After a long month of July, where the Caps season seemed to disappear like a ship on the high seas, it resurfaced, at least temporarily, as they were able to find some hope in the “Land of 10000 Lakes”, as they picked up their first MLS point all month.
The Whitecaps (4W-11L-9D) will look to build off of that traction, after going through what had been described as a “nightmare” month of July by coach Marc Dos Santos. Holding off the surging Minnesota United (10W-7D-5L), one of the hottest teams in MLS, was no small achievement for the Caps as a 0-0 result ensured that both teams would share the spoils available to them.
The key to Vancouver’s success on the evening was that they were able to find a return to their early-season defensive form, as they made a triumphant debut performance at Allianz Field, keeping a clean sheet for the first time since May 10th, when they bested rivals Portland 1-0 at BC Place. While they are still yet to win since May 25th, when they found a 2-1 victory over Dallas FC, getting a result in Minnesota was huge, not because of the score itself but instead how they achieved it. The pain of the last few weeks wasn’t all necessarily down to all the poor results, but instead driven on by the loss of the identity instilled by Dos Santos, who has been left frustrated all month as his team fell off the map in every regard.
“From the month of May, the month of June, the identity that we were building in the team, we had lost that in July,” Dos Santos said post-match. “I feel that today, we regained that part of our game against a very good team, and against a team that has grown a lot in two years”
The match started out quickly, with both sides coming out with positive intent. Minnesota got the first chance of the game, with Minnesota-born winger Ethan Finlay just curling one past the far post, as an outstretched Max Crepeau was unable to get a hand to what was a well-crafted strike from the former Columbus man.
Vancouver took a huge hit early on, as they lost Doneil Henry to injury in the 10th minute. After suffering a back injury in the 5th minute, when Darwin Quintero Jr jumped into his back off of a cross, 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. It was officially announced to be a back contusion by the Whitecaps, but either way it appears to be another severe blow to what has been an amazing comeback season otherwise, as Henry had done so well to bounce-back from a myriad of other injuries that have hampered his past. As tough as a blow as it was, however, the Caps were prepared, as Erik Godoy’s rest night was cut short, as he entered the game and kept things tidy, like he has done most of the season.
“Yeah, between Doneil, Derek [Cornelius], and Erik, they’ve all played in this team and they’re all ready to come in,” Dos Santos said of his defensive depth. “We wanted to give Erik a rest, but unfortunately he got a rest of ten minutes, but he was ready. Mentally he was ready, he came in, he helped the team, and that’s football.”
Vancouver would nearly find the lead in the 19th minute, as a curling Ali Adnan free kick from way out wide deflected off the errant leg of Minnesota striker Angelo Rodriguez and towards what seemed a sure goal for the Caps, but the ball had other ideas, bouncing off the bar and back out, keeping the game deadlocked at 0-0.
While Minnesota was surely thankful of its luck on that deflection, they would come to bemoan it in the 43rd minute, as Romain Ibarra would find himself all alone in the Vancouver box, but he would strike the upright, keeping the clean sheet intact for the Whitecaps heading into half time.
“Everybody answered as a team, and that’s very positive,” Dos Santos said of his team’s resolve “When we do things as a team, we’re able to be in every game.”
While they hung on just to keep it 0-0 at the half, white-knuckling through the last 10 or so minutes, the Caps came out strong in the second period of action. They carried the play for the first 20 minutes, finding a handful of chances, as Yordy Reyna was twice denied by Vito Mannone, while Fredy Montero was unable to do much better, with two hopeful strikes denied by the chest of the Minnesota goalkeeper. Those two, along with rookie Theo Bair up front, were able to drive the Caps forward as they chased a result.
Speaking of Bair, the 19-year-old Canadian continued to grow, looking good in his 3rd ever MLS start. While he was bandied out of position out wide, he was able to influence the match, getting one shot on target, providing 1 key pass and winning 3 aerial duels, wreaking havoc with both his size and skill. For the youngster, it’s all about growing half by half, and he’s been certainly doing that. While he is still awaiting his first goal, he can certainly be positive about the rest of his game.
“Yeah 100%,” Bair said of him growing in each match. “Every game gets better and every half gets better. It’s just a matter of time.”
Despite the positive period of play, Vancouver would have a nervy end to the match, as Minnesota took over the last 15 minutes, desperate to provide their Wonderwall with something to sing about. But while Max Crepeau and company had to hold strong, they managed to see the game out, as Minnesota were unable to breach the Caps goal. While the Loons came real close, as a Mason Toye jab off a cross went just over the goal from point-blank range, as well as a Miguel Ibarra volley slamming off the crossbar before staying out, the Caps found that elusive clean sheet, putting an exclamation mark on it thanks to a last-minute Crepeau stop on Minnesota dangerman Darwin Quintero.
For Dos Santos, while it certainly wasn’t easy, it was a fitting end to what he had deemed an important match for his crew.
“Yeah, it’s very hard after the month of July we had,” Dos Santos said of the result. “After the hard loss Wednesday it emotionally leaves a lot of scars, and you ask for a reaction and you ask for a commitment and the guys answered”
“Everybody answered as a team, and that’s very positive. When we do things as a team, we’re able to be in every game.”
For Minnesota, it was a disappointing result, as they hold a stellar home record (6W-1L-4D), but overall the game was one manager Adrian Heath could live with, as he was certainly wary of falling into the dreaded “trap game” which he thought his troops did well to avoid against a Vancouver team with not much else to lose.
“We spoke about it in the week,” Heath said in his press conference “This was going to be one of those games, and I was worried about it. But the things that I was worried about didn’t come to fruition this evening. The energy from the players was terrific”
“The only thing lacking was the final ball in the final third. What did we have, 30 crosses? 37 crosses? I can’t remember the last time I was involved in a team that got 37 crosses off and probably didn’t get on the end of more than two or three. That’s an issue.”
But on the Caps side of things, it came down to staunch marking, good organization and strong goalkeeping, so while the wins are yet to come, breaking their pointless slump was a good start.
“Yeah, I mean finally we got out of the slump,” centre back Derek Cornelius said after the game. We finally got back, not necessarily to our right ways because we’re still looking for a win, but yeah it’s good to start getting back points.”
“ Defensively we were a very organized team and we didn’t give a lot away,” Dos Santos would add. “You need to be able to keep a high level of concentration in the box, but I think our guys did a very good job and were very committed tonight.”
Up next for the Caps is a very winnable test, as they face a Cincinnati team in just as bad of a moment as they are, with both teams mired in the basement, both unable to score and keep goals out of the net. With the Caps getting a full week of training for the first time in nearly a month, they get a chance to regroup and get back to what has worked for them, as well as what they want to work on to get better. Not training enough has taken a toll on the team both physically and tactically, and Dos Santos knows it’s a great opportunity to refind his club’s identity, as his team looks to get back on track in this rebuilding year.
“Yeah for sure, for you to improve a team you have to train it. “Dos Santos finished with. “You have to train dynamics, you have to train principles, you can’t do that if you don’t train. This is a good moment for us to get reorganized.”
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs FC Cincinnati, Saturday, August 3rd (Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati)