An uneventful goalless draw away from home can be considered a disappointment for most teams, but it almost felt like a win for the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, who were able to slow down a soaring Minnesota side, winners of 7 of the last 8 heading into this clash. While the Loons were fresh off a draw away to Real Salt Lake themselves, it seemed likely that they would run roughshod over the lowly Caps, who are currently in the midst of a run that has seen their last win come in May.
But, in typical MLS fashion, the battle of the polar opposites came to nearly nothing, with both teams failing to breach either goal in a nil-nil draw. While the couple of chances Vancouver created seemed massive given their offensive struggles of late, it was overall a pretty uneventful game, but after a month of what coach Marc Dos Santos described as a “nightmare”, it will do enough to lift Vancouver spirits as they embark on the last couple months of the season.
Things started out quickly from both sides. Vancouver had a couple of quick spells going forward but was unable to get the ball into the box. Minnesota countered effectively after one of those Vancouver forays, throwing forward grey shirts in a hurry, and they nearly capitalized, with Ethan Finlay just curling one past the far post, as an outstretched Max Crepeau was unable to get a hand to what was a cultured strike from the former Columbus speedster.
After a couple of traded chances that didn’t amount to much, the Caps took a huge hit early on, as they lost Doneil Henry to injury in the 10th minute. After suffering what looked to be a very painful back knock in the 5th minute, he had played on, but he pulled up lame a couple of minutes later, clutching a hamstring that has previously given him problems this year. Erik Godoy, rested after playing nearly every minute this season, ended up having to get dressed and come in for Henry, who was forced to watch the rest of the match from the sidelines.
The Caps nearly found a goal out of nowhere in the 19th minute, as an innocent-looking free-kick way out wide nearly turned into a nightmare for Minnesota, as a curling Ali Adnan ball deflected off the errant leg of Minnesota striker Angelo Rodriguez, but the ball ended up bouncing off the frame of the goal, keeping the game at 0-0. For a team struggling like Vancouver, it was certainly the kind of luck they could have used, but they were instead left to bemoan their lack of fortune once more.
Vancouver found a bit of magic in the 27th minute, as a solid bit of interplay from the midfielders and strikers managed to get the ball up the field effectively, but the ensuing cross in from Jake Nerwinski was blocked, out for a corner. On said corner, the ball whipped in was errant, but after bouncing around the box it was cleared out by a Minnesota header, but it didn’t go far, as it fell right to Ali Adnan, who struck the ball well off the volley, but sent it a bit high, sailing it over Vito Mannone’s goal.
Things got a bit heated on the Vancouver end in the 30th minute, as Fredy Montero and Hwang In Beom were unable to connect deep in Minnesota’s half, leading to a giveaway. With Montero tracking back rather slowly, Hwang took the time to berate the Caps skipper on the day, disappointed with the Colombian’s effort. While Hwang was maybe right in his criticism, to see that kind of disconnect from a team hanging on in a 0-0 match, despite their struggles as of late, was a bit concerning.
Minnesota started to knock on the door in the 35th minute, as Ethan Finlay would use his speed to get into a good position out wide, but his strike was blocked by Erik Godoy, who deflected it precariously close to the post, but close enough to keep the game scoreless, as it sailed just wide.
After the game paused for a bit of theatrics in the 35th minute, as teams traded pleasantries after a questionable Felipe yellow, Minnesota came back all fired up, mounting up a good bit of pressure. They would come closest in the 41st minute, as a bit of trickery from them in the midfield led to Miguel Ibarra finding space on the ball in the Caps box, but the angle was too tight for the dangerous Minnesota wide man, who fired off the post, much to the relief of the Caps.
The Loons continued to chase that first goal, but they ended the half with nothing to show for it, with their efforts best described by a 46th minute Quintero cross, one that tickled preciously past the feet of Ibarra and the fingertips of Crepeau, finding its way out for a goal kick. The Caps had a bit of an adventure forward themselves, but their best chance would be an errant Theo Bair volley right into the chest of Mannone, spelling the end of what was a pretty forgettable half.
