The Vancouver Whitecaps picked up a huge win on Saturday, as they took down Real Salt Lake in Salt Lake, giving them their 3rd win in 4 games. Here is our report from that game, as the ‘Caps did well to find a late winner away from home.
Blink, and you might miss it.
For the first time in over 16 months, the Vancouver Whitecaps won back-to-back games, as they beat Real Salt Lake 2-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake, giving them a huge 3 points in the MLS Western Conference playoff race.
And while the result was good for Vancouver, it was far from an ideal performance for the ‘Caps, who started slow, and nearly threw away a lead despite being up a man, but they did what they had to do win, giving them all 3 points.
Heading into a rough pair of games next week, in which they’ll play LAFC and the Portland Timbers in two big games for the ‘Caps, it’s a huge morale boost for Vancouver, who will be feeling good about themselves after a gutsy win away from home.
Buoyed by yet another big performance from Fredy Montero, the ‘Caps have settled into a nice offensive groove as of late, so look for them to try and keep building off of that heading into this next week here.
Not surprisingly, the Whitecaps avoided making any big changes after winning in the midweek, as 10 of the players who played on Wednesday against the Montreal Impact stayed in, with the lone swap seeing Ali Adnan slot in for Theo Bair on the wing.
On the other side, Real Salt Lake understandably made 3 changes from the side that lost 5-0 against Colorado at home last weekend, with Kyle Beckerman, Pablo Ruiz and Marcelo Silva all coming in for Everton Luiz, Corey Bair and Justen Glad.
The game started out slowly, as both teams seemed to feel themselves out into the game, much to the surprise of neutrals. After the ‘Caps came off a 3-1 win in the midweek, and RSL came off of a 5-0 loss last weekend, it was expected that there’d be some firepower on display, yet that wouldn’t be the case through the first 30 minutes.
RSL would find the first chance of the game, as Pablo Ruiz tested Thomas Hasal in the 5th minute, but his shot would be comfortably saved by the young goalkeeper, who did well to get down to the shot.
Soon after, the ‘Caps came close through Fredy Montero, who found some space at the top of the box after a nice ball from Cristian Dajome, as his shot would only be denied by RSL’s Nedum Onuoha, who deflected the ball over the goal.
Ruiz would continue to cause problems for the Whitecaps defence, as he’d come close in the 16th minute, doing well to sting Hasal’s gloves, before getting the best chance of the first half in the 30th minute, with his shot from the outside of the box forcing a strong save from Hasal on his line.
Not long after that, Marcelo Silva gave Hasal a scare in the ‘Caps goal in the 38th minute, as he’d find himself free in the box for a cross, but his header sailed just wide, much to the relief of the Whitecaps bench.
To end the half, Vancouver would press up and find some chances of their own, as a nice cross from Fredy Montero deflected off of Onuoha and ended up on top of the goal, before Adnan came close on the ensuing corner, as he’d receive the ball at the top of the box in space, but he sent the ball just over.
Heading into half time, it was a tough first 45 minutes to swallow for the Whitecaps, who weren’t bad, but looked tentative, as they’d allowed RSL to take control of the game.
They had done well to mostly limit the chances RSL’s would find, but they hadn’t done much better in the quest to find opportunities of their own, which was certainly a point of contention at half time.
And to give credit to them, they found a way to battle to start the second half, as they’d find the games opening goal in the 53rd minute, not long after Marcelo Silva came close in the 47th minute, as David Milinkovic would open his account in MLS in the 53rd minute.
Off a nice bit of buildup, Montero would find some space at the top of the box, and he’d play in Cristian Dajome to the left of Andrew Putna in the RSL goal. From there, Dajome would look up and find Milinkovic making a run into the box, and he’d do well to slot home at the near post, giving the ‘Caps a surprise lead.
Their quest towards keeping that lead would get a big boost in the 63rd minute, too, as RSL’s longtime midfielder, Kyle Beckerman, kicked Thomas Hasal in the head while looking for a loose ball, and after a VAR review, the referee would decide to show the veteran a red card for his actions.
They’d still have to be careful with that lead, however, as RSL pushed, coming close in the 64th minute with yet another forceful strike that got Hasal moving in his goal, but after that, the ‘Caps started to lock things down at the back, doing well to keep Salt Lake out of dangerous areas.
At the same time, the ‘Caps would start to make good use of the extra man, as they’d start to pick up some chances, with Montero coming close in the 77th minute off of a header after a nice Lucas Cavallini flick, before Cavallini would shoot just wide from in tight a minute later on a rush of his own after a nice long ball from Montero.
But not long after, that lead would dissipate not long after, as RSL would find their first of the game in the 81st minute, with Justin Meram doing well to separate himself from Jake Nerwinski at the back post, and Maikel Chang would do well to find him with a great ball, which Meram nodded home emphatically to tie up the game.
The goal would wake up the ‘Caps though, as they’d immediately find an answer, giving them their second lead of the game, all coming off of a nice attack down the right-hand side in the 84th minute.
Montero would find some space on that side, as Michael Baldisimo would play a nice long ball over the top to him, and Montero would do really well with his chance, this time playing provider for Cavallini, finding him with a low ball that the ‘Caps biggest-ever signing would slot home to give him his second goal of the season.
And aside from a late push from RSL, who came closest through yet another Ruiz strike in the 90th minute, the ‘Caps would hold onto the victory, giving them a big win away from home.
It wasn’t pretty, but they did what they needed to do in order to get all 3 points, and while the red card was certainly a factor, you can only create your luck in this sport, which to give credit to Vancouver, they’ve seemed to do in the last 2 games.
Heading into a rough stretch of games down in the US, things won’t get any easier for them from this point on, so it’s paramount that they pick up points wherever they can, so this win is huge for them, especially with a pair of big games against Portland and LAFC awaiting them next week.
All of a sudden, they’re in a playoff spot, so if they want to stay there, getting results in those games will be huge, and after getting this big win away from home, they’ll certainly have the confidence that they can do that.
Man of the Match: Fredy Montero
And after scoring a brace in midweek, Montero picks up our man of the match award once again in this one, as this time he played creator for Vancouver, picking up 2 assists for the ‘Caps on Saturday.
For whatever reason, Montero looks so much more alive for Vancouver right now than he did last season, as he seems very motivated by everything that’s happened to him this year, so if he can keep doing whatever he’s been doing these past 2 games, that’ll be huge for the ‘Caps in their quest to push towards the playoffs.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Janio Bikel
Unfortunately for Bikel, he didn’t look as sharp defensively as he did on Wednesday, but picking up an early yellow card certainly played a role in that.
Offensively, he was composed on the ball, and made some good passes, so that’s a positive, and as long as he stays out of the book, he should be able to have a good defensive impact on a consistent basis.
As he finds his legs after not playing much this year, he can only grow from these performances, as well, so it shouldn’t be too much of a worry for him or the ‘Caps going forward.
Heatmap of the game:
Again, not the most inspiring heat map for the ‘Caps, but considering how sluggish they looked to start the game, that’s not much of a surprise.
They might not have had the volume of possession or chances that you would’ve hoped, but they did find some good chances in the second half, so if they can build off of that, they can be a good offensive team going forward.
Defensively, however, credit to Derek Cornlieus, Ranko Veselinovic and Thomas Hasal, who did well to keep RSL mostly off of the scoresheet, despite the fact that the hosts picked up some good chances in front.
Positivity of the game:
All of a sudden, the ‘Caps find themselves in a real good position when it comes to the MLS Western Conference playoff race.
With everything being so tight, a loss could all of a sudden see them closer to the bottom than they’d like, but it’s certainly positive to see Vancouver right in the thick of the hunt at the halfway mark of this unique season.
So now, it’ll be interesting to see which ‘Caps team shows up on Wednesday, as LAFC awaits them at Banc of California stadium.
It won’t be easy for Vancouver, as LAFC is still a quality side, especially in the midfield and at the back, but they’ve struggled this year defensively, which could be good for the ‘Caps, who’ve scored 2+ goals in 4 consecutive games now.
And after doing well to pick up 3 points away from home, their confidence has to be a lot higher than it was a week ago, so maybe they’ll be able to come out strong on Wednesday, giving LAFC a stiff test.
So keep an eye out on Wednesday, as they look to do something they haven’t done since Marc Dos Santos has taken the reigns as Whitecaps head coach, which is to win 3 games in a row.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs LAFC, Wednesday, September 23, 19:30 PST (Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles)