The Whitecaps concluded their Canadian road trip on Tuesday night with a 2-0 loss in Montreal.
Derek Cornelius didn’t sugar coat the state the Whitecaps are in following a third straight loss since returning from Orlando. “We have to all take a serious look at ourselves in the mirror and see what we can all be better at so that we can finally get something to show for it because this is getting too much.” Ouch. The pain is undoubtedly felt across all of Whitecaps land, now that the Blue and White have no points with half of their matches played in the Canadian series. The worst part of it though, is that they have yet to score a goal and have a grand total of four shots on target in those three matches. Not many opportunities for fans back home to jump up from the couch.
While the ‘Caps will want to get home and forget most of what happened against the Impact, we will break it down for you.
Vancouver lined up in a 5-3-2 formation for the second straight match. It was a formation which delivered a more sound defensive performance in the second match against Toronto, a match the ‘Caps hoped to build off of.
The big story in the lineup was Michael Baldisimo’s first professional appearance. He was subbed off just after the hour mark, but as Dos Santos said following the game: “It was 60 minutes that he got on the ball, switched a lot of the play. He has to be happy with his 60 minutes.” He sat in the middle of the three man midfield alongside Patrick Metcalfe, another young Vancouver native, and fellow academy product Russel Teibert. With Thomas Hasal retaining his spot in goal, it made four Homegrown players in the starting line up, a club record in MLS. The six Canadians starting also tied the club’s MLS record. For a young team looking to build for years to come, the minutes to young Canadians are sure to pay off down the road. Both for club and country.
The two other changes made to the starting eleven from the previous match were Milinkovic coming in for Ricketts and Dajome taking Nerwinski’s spot at right wing back. It was an unfamiliar position for Dajome, who most often plays as a wide midfielder or forward. Surely Dos Santos hoped playing a more attack minded player at the position would make the team more dangerous going forward. It must be said that while in that position, he didn’t get into many advanced positions with the ball, not nearly as much as Adnan, who played on the opposite flank. Defensively there was also some uncertainty in his positioning. Although he was sound for most of the first half, he allowed a few dangerous crosses into the box, one of which resulted in a goal.
In what was the Impact’s first game after their MLS is Back tournament ended in a round of 16 loss to Orlando, their starting XI was far from certain before the match, as coach Thierry Henry evaluated a few minor injuries. The biggest of the omissions was Bojan, the former FC Barcelona player, who didn’t even feature on the bench.
From the start of the match the Impact had a bit of an edge in terms of chances. They were most dangerous when they built up plays down the sides. It was from the left where they found the opener seventeen minutes into the match. Taïder found some space on Dajome’s side and sent a sweet cross with the outside of his right boot for Quioto to header past Thomas Hasal.
As the Whitecaps looked to respond, the Impact tried to dictate the game without the ball, and that’s what happened. They kept a solid defensive shape which Vancouver had real trouble breaking through. The Whitecaps don’t often have more than 50% possession, or even close, something Dos Santos has hoped to change this season. This match they finished with 55% of the ball, and 30 minutes in they had 60% possession. The problem was that they couldn’t work the ball up the field from their backline on many occasions.
The middle of the first half settled into a pattern of Whitecaps moving the ball from Dajome on the right to Adnan on the left while the Impact held a firm shape. Vancouver only seemed to manage to get into the final third via long balls to Cavallini and Adnan. However, in the 33rd minute it was Milinkovic who dropped back to pick up the ball and used his skill to get past a few players before being taken down in what was a very good free kick position, just a few yards from the 18 yard box. To the surprise of some, Baldisimo was given the green light to take it. His right footed shot had all the power, whip and dip needed, but was angled about a foot too far to the left.
In the 40th minute, there was more misery for Vancouver. The Whitecaps pressed high up the pitch, but with some quick passing and a fortunate bounce they worked out of it swiftly and sent a ball over the top to Lappalainen. He got in behind Veselinovic and his shot along the ground found the far side of the net.
At halftime Dos Santos gave his side a bit of a shake up to try to reverse his fortunes. Owusu came in for Metcalfe in midfield and centre-back Veselinovic was replaced by Nerwinski. Nerwinski played on the right side of what became a four man back line, while Dajome pushed up to play alongside Cavallini and Milinkovic. The switch from a 5-3-2 to a 4-3-3 appeared to make an immediate impact.
The match resumed in a much more free flowing way than it had ended in the first half. There was more space at both ends of the park. The ‘Caps put in a couple of dangerous crosses off of set pieces. On a corner in the 51st minute Brault-Guillard tried to clear the ball but only got the leg of Cornelius, who was first to it, resulting in a penalty for Vancouver and a real chance to get back into the game. Cavallini was given the spot duty, with the hope that he could open his account for the Whitecaps. Unfortunately for him, his shot along the ground to the right side didn’t have enough on it to beat Diop who had guessed the right way. Chants of “Clément Diop” rang around the stadium as the handful of Montreal supporters sensed that this would be their night.
