The Vancouver Whitecaps narrowly fell to Sporting KC in the Round of 16 at MLS is Back on Sunday, as SKC found a way to best them on penalty kicks, after things stayed 0-0 throughout the 90 minutes. Here is our match report from what was a tight game between MLS Western Conference foes.
After doing well to bounce back, it was a tough way to go out.
With their backs against the ropes heading into their third group stage game at MLS is Back against the Chicago Fire, the Vancouver Whitecaps did well to get a 2-0 result this past Thursday, setting the table for a pivotal clash with Sporting Kansas City in the Round of 16 on Sunday.
And while many people predicted the match to be an easy contest for SKC, who looked like early favourites with their play at MLS is Back so far, the ‘Caps did not make things easy for them, as they dragged the game to penalties all tied up at 0, thanks to some big defensive performances throughout the 90 minutes of play.
Even though the penalties did not go the way they wanted, as they eventually fell by a score of 3-1 on the spot-kicks, it was one heck of a way to close out this tournament for them, especially considering how much they fought to get this far.
After clawing their way through 90 minutes of play against Sporting KC, doing well to push away chance-after-chance that was sent towards their goal, they would’ve hoped to have done better in the penalty shootout, but alas, that’s soccer sometimes.
To start the game, the Whitecaps made 2 changes to their lineup from their 2-0 victory over the Fire, as Cristian Gutierrez and Cristian Dajome came in for Ryan Raposo and Jasser Khmiri, allowing the team to shift from a 5-3-2 to a 4-4-1-1.
With Gutierrez’s insertion, regular left back Ali Adnan pushed up to play on the left wing, while Dajome slotted in on the right side of attack, with everything else remaining the same as it was against the Fire.
But despite the ‘Caps offensive changes, Sporting KC started the game on the front foot, as they pressed Vancouver right back towards their goal. Alan Pulido got things started for KC in the 3rd minute, as he sent a low driven shot from the right side, but Thomas Hasal got down and got his hands to it, keeping it out.
The pressure would continue to ramp up, as SKC pushed for an opener, but the ‘Caps held strong. Ranko Veselinovic made a huge block inside the box on Johnny Russell in the 10th minute, before Graham Zusi sent the ball just over in the 12th minute, as he was unable to keep his driven shot from outside of the box on target.
After a short quiet spell, SKC nearly opened the scoring in the 19th minute, as Gadi Kinda found himself wide open at the back post, and he did well to head the ball towards goal, but Hasal stood strong, as he got his hands up the chance.
Soon after, Zusi had another go from distance, doing a better job at keeping it down, but Hasal got his hands to that one as well, keeping the ‘Caps in the game.
Inspired by the play of their young goalkeeper, Vancouver tidied things up at the back, as they stopped leaking shots. They then started to turn that momentum into chances of their own, by pushing more upfield, and it resulted in a good spell of pressure on Tim Melia’s goal.
First, it was Cristian Dajome, who found himself alone at the box, but his high drive was tipped over the bar by Melia, who didn’t look fazed by the strike. Soon after, it was In Beom Hwang, who cut in and took a left-footed shot after the ball was cleared to him at the edge of the area, but Melia was equal to that strike as well.
Despite the strong wave of pressure from the ‘Caps, SKC held firm, and had one of the best chances of the game right at the 45th minute. A nice crossed ball from out wide fell right to Russell, who chested the ball right towards the bottom corner, but Hasal did well to get low and palm the ball out, keeping things level heading into the half.
At the half, the Whitecaps were surely happy to still be in the game, as they had so far done a good job in keeping to their game plan, but you felt like more was still to come.
Much like the game against Chicago, where they brought on Yordy Reyna to wreak havoc off of the bench, you felt like the insertion of the Peruvian against SKC, whenever that did come, could play a role in how this match would play out.
It wouldn’t be easy though, as SKC continued to press, much to the chagrin of ‘Caps fans. They got a huge scare in the 47th minute, as Zusi found himself behind the Vancouver backline, and he hit it towards goal with venom, but Hasal continued his strong game by making a huge stop on the veteran right back, who was left to stare dumbfoundedly at the save from the young Canadian.
Soon after, the game would open back up again, but for both teams this time, as they tried to chase the all-important goal that would see either team all-but guarantee victory at this stage of the game, especially considering the weather conditions down in Orlando.
In the 55th minute, the ‘Caps came close, however, as Theo Bair’s deflected volley went just wide from outside of the box, giving Melia and Sporting a slight scare at the back. At the other end, Russell sent a venomous strike just wide in the 61st minute, giving the ‘Caps a scare of their own.