The second half started out slowly from both teams, who were both able to match the passion of the first half, but were unable to turn it into a consistent stretch of play. After trading a couple of harmless chances, Yordy Reyna had the best effort of the first 10 minutes, as a looping ball from Bair found the sprawling Peruvian, who hit a snatched volley dangerously at Mannone, who did well to catch what was a zooming strike from Reyna.
Mannone’s hands would nearly fail him a few minutes after, as Fredy Montero would get his first chance of the match, striking a knuckling effort from 35 yards away. While the strike seemed innocuous enough, with the ball seeming to float harmlessly towards Mannone, it nearly eluded the Italian, almost finding a gap between his legs as the knuckling of the ball nearly wrong-footed him.
The Caps would continue to press, as they desperately chased a much-needed goal. Yordy Reyna had a spell of individual brilliance in the 65th minute, swerving through a couple of Minnesota defenders like a speed racer turning down a twisting track, but he lacked the end product, with his 25 yard strike doing enough to test Mannone, but lacking conviction to beat the Minny goalkeeper, who parried the ball away comfortably.
Fredy Montero would nearly open the scoring in the 69th minute, as the Caps took a free kick attempt quickly, catching the Loons sleeping, but Montero would strike right at Mannone, keeping the game deadlocked. With chances continuing to fall by the wayside, it seemed unlikely that the game would find a goal from either side, who were both uninspiring in front of either frame.
Minnesota would soon respond with a chance in their own, as a dangerous ball in was flicked on by Ibarra, finding an in-form Mason Toye all alone in front of goal, but the former MLS Super Draft pick sent his ball just over the bar, keeping the Caps in the game. After absorbing a couple of Vancouver chances, it was a warning sign that the game could tilt at any moment, it was just up to one moment of difference to make it happen.
Pushed forward by a passionate Minnesota crowd, the Loons nearly found what at that point would have been a sure-winner, but Quintero and Toye were wasteful with some good chances. They would nearly regret their misses, as the Caps countered effectively, but Reyna was just unable to stab at a great ball in from out left, as it would sail harmlessly out for a goal kick.
The Loons would nearly soar in the 83rd minute, as they hit a well-executed corner, as Ibarra would find himself all alone, but he hit the bar off the volley, a bit of a let-off for both the player and the crowd, who seemed ready to celebrate yet another late-winner at Allianz Field, as an already great atmosphere teetered on the brink of an explosion and the possibility of another rendition of “Wonderwall”, just teased off by the frame of the goal.
But, despite a great late chance from Quintero, who nearly made Reyna’s decision to waste time in the 92nd minute seem foolish, the Caps held on for the point. It took a nice save from Crepeau against what was an unmarked Quintero, who would have likely scored that opportunity on most nights, to keep the result and point intact. While it won’t do much to their near-extinguished playoff hopes, it will be something to build off of, with some obvious corrections being noted, as well as a lot of positives to grow around. With an actual week of training ahead of them, they may actually be able to learn from both those positives and negatives, making a positive result possible against Cincinnati next week seem possible.
A look at the Performances:
In goal, Max Crepeau was able to find a clean sheet for the first time in two months, as he had to return all the way back to May to remember his last one before this, as he kept Portland at bay in a crucial 1-0 victory. While he was not really tested by Minnesota on the evening, he made the saves he had to make, and was bailed out by the woodwork at times as well, which may seem lucky to outsiders, but after a couple of months like the Caps have lived, it was certainly merited at some point. With Crepeau often being the bright spot in the dismal run of matches, it was nice to see him rewarded for his efforts.
