Post-Match Review #23– Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs San Jose Earthquakes: Natural Disaster

While there was no literal earthquake in BC Place on Saturday, there was a lot of rumbling going on amongst fans, as Vancouver continued their dry run of form as of late, falling to the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, continuing to compound what has been a tough last month and a half for the Whitecaps. 

With the Whitecaps falling further and further down the MLS standings, and their season slowly starting to fall off the rails, San Jose provided another tough outing for the Caps, putting the sword to them in a 3-1 victory. While the scoreline was tight, the match was certainly not, as Vancouver was once again outplayed en route to the loss. With the Transfer Window remaining open, Vancouver continues to dig themselves into a deeper and deeper hole, with a big-money acquisition seeming to be the only thing that could turn this sinking ship around. Until that happens, fans must await some change from within the team, but with a lack of practice time as of late, performances like this one may continue for the near future. Here is our recap of this one, as well as some thoughts and tidbits from what was an eventful night at BC Place. 

Recap:

Things started out evenly between both teams, with both San Jose and Vancouver showing great ambition from the get-go. They traded chances in the first 5 minutes, with Lass Bangoura and Yordy Reyna combining down the right side for a chance that eventually turned into a corner, while San Jose did well to get the ball wide to the ever-dangerous Vako, who’s cross went right into Crepeau’s hands.

Vancouver would get rewarded for their bright start, as they would pick up a set-piece in a great position in the San Jose half, as Fredy Montero was hauled down. Yordy Reyna stepped up to take it and whipped in a peach of a ball, one that Doneil Henry somehow managed to bring down from the sky, before slamming a beautiful volley into the low corner to give Vancouver its first goal in 3 matches (all competitions). 

San Jose started to control the match after the goal, however, as they immediately tried to reverse the deficit. While Vancouver held strong, with a couple of Max Crepeau saves aiding their cause, it was clear that the Caps were definitely not going to have an easy night defensively. 

But San Jose found their first goal soon after, as an innocuous-looking ball into the box seemed to elude everyone in white, bouncing off Max Crepeau’s fingertips and right to the feet of the San Jose dangerman Vako, who ensured that the Caps streak without keeping a clean sheet in MLS play would be pushed to 12 games. It was poor defending from Vancouver, who seemed to fall asleep when that first ball was whipped in, which was rough to see as the Caps had their first lead in weeks evaporate with what felt like a snap of the fingers. 

San Jose continued to press after the goal, as Vancouver were unable to find much of an initiative to counter the San Jose threat. Cristian Espinoza had a good hit at goal for San Jose in the 20th minute, striking a dipped effort that seemed bound for the low corner, but Max Crepeau did well to ensure that San Jose would be unable to find their first lead of the contest. 

Crepeau would continue to keep Vancouver in the game, as San Jose countered well in the 25th minute. Espinoza did well to get behind the Vancouver backline, creating a 3 on 2, and he made a great pass across the face of goal, sliding a juicy ball in for the dangerman Vako to strike once again at goal from point-blank, but Crepeau made an incredible stop, kicking out his leg to deny San Jose the lead. 

Their run of luck would soon turn into a house of horrors for Vancouver, as San Jose continued to be relentless in their pursuit of the second goal. After Vancouver botched a good set-piece chance at goal, by passing the ball into trouble, San Jose countered effectively, laying off a couple of one-twos before Vako had a nice hit at goal, which was just denied by the post. It was during the post-strike scramble where the calamities would pile up for Vancouver, as the ball bounced off the post and then bounced off Crepeau’s back, before nearly rolling in as a bunch of Caps players tried to kick it out, but they were unsuccessful in doing so, as they cleared the ball right to Chris Wondolowski, who scored into the yawning cage. It was poor defensively from Vancouver, who gave San Jose way too much space, as unlucky as they were to eventually concede the goal. 

Vancouver would nearly equalize in the 35th, as they finally got the ball behind the San Jose full-backs, and they did well, with a great ball from Bangoura falling to Reyna’s head, but the Peruvian just nodded his header past the post, slamming it into the advertisement board behind the goal. With the way they were playing, it appeared that Vancouver would need one of those moments of magic to fall their way if they were to find an equalizer. 

The half would come to a close without much fanfare soon after, with both teams settling into an end of half lull. Vancouver was getting outplayed once again, as they were lucky to be still within 1, so it was interesting to see how they would come out in the second half in order to try and remedy that. There was a lot of visual frustration on the pitch, and everyone appeared to be playing a bit tight, making a half-time recuperation key to get back into the match. 

