Nerwinski looked good, with his runs aiding the Whitecaps attack, while having some good moments defensively, like a good clearance that he had in the first half. So while the backline didn’t necessarily look bad on an individual level, the struggles have mostly been on a collective level, as the team looks to need some sort of reset button to get things back on track.
In the middle, it was yet another anonymous performance from the midfield trio, who have failed to impose themselves as of late after doing so well in April and May. They all look tired and need to find a way to find some energy with the fixture congestion coming up. Hwang, in particular, looks gassed, and the Caps need to find a way to get more out of their prized young DP, either by resting him or by surrounding him with another midfield talent. Jon Erice has been solid, but it’s clear the Caps need to rest him a bit as well, as his old legs have had a lot of mileage so far this season. PC was good, but the Caps shouldn’t have to be relying on out of position players to succeed, as they need to invest in a midfielder that can carry play on his own.
Up front, there were some small bright spots, as Yordy Reyna was paired with MLS debutant Theo Bair, who got to make his first MLS start in this one. They were solid together, with Bair holding up the ball well, while Reyna did his usual thing on the ball, creating chances out of nothing. Bair has certainly earned a shout for more minutes, while Reyna continues to prove each and every game why the Caps made a hefty investment to retain his services in the offseason. While a return to a 4-3-3 may be in the best interests for the team right now, which would make minutes tough for Bair (who has certainly earned them), for now seeing the work they have done in a striking tandem can be positive.
Off the bench, it was a bit of an uninspiring shift from the 3 substitutes, as Venuto was unable to influence the match despite showing great intent, Teibert had flashes but not much in terms of tangible results, and Ardaiz didn’t get much time to put his stamp on the game. It was tough on Dos Santos, who had limited attacking options after Venuto and Ardaiz, with the Caps missing Montero due to suspension and Lass Bangoura due to fatigue. While they would have been unlikely to sway this game, having options sure would have helped.
Man of the Match: Theo Bair
Bair was excellent on the evening, siphoning aerial balls thanks to his protruding frame, providing plenty of chances both for himself and his teammates. While he definitely could have done better with some of his chances, he has proved himself to be competent at this level, and deserves more minutes, especially if this dry run of goals for the Caps continues.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Yordy Reyna
Yordy Reyna was good on the evening, and had probably the best chance to score, as he smacked a beautiful free-kick off the post. He has been the straw that has been stirring the Whitecaps drink as of late, so the Caps need to find a way to make sure the talent around him is performing at his level, as the Peruvian cannot do it all on his own. He has definitely been one to watch as of late and will hope to continue it going forward.
Heatmap of the Night:
What has become a weekly segment, the Caps continue to outdo themselves with these heat maps, with this one in the first half being one of the worst all season. They’re defending too deep, and are failing to create any chances, making for tough-to-watch football, which is starting to wear on fans. While it takes time to learn how to play possession football, one would have thought they’d be taking forward at this point in the season, not backwards.
Stat of the Night:
Thanks to tonight’s win from Cincinnati, the Caps now have the fewest amount of wins in the league. With 8 draws, it certainly has been a painful first 21 games, and it’s frustrating to think where they could be at had they turned some of those results to the positive side of the ledger.
Thread of the Match:
Whitecaps twitter has been vile as of late, and understandably so, so any sort of threads involving Caps talk can be entertaining, as frustrating as they are to read. Enjoy this one…
The Caps get a short rest, before getting right back into it on Wednesday, where they will travel cross-country to meet a resilient New England side. With Adnan suspended, it will be no easy task, but the Caps will have to be up to it, with their playoff hopes dwindling with each passing match. Until then, enjoy some time off, and hopefully the Caps are able to provide a more entertaining product next time out.
Whitecaps FC vs New England Revolution, 16:00 PST, Gilette Stadium, Boston.