Not long after that, SKC found arguably one of the best chances of the match up to that point, as in the 66th minute, Alan Pulido did well to zigzag free in the ‘Caps box, and he hit a left-footed strike, but Hasal did well to dive and deflect the shot onto the post and out, keeping things tied.
But after that, things would start to grind to a halt, as both teams were unable to find much in terms of chances for the next 30 minutes. After a flurry of action, you could feel the players starting to burn out, as they both seemed content in pushing things towards a penalty shootout.
That wouldn’t mean that there wouldn’t be any more chances for the rest of the half, as both teams started to push for a late winner in the 90th minute, much to the stress of both sides fans.
At one end, Ilie Sanchez came close off of a corner, as he nodded the ball just over after a nice crossed ball in, before Ali Adnan did well to test Melia on a long free-kick, as his dipped effort nearly escaped from the goalkeepers grasp.
So despite late pushes from both sides, this game would head straight to penalties, as is the procedure for this tournament, giving both teams at least 3 chances each to decide the game from 10 yards.
And unluckily for the ‘Caps, that would be where their fairy tale would come to an end, as they just couldn’t find a way to pierce Tim Melia in the SKC goal.
Cristian Dajome hit the post with the first penalty, Derek Cornelius and Yordy Reyna’s efforts would be saved by Melia, putting all of the pressure on Hasal in his goal.
Unfortunately, that would prove to be unrealistic to expect from him, as despite a big save on Daniel Salloi on SKC’s 3rd kick, the rest of KC’s penalty we’re perfect, giving Sporting a 3-1 penalty shootout win.
For Vancouver, it was a heartbreaking end to a hard-fought game, as they did everything in their power to stay alive, but ultimately fell apart at what seemed like the easiest part of the game.
Be it the fatigue from defending, or nervousness, they were just unable to find the back of the net on their penalties, making for a cruel ending to their Orlando tale.
At the same time, it would be hard to fault them for that. They at least went down swinging, doing their best to push SKC to the brink, and for that, we tip our hat.
Man of the Match: Thomas Hasal
(HM: Derek Cornelius, Russell Teibert, Cristian Gutierrez)
For the second match in a row, Thomas Hasal picks up our MOTM award, as he was lights out Between The Sticks for the ‘Caps in this one, keeping their hopes alive right to the bitter end.
Be it his unflappable personality, or his commanding voice on the pitch, along with his big saves, he’s quickly become a fan favourite for ‘Caps fans, so hopefully we can see more of him even when Crepeau returns.
At the very least, he should push Crepeau to be the best goalkeeper that he can be, while also pushing himself, so the more we see of Hasal going forward, the better.
And I mean, hey, he’s yet to concede an MLS goal yet, so it wouldn’t hurt to run with the hot hand when the league does return, even if Crepeau is close to being fit enough to play.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Yordy Reyna
Unfortunately for Reyna, after making a huge difference off of the bench last time out against the Fire, he was just unable to find a spark in this one, as he was quiet in his 30 or so minute cameo as a sub.
He does seem more lively off of the bench, though, at least compared to when he starts, so it does appear that Vancouver has just found a super-sub for the rest of the season, especially when they’ve got their full complement of attackers.
Stat of the game:
Hasal continues to quickly work his way into ‘Caps folklore, as he is yet to concede in 220 minutes of play at MLS is Back, which is an impressive tally considering the high amount of shots he’s faced in 2 and a half games of action.
I mean, just look at this xG map…
Heatmap of the game:
It wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t the plan for it to be, so it’s no surprise to see SKC dominate the ‘Caps in the heatmap department.
Surprisingly, Vancouver got forward on a few occasions, but they did well not to concede despite the pressure that KC put on them all game.
Silver lining of the game:
And while it’s a tough way for the ‘Caps to go out, at least they pushed themselves in two tough games, which considering the youthful nature of their squad, should provide them with some valuable experience going forward.
Considering that they gave some good minutes to young Canadians in these games, there’s a lot to be excited about going forward, especially if we can continue to see these youngsters get minutes when the league does return.
So for now, it’ll be a quiet few weeks for the ‘Caps, who will return to BC and quarantine for 14 days.
With MLS not looking likely to restart until late August at the earliest, it’ll give them time to regroup, while also allowing some injured players to heal, giving them the bodies needed when the league does resume.
After a gruelling tournament, it will be good for some of these players to get some rest, before diving right back into their preparations, as the ‘Caps try to show that these last 2 matches are an indication of what’s to come for this team.
It wasn’t the way they wanted to end, but that can be football sometimes, and considering the youthful nature of this team, it isn’t the worst thing to have them learn from a game like this.
So now, all they can do is just that, learn from it in the long run, even though it’ll sting in the short-term, and start looking forward to the rest of the league season, whenever that may be.
Cover Photo: Jared Martinez and Devin L’Amoreaux/MLS