San Jose started the half brightly, as they got right at Vancouver, kicking things off right where they left off, giving the Caps defenders a lot to worry about. They won back-to-back corners, and got a good penalty shout in the 49th minute, as the corner that came in appeared to strike Doneil Henry’s hand, but VAR disagreed, letting the match continue on without stoppage. 

The match fell into a dry patch after that, as San Jose continued to control play, while Vancouver was unable to generate much in terms of chances to challenge the balance of the match. For a team chasing a result from down 1, and supposedly chasing their playoff lives, it was an anemic stretch of play from the White and Blue. 

San Jose continued to press, as they countered efficiently, sending wave after wave at the Vancouver defence. While many of the chances, like a 67th-minute Vako strike that just got deflected over, stayed way out of harm’s way, it seemed like an ominous sign of things to come. 

Vancouver slowly started to get back into it in the 70th minute, as they attacked nicely down the right side, courtesy of Yordy Reyna. He won a foul deep in the San Jose half, and his ensuing ball into the box found the head of Doneil Henry once more, but he sent it way over the San Jose goal. 

Vancouver continued to knock on the door, as a moment of Joaquin Ardaiz magic nearly brought them level. He danced through 3 San Jose defenders, seemingly creating an easy goal for himself, but his frustrating campaign continued, as he sent the ball way over the bar from in tight. It was one he definitely should have finished, as he looks to break that goose egg currently beside his name in the goal column. 

Crepeau had to keep Vancouver alive soon after that, as Vako was allowed a bit too much space at the top of the Caps box. He curled a majestic strike, one that seemed destined to tickle the post and go in, but the Caps Canadian keeper did well to stretch out and keep the game within 1. 

But his effort would be to no avail, as in the 78th minute, San Jose was allowed to walk easily down the right side of the Vancouver backline, as Espinoza walked up to the side of the Vancouver box untouched, sliding in an easy chance for Eriksson, who fired it home with ease. While there appeared to be a handball in the lead up to the goal, as Eriksson appeared to bring down the ball with his right arm, the goal was entirely merited for San Jose, who was much the better team on the night. 

The game descended into a bit of a disaster for Vancouver after that point, as they were unable to put much in terms of cohesion or fight after the conceded effort. With the fans singing for president Bobby Lennarduzzi to leave, fans booing and players getting angry at each other, it was an ugly end to what was another poor performance from Vancouver. 

It was almost merciful when the referee decided to blow the whistle in the 95th minute, spelling the end of another forgetful performance for Vancouver. While losing streaks happen in sports, with teams going on extended runs, Vancouver was completely outplayed once again, getting bested by San Jose in every metric from start to end, as Vancouver yet again failed to show much in terms of positive play or improvement. With fans being understandably angry, attendance dropping and the games getting uglier and uglier, it certainly has not been a period to remember for Vancouver faithful. 

Thoughts on Performances:

In goal, Max Crepeau was one of the lone bright spots on the night, as despite conceding 3 goals he managed to make sure it was not more, making a couple of great saves to keep things close. It’s been a rough return to MLS action for the Canadian keeper, who had such a strong start to his debut campaign in MLS before the Gold Cup break, as his defence and midfield has fallen off of a cliff as of late, leaving him hung out to dry in every match since his return. If Vancouver is to return to MLS relevancy, signings like Crepeau, who was deemed surplus to requirements in Montreal despite strong stats in the USL, will be key for them to grow, as finding market efficiencies around DP signings can be the difference between being good and dominant, as seen with teams like LAFC. 

At the back, it was a tough performance from the collective unit of Jake Nerwinski, Erik Godoy, Doneil Henry and Ali Adnan, who had their glimpses, but overall they just didn’t seem to defend well as a unit, as they were caught ball-watching on a lot of the goals. Early in the season, they were blocking shots, pushing attackers back and tackling everything in sight, but they have looked completely disinterested as of late, unable to string together a strong performance as a unit. Despite that, it does not appear to be an area needing change, as they have shown to be good as a squadron before, they just need to find some of that magic that made them successful at the beginning of the season. 

In the middle, there was a midfield pivot, as Jon Erice and Hwang In Beom played together as holding midfielders, and the experiment proved to be successful, to a certain extent. While they could have done a lot better to track back on the first couple of goals, they did well to link the play together at certain points, but were just unable to get any traction from their little passing moves in deep, as the ball often struggled to cross the San Jose half-line in Vancouver control. Until the Caps get someone that can help both of them to push the play forward, they will continue to struggle in that regard. 

