The Vancouver Whitecaps fell 3-1 to Real Salt Lake on Friday, picking up their 4th consecutive loss in the process. Here’s our match report from that one.
It was far from an ideal way to get the show back on the road.
In their first game back from the international break, the Vancouver Whitecaps were hoping that they could get off to the right foot on Friday, but instead, they continued to reel, falling for their 4th consecutive game.
Taking on their temporary hosts, Real Salt Lake, in an away game that felt like a home game due to the ‘Caps ongoing relocation to Utah since the start of the season, the ‘Caps gave up two late goals in a 3-1 loss on Friday, continuing an icy run of form.
“I think the game was equal until that injury time moment,” Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos said of the late goals after the game.
And for the most part, Dos Santos is right. Overall, it wasn’t the worst game from the ‘Caps, who matched up well with RSL and they did have their chances to win, but it wasn’t a good game from them, either, as some familiar problems cropped up for them over the course of 90 minutes.
Now, it leaves them with more questions than answers heading into a crucial stretch of games, some of which could be crucial in their ability to make the playoffs, as a few losses to the wrong teams could be the difference between them making the big dance or missing out completely come the fall.
After a bright start to 2021, the wheels have slowly started to come off the bus for the Whitecaps as of late, and this game was just the latest example of that.
“The mood right now is that we feel that we let everybody down,” Dos Santos said. “We let each other down as a group. We could’ve closed the game and gotten a positive result, and moved forward.”
Shifting to the game itself, however, a slow start did nearly spell doom for the Whitecaps, almost deflating their tires before they really shifted into 2nd gear.
To start things off, RSL would get the ball rolling offensively in the 6th minute, as Anderson Julio found himself all alone behind the Whitecaps defenders, but Maxime Crepeau stood tall to the task, denying the Ecuadorian forward to keep the game tied at 0.
Then, continuing their strong start, Rubio Rubin would send a volley towards goal that would be kept out by Crepeau in the 18th minute, before Albert Rusnak had an effort from well out in the 23rd minute, one that was also kept out by the ‘Caps shot-stopper.
At the other end, the Whitecaps started to find some life in the 27th minute, as Caio Alexandre did well to find Cristian Dajome with a low cut back into the box, but the Colombian’s low shot would be easily saved by David Ochoa in the RSL goal.
Spurred on by that chance, RSL started to turn things up a notch in the 32nd minute, as Rusnak found some space at the edge of the box after a nice bit of possession, but his effort would be kept out by a huge block by Dajome, who did well to track back and get his body in front of the low shot.
That would prove to be a key warning sign for the Whitecaps, though, and they didn’t respond well to the signal, as Damir Kreilach then found similar space at the edge of the box in the 43rd minute, and this time his shot would squeeze in after a favourable deflection off of ‘Caps defender, Andy Rose.
After controlling most of the play throughout the first 43 minutes, it was a deserved goal for RSL, who were full value for their lead, as the Whitecaps didn’t do close to enough up to that point to score a goal.
But to give credit to the ‘Caps, they did then get their best chance of the game soon after the game restarted in the 45th minute, as they’d win a free-kick from about 25 yards out, giving them a good look at Ochoa’s goal. They didn’t find a way to make the most of the look, as Deiber Caicedo’s curled effort was easily caught by Ochoa, but it was a nice momentum booster from Vancouver heading into halftime.
Despite that bright finish to the half, though, it was still not the greatest 45 minutes of play from the ‘Caps, who continued their first-half struggles in this game. Including this half, they’ve now been outscored 6-0 in first halves, yet to even score a goal in the first stanza, showing that these slow starts are a worrying trend this ‘Caps team needs to sort out.
“We knew that the first half would be average,” Dos Santos said. “With everybody coming back from 3 weeks off, we had a tough time with the pressure from the front.”
So heading into the 2nd half, it left the ‘Caps looking to find a way to claw back into this game, knowing that despite their slow start, they did still have a chance to win, even though they made things a lot harder for themselves than they needed to with their start.
And seemingly inspired by that late goal, the ‘Caps did just that – crawl back into the game.
It was a slow process, as first Janio Bikel sliced a shot wide in the 49th minute that served as a first warning sign, but that would end up preceding a concrete blow in the 52nd minute.
Having found a bit of space at the side of the box, Javain Brown sent in a great low ball to the back post, where Brian White had made a quick run, and he did well to get his foot on the pass and send it sort of towards goal.
From there, it’d hit off RSL defender Aaron Herrera and into that near post, eluding Ochoa and sliding into the goal, putting the ‘Caps back into the game. Despite how iffy the goal was in the end, after a bright start to the 2nd half, it was a deserved goal, allowing the ‘Caps to dream of the win.
It certainly had White dreaming, if anything, as he then went for an ambitious curled effort on his left foot in the 56th minute, but his shot went just wide, keeping the game tied at 1.
From there, the ‘Caps would continue to push, as they looked to break the dam that was the RSL defence. They had a great chance to do that in the 72nd minute, as a great ball from Cristian Gutierrez found the head of Andy Rose in the box, but his glanced header bounced off of the crossbar and out, much to the chagrin of Rose and his teammates.
But while the ‘Caps did push, they didn’t find that killer blow, and that’d come back to haunt them right at the end of the game, as RSL would turn the game on its head in the 92nd minute.
Given a throw-in, Herrera wound up and delivered a big, looped ball into the box, finding Erik Holt with the pass, and the second-half substitute did well to nod a header towards the back post, dinking it into the corner to give RSL the lead.
Having hung on from most of the half, it was surprising to see RSL find that winner, but it was a very well-worked goal, one that was worthy of a winner.
“Look, you have to make that play,” Dos Santos lamented when talking about the winner. “You have to be able to clear it, the ball doesn’t even have speed. It’s just a play that we have to be better.”
And soon after, they’d only supplement their lead, as well, with another second-half sub, Justin Meram, sending in a dangerous ball from a wide area. Finding a bit of space at the back post, Kreilach then anticipated the cross quite well, getting first to it, nodding home his 2nd of the night to put RSL up 3-1.
The score would stay that way for the rest of the game, allowing RSL to pick up their 3rd win of the season, pushing them right up the table, putting them 5th in the West as of writing.
As for the Whitecaps, it was their 4th straight loss, pushing them down to 11th out of 13 teams in the West, with each of the teams below them, Minnesota United and FC Dallas, both holding a game in hand on Vancouver.
Coming off of a long break, it was far from the ideal result for the ‘Caps, who unfortunately picked up where they left off before the pause, not only in terms of the result, but how they played throughout the game.
And that’s what’s most unfortunate about this game for the ‘Caps. It’s one thing to play well and lose, but a lot of the problems that cropped up in this game were ones familiar to those who have consistently watched this team in 2021, which is concerning.
Heading into a busy schedule, one where games will be coming fast and furious, the ‘Caps will need to find a way to prove that this isn’t a sign of what’s to come from them, because if not, a tough summer of soccer awaits them.
“I believe in this team,” Javain Brown said after the game. “I believe that we’re going to do great, there’s just stuff that we have to fix right now.”
Player of the Match: Javain Brown
In a game like this, it’s always to pick a player of the game, but here, we’ll go with Brown, who picked up his first MLS assist on the cross to White, and overall proved to be a pretty dangerous offensive threat once again for the ‘Caps.
Playing in just 3rd game in the league, the Jamaican international showed more evidence of why he belongs at this level, and the stats back that up.
Along with his assist, he added 2 shots, 3 key passes, 3 aerials won, 60 touches and 1 dribble, offensively, plus 1 tackle and 1 interception defensively, showing his two-way skills.
So overall, it was another solid night at the office for Brown, who is quietly pushing himself back into the Jamaican National Team fold with his play, especially considering their lack of a clear #1 or #2 at the right back position right now.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Brian White
Elsewhere, our player to watch was White, and he lived up to that moniker on Friday, picking up the lone ‘Caps goal, one that temporarily put them back into a match they probably shouldn’t have been in after their slow start.
The goal itself may have not really been anything special, heck, it probably should’ve been an own goal (it was still listed as White’s as of writing), but it came off the back of some good work from the new ‘Caps striker, who put up an honest shift in his debut.
For a team with Lucas Cavallini up front, it’s not sure where White will slot in with Cavallini now fully back after the international break, but if he can keep doing what he did in small bursts, it can only help the ‘Caps, as his timely goal here showed.
Heatmap of the Match:
Then, shifting over to the heatmaps, it was an average performance from the ‘Caps in this department, as they continued their struggles at getting into the opponent’s box against RSL.
Despite that, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, as the ‘Caps had the better chances, and did push more into their opponents’ half than they usually do, but they just didn’t push far enough into the half to actually consistently get into the box.
So considering all of that, it’s a solid 5/10 for Vancouver in this section, as this wasn’t the best heatmap, but far from the worst that we’ve ever seen from them.
xG Plot of the Match:
And as said earlier, the ‘Caps did generate chances in this game, and the Expected Goals (xG) plot proves that, as they won the xG battle over RSL 2 to 1.2.
It didn’t turn into the goals that they needed, and RSL proved to be much more clinical, but overall it was positive to see the ‘Caps win this battle, as they haven’t often won it this season.
Bright spot of the match:
Lastly, it’s important to point out the strong play of Caio Alexandre and Michael Baldisimo in midfield for the Whitecaps, as they quietly put together a good performance in this one.
Deployed in a 3-man midfield together along with Janio Bikel for the first time this season, the formation switch appeared to get the most out of Baldisimo and Alexandre, as they combined for 3 key passes, 1 dribble, and nearly 100 touches.
Along with a strong defensive performance, as they combined for 8 tackles and 5 interceptions, it was overall a good night from the pair, who Dos Santos should probably continue to use in a 3-man midfield.
Now, the Whitecaps will look to lick their wounds and get ready to host the LA Galaxy on Wednesday, taking on a team who comes into this game in form, sitting 3rd in the West as of writing.
For a ‘Caps team that is reeling, having lost 4 straight, it won’t be an easy game, especially if they don’t fix some of the bad habits that have started to creep up over this streak.
There have been positive flashes to counter that, no doubt, but they’ve been too far and few between, making it hard for the ‘Caps to win.
But with the season quickly swirling, the ‘Caps need to find any sort of momentum that they can before they dig themselves in too deep, and this Galaxy game would be a good opportunity for them to do that.
So with that in mind, it’ll be interesting to see how they do on Wednesday now, especially if the Galaxy wins this weekend, as this could prove to be a vital game for the ‘Caps in terms of determining what direction this team will take this summer.
“We just have to go back to the drawing board,” Brown said.
“And try to move on”
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs LA Galaxy, Wednesday, June, 23rd, 2021, 19:30 PDT, 22:30 EDT (Rio Tinto Stadium, Utah)
Cover Photo via: Vancouver Whitecaps/Twitter