The Vancouver Whitecaps took out LA Galaxy in a 7 goal thriller Sunday, as some late-game drama provided the Caps with all 3 points heading into Decision Day.
Heading into the penultimate day of the Whitecaps season, fans of the Caps could be forgiven for being a bit down on their team. Facing the second in the West Galaxy, who were on a bit of a hot run heading into this home clash, it was never going to be an easy test for an already eliminated Whitecaps side. With the Galaxy bringing out some of their best players in front of their fans, while Vancouver missed some of their finest through injury and suspension, it seemed like it was going to be a long evening in Carson.
But, against the odds, Vancouver would find a victory, bringing home all 3 points in an exciting 4-3 game. Like a college student studying for a midterm, they left things late, scoring in the 93rd minute of 93, but considering their lack of victories for most of this rebuilding season, they’ll definitely take the flair for the dramatic. Given that they now have won 2 and tied 1 of their past 3 games via late winners, they seemed to have found something that works as they look to pass the late-season MLS tests on the table in front of them.
The Caps nearly got things going early, as they caught the LA Galaxy defence sleeping soon after kickoff, as Tosaint Ricketts nearly found the back of the net off of a Theo Bair cross, but would get denied by goalkeeper Matt Lampson.
The fast start would be a precursor for what would be to come, as Vancouver opened the scoring not long after in the 20th minute. Hwang In Beom stood up to take a corner to the right of Lampson, and he put in a great ball, finding Doneil Henry at the back post. The Canadian defender, who had already scored a career-high 3 goals this year, added to that tally, bundling home the ball to give the Caps a surprise lead. It wasn’t the fanciest of headers, but he did enough to get it on target and in the back of the net, getting the Caps an early lead.
That lead would not last long, however, as LA would quickly equalize after. The speedy Cristian Pavon got the better of Jhesser Khemiri on the left-hand side, before he squared the ball nicely to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who made no mistake with his first-time sidefoot finish for his 29th of the season. They almost doubled the pain right after, as Efrain Alvarez nearly got LA into the lead on the restart, but his powerful volley from outside the box would be saved by comfortably by Maxime Crepeau.
Alvarez, who looked dangerous all half for LA, came close in the 40th minute, but he sent his dangerous left-footed strike just wide. Vancouver reacted nicely to the close-call, as they would quickly storm up the pitch in the 43rd minute. Michaell Chirinos got some space outside the box, and he cut inside to shoot, but his shot would be blocked. It bounced fortunately, however, hitting off of Theo Bair, who had snuck behind the defenders, before settling down for the Canadian striker, who slotted home nicely for his second-ever MLS goal.
Through 45 minutes, Vancouver had defended strongly, looked composed in their build-up from the backline up, and had done well to limit an LA side full of dangerous threats. Offensively, they had 8 shots, which for a team that averages 10 a season, was a positive tally. Despite only having 45% possession, the Caps were getting their punches in against one of MLS’s stronger sides, and it certainly made for an interesting finish.
Despite the optimism from the Caps side heading into the break, LA responded by coming out punching to get back into it, generating an early flurry of chances. Pavon forced a strong save from Crepeau at the beginning of the second half, Alvarez once again tested Crepeau with a strong volley right after, before Uriel Antuna finally broke through in the 55th minute to tie things up. It was started by a great ball from Jonathan Dos Santos, another standout performer for the Galaxy on the evening, who found Antuna in stride with the pass. With Crepeau caught in no-mans land around the penalty spot, Antuna calmly chipped the Canadian International, giving the Galaxy some air in their lungs heading into the last 35 minutes of the game.
Vancouver stood strong, however, as they took the LA punch to the gut without much of a negative reaction. Less than 10 minutes later, they put together a sequence of build-up play that could only be described as art in motion, finding the equalizer in style through Tosaint Ricketts.
The play started out deep in the Caps half with In Beom, who had a nice give and go with Bair, before he played it across to Teibert, who along with In Beom and PC, played a couple of passes to move LA’s shape around. In Beom would then get the ball back at the top of the box, before playing a carefully threaded through-ball to a streaking Erik Godoy, and the centre-back turned right-back delivered a first-time ball that would not look out of place on a Premier League pitch. It floated right into the box, finding Rickett’s head with precision and power, and Ricketts did well to guide the ball home, finding his first as a Whitecap. For a team that has struggled to score all season, it was the exact sequence of play most will be hoping to see out of them heading into 2020.
The game was far from over at that point, and LA quickly reminded the Caps of that, coming back out on the front foot after the goal. It was first through Sebastian Lletget, who came close in the 72nd minute, before Ibrahimovic had a goal cancelled out from an offside position in the 77th, so it was no surprise when the Galaxy eventually levelled things up in the 86th minute. A great ball from centre back Diego Polenta found the head of Ibrahimovic, who flicked the ball on despite intense pressure from Doneil Henry and Jhesser Khemiri. The ball fell right to Chris Pontius, who had sensed the space created by the Vancouver defenders stepping up, and he had plenty of time and space to slot home the equalizer.
But Vancouver, who had so often this season thrown away leads in frustrating fashion, found some resiliency for their third game in a row. Fredy Montero, who has made a name for himself as of late with his late-game heroics, this time played provider in the 93rd minute. He got on the end of a great Khemiri long ball, sucking in an LA defender before playing a streaking In Beom on the run. In Beom found himself all alone behind the LA defenders, many of whom had pushed up in the chase for a late winner themselves. With Chirinos beside him, In Beom ran up towards Lampson, 2 on 0, on what looked like the last action of the game.
And In Beom made no mistake with his chance. He first faked a shot, drawing Lampson in towards his feet, before slotting the ball to Chirinos to his left. The Honduran, on loan from CD Olimpia in Honduras, hit the ball quickly with his left foot and into the roof of the empty net, giving the Caps all 3 points as they once again found some late magic. It was a well-crafted goal, and it was a well-earned result, as Vancouver did well to contain a tough Galaxy team despite a depleted squad.
Heading into the last game of their 2019 campaign, it gives Vancouver a boost, as they have shown great resolve by finding results despite an early elimination. Going into 2020, they will want to extract some of the positives they have found in these past 3 games, and with some new names expected to come in this next window, things are at least looking up in Vancouver.
Man of the Match: Hwang In Beom
It was a strong performance from the Korean, who had 2 primary assists and 1 secondary assist to help the Whitecaps find some offensive magic. He had the second-most touches on the team, completed 83% of his passes, and was overall the energetic force a lot of people expected him to be. If he can get some better support around him in the midfield, expect big things in 2020.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Jhesser Khemiri:
We had pitted the Tunisian as our player to watch beforehand, and he had a good debut. He looked slow laterally at times, as he looked very much a player coming off a major knee surgery, but that will improve with time. He was solid in the air, keeping a tough Ibrahimovic at bay for a lot of the night, and was crisp in his passing forward. Given his tantalizing physical tools, his good technical ability and his young age, he should be a force to reckon with in 2020. With 19 (!) clearances on the night, he did his part in keeping LA far away from the Whitecaps goal.
The Caps play their last game of the season next Sunday against Real Salt Lake City. While they would have hoped that it could have held some playoff implications, as they have shown as late, that won’t stop them from a strong effort. Heading into an important offseason, that’s all that can be asked of them, and it’ll make for some interesting decisions for Marc Dos Santos.
Next Up: Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Real Salt Lake, Sunday, October 6th, 2019, 13:00 PST (BC Place, Vancouver)