The Whitecaps got back to winning ways this Saturday, as they took down Houston Dynamo 2-1. It wasn’t easy, as a Zac MacMath error nearly undid a second-half lead, but Fredy Montero came up huge to grab all 3 points as Vancouver kicked off their post-2019 playoff lives.
It was unsure if the game was going to be entertaining at BC Place on Saturday, as the Whitecaps took on the Dynamo in a battle of the two worst teams in the Western Conference. But with Houston fighting for their playoff lives, and Vancouver building towards the future, they combined for an entertaining affair. It started slow, as they both had a quiet first half, but they finished the game strong, trading goals before the Caps found a late winner via Fredy Montero, giving the Caps an unlikely 3 points.
“We (still) have a lot to play for, ” Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos said after the game. “What I liked is that even with a team that is already eliminated from the playoffs, you didn’t feel on the field like there were guys giving up, not fighting and not trying. That’s the right mentality to have.”
The game got off to a quick start, with both teams trading chances early on. Houston came close in the 4th minute, but Tommy MacNamara would send the ball just wide after curling one from outside the box, giving goalkeeper Zac MacMath a quick scare. The Caps would nearly score when going the other way on the ensuing goal kick, with Michaell Chirinos finding some space on the left side of the Houston box, but his strike was saved comfortably by Houston goalkeeper Joe Willis.
Houston nearly opened the scoring in the 37th minute, as they countered up the field, but they would be unable to find the back of the net on the chance. It was not a Houston player who shot, however, but Vancouver’s own Doneil Henry, who nearly slammed the ball into his own net after intercepting a sloppy Houston cross. Luckily for Henry, Zac MacMath was alert in his goal, palming the ball away to keep the game all tied up.
The first half would end without much else in terms of action, as both teams would struggle to push much forward in terms of an offensive initiative. The Whitecaps looked controlled in possession, building things up nicely from their backline, but they failed to unlock the Houston defence, as they were unable to get the ball into attacking positions through the middle. With more possession and more passes than Houston, the Caps looked better than they did 2 weeks ago against New York, but they were just held back by their inability to penetrate the middle of the field offensively.
Vancouver would come out stronger to start the second half, finding some positive spells of interplay deep in Houston’s half. On one of those sequences, Michaell Chirinos did exactly what his team needed by finding some space near the top of the Houston box, and the Dynamo defence was unable to react, fouling the Honduran. On the subsequent free-kick, Yordy Reyna would hit the ball into the wall, where it would catch the hand of a Houston defender, on what seemed to be a sure handball call.
Referee Robert Sibiga initially pointed to the spot, but then went to the VAR board to confirm his decision. And after a lengthy review, he stuck with his original decision, giving the Whitecaps a rare positive VAR decision. In Beom Hwang stepped up to take the penalty, and he made no mistake with the chance, sending the ball low and to the right of Joe Willis to give the Whitecaps the lead.
It was yet another VAR decision in a long list of them this year for the Whitecaps, and while it was a positive one this time, the whole process has started to become quite mind numbing for everyone following the team. In an era where players don’t even know to celebrate goals anymore, with the possibility of VAR always looming, it has changed the way people play the game across the world.
“You just give up,” Dos Santos said of his expectations about VAR. “You know what’s disappointing? “I’ll tell you this, and it’s not about the Whitecaps, today I was watching some Premier League games, and I watched Inter Udinese (in Serie A), it’s changing the game. Am I for VAR? Yes, but in limited things. What’s changing is those goals, when I was a kid and you saw players scoring, taking off their jerseys and running into the crowd. Now, you score and there’s always suspense.”
The goal would start to open up the game, as Houston started to push more numbers forward, leaving plenty of space on the counter. It took a while for the Caps to exploit that space, but they stuck with it and found a glorious opportunity in the 75th minute. Ali Adnan would find himself all alone in the Houston box, with Tosaint Ricketts moving to his right. But despite being in acres of space, he elected to pass instead of shooting, but he and Ricketts were not on the same page, as the ball sailed ahead of the Canadian and slid harmlessly away from goal.
And Vancouver would come to rue the missed opportunity, as Houston would equalize less than 5 minutes later. It was not a goal to be remembered for Vancouver, as Zac MacMath would be unable to handle a harmless looking knuckleball from Maynor Figuera, parrying the ball right into the path of Mauro Manotas on his save attempt. From there on in, Manotas made no mistake with the rebound attempt, slamming it home into an empty net, as he took advantage of MacMath’s gift to score his team-leading 13th goal of the season.
But despite the error, Vancouver kept their heads up. Ali Adnan made a strong push up the field right at the 90th minute, twisting and turning through Houston defenders before feeding Theo Bair in the box. Bair then flicked the ball up to Fredy Montero, who was all alone in the Houston box. And from there the Colombian, who has struggled to score from open play all season, made no mistake with his chance, finding the winning goal with a left-footed volley that eluded Joe Willis.
And while Houston did their best to try and tie the game back up, including a strong Memo Rodriguez strike in the 93rd minute that MacMath had to save with a strong punch, the Caps would find their 7th victory of the season when Sibiga put his whistle to his lips. After MacMath’s earlier error, he chose a good time to play the hero, and it completed a nice revenge arc for the goalkeeper on the evening.
“It’s too bad,” Dos Santos said of MacMath’s error. “I know and he knows that he could have probably done better, much better on the goal from Houston, but then he has this big save in injury time that gets us the win, so okay, he redeemed himself.”
It wasn’t a perfect performance, but it was a big improvement from 2 weeks ago, and in the push towards 2020, those kinds of positive steps are what people want to see from Vancouver. The Caps were better in possession, keeping 49% of the ball, completing 447 passes total. While the final third still needs to be improved, that the Caps even got there is progress after the New York game. With the defence looking tight besides the MacMath mistake, Vancouver has a solid foundation to build off of ahead of 2020, they just need some improvements on the attacking side of the squad.
“Until our goal, I think overall, collectively and tactically, in some moments we had pressure,” Dos Santos said. “There were not many opportunities for both sides, but we looked like the most dangerous team until the goal, the penalty shot we scored.”
“And then after our goal we felt a little bit not calm in the things we were doing, not being able to get out of their pressure, it’s normal after the goal that there’s 5 minutes where the opponent gives a little bit more, remember this is an opponent that is still fighting for a playoff spot, they’re playing for a lot.”
Man of the Match: Ali Adnan
The Caps left-back was buzzing all night, as he looked like a whole new player in his return from the international break. He had 5 successful dribbles, as he torched Dynamo defenders all night, as well as playing a role in the Caps winning goal, putting together a solid offensive night. Defensively, he was no slouch either, with 5 clearances and 3 tackles, marking what was all-in-all a solid all-around performance from the Iraqi international.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Injury Bug
As expected, a bunch of players made miraculous recoveries in order to play on Saturday, including Rusell Teibert, Derek Cornelius and Doneil Henry, as well as Jhesser Khemiri, who made the bench for the first time this season. Despite that, there were still 7 players out for this one, as the Caps fight through some late-season injury woes.
Tweet of the Match:
In Beom Hwang scored his 3rd MLS goal of the season, and he celebrated in style, jumping into the crowd. From there, he made an interesting decision, choosing to eat some popcorn off of the ground. For what’s it’s worth, I’m on team Caleb here….
Up next: Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Columbus Crew SC, Saturday, September 21st, 2019, 14:00 PST (BC Place, Vancouver)