In attack, we saw an attacking quartet, with Lass Bangoura out right, Yordy Reyna below the striker, Russell Teibert making a return to the wing on the left and Fredy Montero up top. It was a mixed bag from the Caps offensive threats, however, as they seemed disjointed in the way they would generate chances. On one side, you had the speed of Bangoura, who loves to attack defenders and get into space, whereas on the other side Teibert preferred to drop back and link up slower. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Venuto had played instead of Teibert, as he is similar to Bangoura in that he likes to attack defenders, which meant that they could have pushed San Jose’s full-backs right down, as San Jose is known to play a man-marking system. Instead, the irregularities in style between Bangoura and Teibert forced Reyna to suffer, as he was unable to really drop back or push forward to find space, instead relying on little pockets that came available to him in glimpses. While Montero having an anoymous performance up top did little to help that, the staggered formation from Dos Santos certainly did not have a positive bearing on the (lack of) attacking threat from Vancouver in this one. 

Off the bench, Joaquin Ardaiz, Felipe Martins and Theo Bair were brought on, as Dos Santos chased a goal. Ardaiz had an amazing run instantly after his insertion, bringing fans to their feet as he danced his way in to the box to what appeared to be a sure equalizer, but he struck it well over, continuing a frustrating season for him. While he brings energy each time he comes onto the pitch, his finishing ability and lack of effort at times leave a lot to be desired. Bair and Felipe were good, but they both didn’t really have the chance to impose much of their will onto the match. 

Man of the Match: Jon Erice

Erice and Crepeau were the brightest lights on what was a dim night overall for the Whitecaps, with Erice providing a glim hope from the centre of the park. While it can certainly be hard to notice his impact, he does well at moving the ball around, blocking shots and getting tackles, making him effective in his position as a deep-lying midfielder. While he could desperately use some help around him and In Beom, he has done well in his role, with the lone complaint being his lack of athleticism at times, but he more than makes up for it in smarts. 

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Doneil Henry:

Henry started the game ultra-brightly for Vancouver, as he did well on his goal to bring the ball down and slot it into the low corner, giving the Caps the early hope that they would maybe win. While his defensive unit as a whole struggled to defend goals, he had some good individual moments, making some nice blocks and showing some confidence on the ball, continuing to solidify himself as a bargain on his cheap MLS salary, after a rough campaign last year had most people writing him off. Offensively, he has found a new life this year, with his 3 goals now being the third-best total on the Caps, after Montero’s 6 and Reyna’s 4, which is all-in-all pretty impressive since how much difficulty Henry had last year at trying to find the back of the net. 

Stat of the Match:

The Caps have struggled to find the back of the net all season, but at least chances were there at times. As of late? It’s been dry, as evidenced by this dire stat brought up by Dan Riccio. One would hope that CPL opposition in Cavalry may provide them with the lift that they so desperately need, but at this point, it might not be so sure, with the CPL leaders providing a real threat at an upset on Monday. 

Optimistic Take?:

If the Caps continue to do poorly, they may want to at least give some money to charity… all in jest but it shows where the Caps are at, so here is to hoping that the ship can at least be turned around so that it can be entertaining if anything. 

Sad Moment:

It’s mid-to-late July and this is what is coming up, which is sad because it is accurate. While it was always pencilled in as a rebuilding year, being this far off the playoff line and being close to Voyageur’s Cup elimination at the hand of first-year CPL side at this point of the season was surely not even imagined by the most pessimistic of fans. 

Rough Moment:

Attendance dropping, fans booing, goals being shipped and now fans chanting for ownership to leave, this surely has to have been the low point of Vancouver’s tenure in MLS. While it is never necessarily good to champion change just to have change, something has to give in Caps-land, as things are starting to boil over. 

Heatmap of the Game:

A huge hole in the attacking midfield, not enough penetration the flanks, zero action in the San Jose box, it was another tough heatmap for Vancouver as they continue to struggle offensively. At least it makes it easier to identify possible avenues of change going forward, as it is clear where the gulf has been going forward. 

Looking Forward:

Vancouver gets a chance to keep its season on the thin rails that it’s currently chugging along on, as this game may end up deciding the rest of the season. If they lose this one, it’s curtains on 2019, marking the end of a forgettable campaign, while if they win, it gets them another chance at survival, giving them another glimpse of hope. While attendance may be historically low on Wednesday, due to the fan apathy and the usual smaller midweek crowd, this match will be one for the history books, at least the one for the Whitecaps 2019 season. 

Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Cavalry FC, Wednesday, July 24th, 2019 (BC Place, Vancouver)