The game remained more open than it was in the first half, and the Impact had a few dangerous looks of their own at the other end. Just after the hour mark Dos Santos subbed in Raposo. A few minutes later gave Yordy Reyna his first minutes since an incident where he was late to a team event saw him left out of the team for the last match. Not long after he threw in Ricketts, but the goal still wouldn’t come. Reyna has arguably been the most important offensive catalyst for the Whitecaps this season, and although his introduction seemed to help the attack, it would be hard to label it as the solution to a team unable to get many looks at goal.
Around the 80th minute there was a strange altercation between Derek Cornelius and the recently introduced Anthony Jackson-Hamel. They got tangled up off the ball and both ended up on the floor. After protests from both camps the referee took to VAR for a possible red card. The delay was lengthy, but all that came out of it was a yellow card for either player.
The Whitecaps mounted what attack they could in the final minutes, but never really managed to find solutions and in the end came up empty handed against an organised Montreal side.
Man of the Match: David Milinkovic
Milinkovic provided most of the limited number of offensive sparks in this one. He started the attack that lead to the sequence where the penalty was awarded and won the free kick in the first half in a promising position. His skill, control and willingness to take players on was one of the only ways the Whitecaps managed to break through the opposition’s lines. On nights like these where the midfield doesn’t seem to be able to penetrate the opponent, skilled forwards like Milinkovic dropping deeper and picking up the ball could be a solution to the lack of creativity in the midfield.
BTSVancity Player to watch: Yordy Reyna
Reyna saw himself out of the lineup in the previous match against Toronto for arriving late at a team event. Dos Santos spoke about how there were times when he thinks he has to be hard on Yordy in order for him to grow. He was back on the bench for this one and was brought on with about 25 minutes to go. Dos Santos called him over himself from the warmup on the side of the pitch, obviously trying to motivate the Peruvian. Fans of the Blue and White can only hope he responds well in the upcoming games, because like Milinkovic, Reyna is one who could strengthen the link between the midfield and forwards and when he’s on his talent can change the game.
Where will the goals come from?
It is the question fans of the Blue and White are wrestling with at the moment, and the reason it is such a tough question is that there doesn’t seem to be an obvious answer. Even when the Whitecaps managed to have most of the ball on the night, they couldn’t get it into the final third very often. Inbeom’s departure has exacerbated what was already the team’s biggest problem: a lack of attack through the midfield. The team doesn’t seem to be able to construct much from the middle of the park. The ball is moved around too slowly and there is a lack of movement. A DP attacking midfielder wouldn’t hurt, but until that comes, if it does, there are more immediate things to look at, concerning both personnel and system.
Dos Santos had spoken pre-game about striking a balance between having continuity in the squad and fielding fresh legs. The midfield trio of Teibert, Metcalfe and Baldisimo hadn’t played together before, and it showed. Players weren’t sure where to go and they were running into the same spaces; it’s fair to say, it wasn’t clicking. However, whoever is slotted into the midfield, whether it has been Dos Santos’s 5-3-2 or 4-3-3, the midfield players have been too disconnected from the forwards.
“The difficult thing for us right now is to find the best formula because of players that we lost or players that are not in, and that’s difficult for us.”Marc Dos Santos
History made in the stands
This match was the first sporting event in Canada to have spectators attend. There were only 250 of them in the stadium, but their presence was still felt. It was an interesting dynamic, it must be said, as there were the fans inside the stadium, those outside the stadium (with their flares and drums), and then crowd noise coming out of the loudspeakers. Make what you want of the artificial sound, but what was interesting is how the handful of supporters huddled by the gate in the corner of the field seemed to make more noise than those inside. It will be interesting to see how the Impact follow up with their next home match against Toronto. The spectators present were spread out only along one side of the field, so there is more room in the stadium to allow for distancing if a higher number of people were admitted. Will there be more people allowed for the next match, will the cap of 250 be held, or will they turn back on the decision to allow fans into the stadium?
The Whitecaps now get a week and a half off before resuming the Canadian series on September 5th against Toronto FC. Their last three matches against Toronto and Montreal will all take place in Vancouver. There are three matches remaining for the Whitecaps which will decide qualification to the Canadian Championship final, but that is now looking like a two way race between Toronto and Montreal. Still a lot to play for though, as the remaining matches will count like any other regular season game as well.
When asked about what it will feel like to be back at home with a normal routine for the first time since the start of July, Dos Santos expressed some relief. “we’ve been locked, we’ve been inside the hotel not allowed to leave the hotel.” It will not only be nice for the team to be back home with a familiar routine, but it will give the ‘Caps coach an opportunity to spend time on the training pitch with his full squad, something he hasn’t had in almost two months now. Given the movement within the team and what appears to be a real lack of cohesion, some time on the training pitch could be a big help in sorting out those issues. At least for Whitecaps fans it’s what they must hold on to to have some optimism for what’s ahead.
“Right now it’s a moment where it’s like that, and we have to reflect, we have to evaluate what we need to become better and go on. We have these three games in Vancouver right now as a huge opportunity for us.”Marc Dos Santos
Cover Photo: Jared Martinez and Devin L’Amoreaux/MLS