At the back, it was a back 4 of Jake Nerwinski, Ali Adnan, Derek Cornelius and Doneil Henry, as Marc Dos Santos went with a Canadian pairing down the middle. While it only lasted 10 minutes, with Henry being felled by his injury, his replacement, Erik Godoy, had a solid bounce-back performance, looking good when called upon. With Nerwinski looking calm on both ends of the pitch, and Adnan looking his usual plucky self (after a slow start), the defence looked good. As Cornelius continues to progress, things look alright for a team that just lost one of its key defenders for what could be anywhere from 3 days to 8 weeks. If Jhesser Khemiri is able to come in and provide any sort of defensive value in the next 2 weeks, they’ll be more than alright for the rest of the season, provided they continue on this track.
Through the middle, Hwang In Beom, Felipe and Russell Teibert had mixed bag performances. While they had some staunchly defensive efforts, with Felipe leading the way with a gritty effort from the back, they struggled to generate offence, with Vancouver’s lone chances seeming to come from hopeful stabs forward. They need to find a way to either A) build things up quicker or B) take time with the ball but make calculated runs, as they often seem caught in between both worlds. While this area will remain disappointing until another addition is made, the defensive effort was at least something to congratulate, but the sooner a two-way force can arrive, the better.
Up front, it was a cobbled-together striking trio, with Theo Bair, Fredy Montero and Yordy Reyna combining in a bit of a shapeshifting front three, with each popping up at various moments to give Minnesota varied looks to deal with. Bair was good, getting into good areas and generating chances, just lacking that vital end touch. Reyna was tricky as usual, putting in a Man of the Match performance, at least offensively, leading the forward line with his creativity. Montero had a bit of a redemption match himself, looking better than he has of late, just lacking a bit of commitment at times defensively in the first half, but he made up for it with some better chance generation on the other side of the ball.
Off the bench, Lucas Venuto and Brett Levis were brought on to provide offence, but with the team bunkered down to snatch the 1 point, they were unable to put much of a stamp on the game. With Lass Bangoura injured and Joaquin Ardaiz left at home, it was always going to be tough to have much firepower coming off of the bench, but Levis and Venuto did fill in admirably and helped the overall cause, as the clean sheet was ultimately achieved in the end.
Man of the Match: Felipe
While it was tough to award the man of the match to Felipe, who was part of the problem going forward, he earned the award through hard work and grit, as his defensive work in the midfield was stellar. When he’s diving into tackles, getting in people’s faces and playing smart short passes, it’s good to see. While his offensive game seems miles away from what it used to be at New York, his defensive work has certainly not been something to bemoan for the Caps.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Ali Adnan
While he started slow, the man that some were even calling “non-MLS quality” after a lackadaisical performance against Cavalry had a good night here against the Loons, leading the team going forward, and doing well enough defensively. When he’s on his game offensively, like he was tonight, it’s tough to imagine what damage could be inflicted if a quality midfielder and some more quality up front were able to provide better outlets for Adnan’s bucket load of successful dribbles (4 tonight) and passes that he gives out when he’s on.
Tweet of the Match (Positive Outlook!)
The Caps get a much-needed week off, getting a chance to fully train and recover, before getting right back into it against an equally as impotent Cincinnati, with the first-year expansion side being the only team with fewer goals than Vancouver (22 to the Caps 23). While that may end up to prove boring, both teams are third-last (Caps) and last in goals-against (Cincinnati) as well, so something will have to give. At the very least it will be a fun time, with former Caps Darren Mattocks, Kekuta Manneh, Kendall Waston and Spencer Richey featuring for the Ohio-based squad, making it a reunion of sorts (Alan Koch cries on in the distance). Otherwise, the other thing to monitor will be if a splash on the transfer market from Vancouver ends up happening in the next few days, with Dos Santos saying last Thursday that something may come about this upcoming week, so keep an eye on that as well. Until any of that potentially happens, we will be left to watch on with a keen eye, as the August 8th transfer deadline gets closer and closer.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Cincinnati FC, August 3rd, 2019, 17:00 PST (Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati)