Abila’s Airstrike: Ramon Abila’s second-half header sinks Vancouver Whitecaps versus Minnesota United despite bright performance in 1-0 loss

The Vancouver Whitecaps took on Minnesota United on Wednesday at Allianz Field, but fell just short of beating the struggling Loons, who rode a second-half goal to their first win of the season. Here’s our match report from this one. 

All things considered, it was a tough pill to swallow. 

Away from home, against a struggling Minnesota United team, the Vancouver Whitecaps had every chance to leave Allianz Field with 3 points on Wednesday night, but instead, they were left with none, as they fell 1-0 to the Loons in an entertaining week 5 MLS game. 

Despite what the scoreline might suggest, both teams fought hard in a close match between two Western Conference foes, but unfortunately for the ‘Caps, they just ended up on the wrong side of the scoreline by the end of the game. 

In a game of moments, they just didn’t find a way to break through and pick up all 3 points, leaving them to rue some missed chances at the end of the 90 minutes. 

“We deserve more from this game,” ‘Caps head coach, Marc Dos Santos, told reporters after the game. “But again, what I told the guys is in moments you lose games, you lose like this.”

But while the loss will sting for the next few days, it’s important not to take away from the ‘Caps performance, as they played one of their best games of the season on Wednesday night. 

They were battling hard, defending well, and most importantly, creating chances, something they’ve struggled to do through the first 4 games of the season. 

So even though it may feel like 3 points dropped when looking back at the game, there is a lot to be happy about when considering the big picture, as the ‘Caps finally started to show signs of being close to a breakthrough offensively. 

“We played a good away game, it was good for the fans,” Dos Santos said. “ It was like the two teams wanted to win. I thought it could have been a game with more goals, because there were chances created.”

As for the game itself, the Whitecaps nearly got off to a dream start in the 5th minute, as Deiber Caicedo caught Minnesota’s Chase Gasper sleeping at the back, but Cristian Dajome was just unable to keep his shot below the bar after a nice cross from Caicedo, despite having most of the net at his mercy. 

Vancouver continued to push, though, controlling the play throughout most of the first half. 

Lucas Cavallini started to get involved in the 22nd minute, as he nodded a fantastic Russell Teibert cross just wide from inside the box, nearly finding his second goal of the season.

Inspired by their first effort, Teibert and Cavallini combined again for a similar chance just a minute later, but this time Cavallini’s header would be saved by Tyler Miller in the Minnesota goal. 

From there, the ‘Caps would continue to push for that opener, as Bruno Gaspar forced a nice Miller save from in tight in the 26th minute, before Cavallini found himself denied by the Minnesota goalkeeper on a free kick after sneaking his shot under the jumping wall. 

Driven on by the early flurry of Whitecaps’ chances, the Loons started to wake up after the 30th minute, as they desperately started to chase an opening goal for their fans to celebrate. 

Emanuel Reynoso would play a big part in that push, as well, coming close with a decent strike from distance in the 33rd minute, before snaking through the defence and firing off a lethal shot in the 38th minute, but his shot would be denied by Maxime Crepeau in the ‘Caps goal. 

With the halftime whistle looming, Minnesota continued to push, as Jan Gregus sent an acrobatic effort well over in the 39th minute, before Hassani Dotson tried a curled effort that went just wide in the 42nd minute. 

But aside from a late chance from Robin Lod, who did well to open up space and fire up a shot that would be easily saved by Crepeau, that would be all that the first half would have to offer, as both teams headed to the locker room still tied up at 0. 

All things considered, it was probably a fair result, as neither team had found a game-defining moment offensively, but both sides certainly had claims of being the better team in the first half, leaving them both to rue their missed opportunities.

From the ‘Caps perspective, though, they had to be happy, as they’d done well to come out and push the initiative away from home, something they’ve struggled to do this past year, giving them a chance to snatch all 3 points heading into the second half. 

To start the second half, though, Minnesota would continue where they left off in the first, as they desperately chased an opener. 

First, Reynoso nearly found it in the 46th minute, as he found some space in the box after a nice Minnesota counter, but he was robbed by Crepeau on his low shot, narrowly missing out on a great chance to put his team ahead. 

A few minutes later, Lod came close, as well, but he sent his shot well over from just outside of the box, leaving the Loons to lament their missed opportunities to grab the lead. 

And that would nearly come back to haunt them after the 55th minute, as the ‘Caps started to deliver a few punches of their own, coming close on a few occasions. 

Dajome continued his strong start to the game, as he found some space and got off a nice shot from just inside the box on the left-hand side, but Miller continued to stymie the ‘Caps, getting his hands down to Dajome’s curled effort. 

Then, in the 61st minute, Ranko Veselinovic nodded a great ball in from Deiber Caicedo off of a corner just wide, before Dajome tested Miller’s gloves from inside the box in the 63rd minute, as the ‘Caps continued their push for a goal. 

But then, Ramon Abila struck. 

The veteran striker who’s on loan from Boca Juniors was subbed into the game in the 65th minute, and he had an immediate impact, as he first came close with a chance in the 68th minute, before eventually finding the game’s first goal in the 71st minute. 

After a bit of nice footwork from Lod out wide, Abila found some space between the ‘Caps centre backs, and Lod found him with a great ball, one Abila would nod home into the far corner with certainty, giving Minnesota that valuable opening goal. 

For the ‘Caps, it was a gut-punch of a goal to give up, as they’d played pretty well up to that point, but were outdone by a few critical defensive breakdowns at the wrong time, putting them up against the wall for the rest of the game. 

“The ball gets wide, we’re not organized in that moment, Lod puts in a cross over to Avila in the box, and normally that should not happen,” Dos Santos said of the goal after the game.

And from that position, they were just unable to find a way to reverse the score, as Minnesota would find a way to scrape out the win from there. 

Aside from an 88th minute Jake Nerwinski chance, one that he sent just wide off of the volley, the ‘Caps just couldn’t get close to the Minnesota goal, leaving them to rue their earlier missed opportunities. 

All in all, it was far from a bad game from the ‘Caps, as they played well away from home, which is never easy to do in MLS, but they just didn’t find a way to get the points to show for it at the end of the day. 

Ultimately, when looking back at the season, it’ll certainly be seen as a missed opportunity to pick up points, but it’s far from a fatal blow, as there is still plenty of time to find the crucial points required for a playoff spot. 

“We know it hurts, but this is now in the back of our minds now,” Caicedo said via an interpreter after the game. “We’re just focusing on the next game against Kansas. We know we have to rectify things and get better and find a good result next time.”

Player of the Game: Janio Bikel

Janio Bikel in action for Vancouver against Toronto in week 2 (Vancouver Whitecaps/Twitter)

It’s hard to pick a player of the game in a match like this one, as most ‘Caps played pretty well aside from that goal they gave up, but the one name that stood above the rest on Wednesday was Janio Bikel, who controlled the midfield for Vancouver against Minnesota. 

Deployed in his usual defensive midfield position, he quietly went about his business rather effectively, mopping up Minnesota attacks and jumpstarting Vancouver one’s of his own. 

As a result, he finished with 3 tackles and 1 interception, which along with his sparkling 91.4 pass completion %, capped what was a strong night for him in midfield. 

On a ‘Caps team that has quietly defended well to start the year, Bikel has continued to play a big role in that success, and that was no different against Minnesota on Wednesday. 

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Cristian Dajome

Elsewhere, Cristian Dajome fully lived up to the honour of being picked as our player to watch for this game, as he came close to adding to his 3 goals that he’d picked up through the first 4 games of the season. 

He was everywhere from the ‘Caps on both sides of the ball, as he had 3 shots, including 2 on target, which along with 1 key pass and 5 successful dribbles, shows the sort of impact that he had offensively for the ‘Caps. 

Plus, defensively he got stuck in as well, adding 2 tackles, showing why Dos Santos likes to play him as a sort of pressing forward at times, as he’s fit nicely into that role so far this year. 

So overall it was a strong game yet again from Dajome, who continues to impress with his consistency up front for the ‘Caps, as he’s probably quietly been the ‘Caps most important offensive player as of late. 

Heatmap of the game:

And for once, there’s a bit of positive news in this section, as the ‘Caps probably had their best heat map of the season to date in this game, yet they just didn’t find a way to turn it into a win. 

As shown above, they actually got the ball into some really dangerous areas, and kept Minnesota out of their box, but for once, finishing, not chance creation, would be what sank them. 

Obviously, it’s just one game, but if the ‘Caps can continue to do this consistently going forward, they should put themselves in a position to be a team that wins games more regularly. 

xG plot of the game: 

Lastly, it was a tough performance from the ‘Caps in the Expected Goals (xG) department, as they were unable to capitalize on a strong start, allowing Minnesota to keep pushing and find that crucial winner. 

As seen in the heat map section, the team just needed a timely goal, and unfortunately for them, they didn’t find it on Wednesday. 

But for a team that has started slow in nearly every game they’ve played so far this year, they have to be happy that they were the team that pushed the initiative for once, and hopefully they can continue to do that in games going forward. 

Looking Forward:

But now, the ‘Caps will be left to lick their chops before travelling to Kansas this weekend, where they’ll take on a middling Sporting Kansas City side who is reeling after a tough 1-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday. 

It won’t be easy for the ‘Caps to head into Children’s Mercy Park and pick up points, especially considering their record there in recent years, but at the very least, they’ll look to replicate this sort of performance, albeit with more end product. 

As mentioned earlier, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this sort of performance, as the ‘Caps gave themselves a chance to win in a tough environment, but they just need to find a way to get that breakthrough next time. 

Hopefully it comes in the next game, but as Dos Santos mentioned post-game, as long as they continue to play like this, good things should happen. 

“I told the guys on the field: ‘If the Whitecaps are going to lose games, lose like this,” Dos Santos said.

“Lose where you created, you fought, you’re exciting to watch.”

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Sporting Kansas City, Sunday, May 16th, 11:00 PDT, 14:00 EDT (Children’s Mercy Park, Kansas)

Cover Photo via: Minnesota United/Twitter

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