Demons Dodged: Vancouver Whitecaps ride Colombian connection to valuable road point against LAFC

The Vancouver Whitecaps took on LAFC in a pivotal MLS Western Conference matchup on Saturday, drawing 2-2 in a tough road environment, one that hasn’t always treated them well in recent years. Here’s our match recap from that one. 

Considering some of their past experiences in that stadium, it wasn’t the worst result. 

Make no mistake, the Vancouver Whitecaps certainly dropped 2 points against LAFC on Saturday, as they ended up drawing 2-2 after being up 2-0 after 38 minutes, but at the same time, that isn’t the worst thing in the world. 

Seeing that their last 2 visits to the Banc of California Stadium has seen them lose by score lines of 6-1 and 6-0, respectively, to not get blown out by LAFC was a huge positive, especially considering the ‘Caps are still without any DPs for the 4th game in a row. 

So although they should’ve probably found a way to bring home all 3 points, to bring home 1 point is far from a bad thing, giving the ‘Caps points in 5 of their last 6 games. 

Although 4 of those games were draws, as Vancouver’s only one once in their last 11 games, it’s a sign that the ‘Caps are finally trending in the right direction, even if they’re not getting the results to show for it. 

“Tonight, I’m very proud of the guys,” Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos said after the game. “We’re not in a celebration mode, because we were 2-0 up, and we always believed that we could still add a 3rd goal, the way our transition moments were, we believed that the third goal was to come, so even though our locker room isn’t a party right now, it’s a good point in a stadium that’s incredibly difficult to get points in.”

That was most definitely the case on Saturday, because even though they were on the road against a very good team that has haunted them before in that stadium, they played one of their best games of the season, starting well before bouncing back after giving up a lead, almost snatching back the 3 points at the death. 

Thanks to two huge first half goals from the ‘Caps two Colombians, Cristian Dajome and Deiber Caicedo, who have been on fire as of late for Vancouver, the ‘Caps gave themselves a chance to win, which isn’t something they’ve always done in games like this so far this year.

So even though they might come to regret dropping these points at the end of the season, things are starting to look up for Vancouver, especially considering they’re finally returning to Canada this week, and are very close to making some big signings for their squad. 

Returning to the match, though, it’s worth noting that LAFC actually came out stronger to begin with, getting the better of the chances to start the match. 

That’d start in just the 7th minute, as LAFC’s Diego Rossi found some space inside the box, but his shot would be blocked nicely by Erik Godoy. Then, the ball would bounce to an overlapping Raheem Edwards in the box, but his cross through the box was deflected by the ‘Caps Thomas Hasal in goal, before harmlessly bouncing away from danger. 

Soon after in the 13th minute, LA’s Jose Cifuentes then had a good look at goal from around 25 yards, but his long-shot couldn’t find a way to sneak past Hasal, who did well to get down to the powerful effort. 

Afterwards, the game would start to tilt in the ‘Caps favour, much to the surprise of those watching. 

First, the ‘Caps came close on a counter in the 16th minute, as Cristian Dajome whipped in a nice low ball after a Brian White through ball, and his shot would then deflect off of LA’s Eduard Atuesta and towards the LA goal. Almost miraculously, though, LA’s goalkeeper Tomas Romero managed to react to the deflection quite well, sorting out his feet in time to rob the ‘Caps of the own goal, keeping the game tied. 

But with the ‘Caps continuing to press, one had to wonder if a breakthrough would be coming soon, and alas, it would come in the 25th minute. 

After some nice bit of play between Javain Brown and White, Dajome found himself in some space down the right side, with Deiber Caicedo sitting as his main option in the box. From there, Dajome put his head up and whipped a low ball towards his fellow Colombian, which would bounce off of LA’s Kim Moon Hwan and right to Caicedo, allowing the forward to tap home his 3rd of the season. 

The goal itself might have been what some might have described as lucky, but make no mistake, it was fully deserved for the ‘Caps, who were actually the better team through 25 minutes. 

Having picked up a goal, though, the question emerged – could the ‘Caps avoid complacency in a tough environment, keeping their foot on the gas pedal?

And surprisingly, the answer would be yes, as they then found a 2nd in the 38th minute. 

Off of a wide set-piece, Cristian Gutierrez whipped in a fantastic ball, and this time it was the other Colombian who’d find a way to get to the chance and direct it on goal, as Dajome got up and nodded the ball across the net, thumping home the ‘Caps second. 

With his 6th goal of the season, his tally would also put the ‘Caps talisman into the top 10 of MLS’s goalscoring charts in 2021, but more importantly, it put them in a commanding lead in a tough environment, putting them in a good position to grab all 3 points. 

Despite that lead, though, the ‘Caps would have to find a way to stay alert to LA’s threat, as there was always the possibility that they would turn things up a notch, allowing them to get back into the game. 

So almost not surprisingly, it was not a shock to see LA score less than 2 minutes later, as Eduard Atuesta played Carlos Vela in behind the ‘Caps backline with a fantastic through ball, and the former MLS MVP made no mistake with the chance, slotting home into the top corner with his right foot. 

From there, though, that would be all the half had to offer up for either team, as the ‘Caps managed to hold onto their 2-1 lead into half, giving them the belief that they could make the impossible a reality. 

It was going to be a long 45 minutes ahead in a tough environment, no doubt, but they’d done so well to avoid going down early as they have in previous visits to the Banc of California Stadium, so there was no reason why they couldn’t keep their foot to the gas pedal and keep pushing. 

But it was never going to be easy against an LAFC team hungry to erase the early deficit, and that quickly proved to be the case as the second half started. 

To start, Eduard Atuesta had a good look at goal from a free kick in the 48th minute, but Hasal did well to get down to his shot, parrying it wide of the goal. Despite the save, though, it was a warning shot of what was maybe to come, giving an idea of what awaited the ‘Caps. 

After a short lull, that continued to be the case in the 64th minute, as Carlos Vela once again found his way behind the Vancouver backline, but his shot would be kept out by Hasal this time, even though the chance was probably offside. 

Naturally, with that consistent pressure, the LA equalizer then came in the 75th minute, as halftime substitute Diego Palacios found some space down the left-hand side, and he whipped in a nice cross, finding Jose Cifuentes at the back post. From there, the Ecuadorian made no mistake, volleying home the ball into the bottom corner with a thunderbolt of a strike, erasing LA’s early deficit in the process. 

Thanks to that goal, though, it meant those watching would be blessed with a fantastic finish to the game, as both teams desperately chased all 3 points. 

Dajome first came close with a sighter from distance in the 79th minute that just went wide, before Palacios had a good strike himself in the 82nd minute, but Hasal stood tall to his strike. 

Then, the ‘Caps appeared to find their breakthrough. After a nice run from Gutierrez down the flanks, he once again found Dajome with a nice ball at the back post, this time a low one, and Dajome did well to finish the chance with his left-foot, seemingly restoring his team’s lead. 

Unfortunately for the ‘Caps, though, Janio Bikel was determined to have screened LA’s Romero on the shot from an offside position, and it proved to be the right call, keeping the game tied heading into the last 5 minutes and change. 

From there, neither team would come close to scoring, leaving the game to finish 2-2, giving the ‘Caps their 4th draw in the last 6 games, as they’ve continued to slowly pick up points as of late. 

Should they have held onto the lead at the end of the game? Possibly, but considering some of the horror shows they’ve faced at past visits to LA, they’ll most definitely take the point. 

“It’s not easy to come here and get a point,” Bikel said after the match. “I think our mentality and attitude was great today.”

Plus, almost more importantly, they were arguably the better team for good chunks of the night, earning their point by playing their way, which hasn’t always been something they’ve been able to do for much of the year. 

If they can find a way to build off of this positive run, one in which they’ve picked up points in 5 of their last 6 games, things are looking up for the ‘Caps all of a sudden, especially with some new faces set to come into the fold, along with the prospect of finally returning home, which they do this week. 

After a rough stretch to start the summer, they’ve put themselves in a position to have a positive end to it, giving them hope that they can rescue what was quickly looking to be a lost season. 

“We knew coming away to LAFC that it was going to be a tough game,” White said after the game. “It’s always tough to get results here, especially with their fans, how loud they are and how into the game they are.”

Player of the Match: Cristian Gutierrez

Moving on, it was a very tough decision to make when it came to picking a player of the match, but ultimately, we chose to go with Gutierrez here, as he ended up having quite the impact at both ends of the pitch. 

He might come to regret his positioning on the first LA goal, but other than that, he was everywhere for the ‘Caps, running up and down the pitch. 

Along with his assist on the Dajome goal, it was overall a very strong performance for Gutierrez, who did so despite having the less than enviable task of marking Carlos Vela, showing why he’s quietly been the ‘Caps unsung hero so far in 2021. 

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Thomas Hasal

Otherwise, we picked Hasal as one to watch heading into this game, and he was certainly full value for that selection, making some big stops to help the ‘Caps pick up a point. 

After a nightmare first start against RSL a week and a half ago, he’s been fantastic in the last 3 games for the Whitecaps, helping them pick up 5 out of a possible 9 points with his strong play in goal. 

While it’s unsure when usual starter Maxime Crepeau will return from international duty with Canada, it won’t be as much of an issue if Hasal keeps playing like this, as he’s made the goalkeeping discussion quite the interesting one going forward. 

Heatmap of the Match:

Elsewhere, it was another surprisingly positive performance from the ‘Caps in this section, as they actually did well to control the game considering the circumstances. 

They might’ve let LAFC into more dangerous areas than they would’ve liked, but they also got into some good areas of their own, overall making for a solid heat map. 

After some rough performances in this area to start the year, it’s been nice to see them step up here, helping explain their recent run of positive results. 

xG Plot of the Match:

Lastly, it was also a surprise win for the ‘Caps in the Expected Goals (xG) system, as despite all indications that they’d likely get shellacked here from before the game, they actually won this battle. 

To keep an LA side among one of the best offensive teams in the league to just 0.9 xG is a big win, but to also get 1 xG against a team that gave up the fewest xG in the league is also a win, showing how solid of a game it was for the ‘Caps. 

Would they have liked to win? Absolutely, but considering the stretch of games they went through to start the summer, where they were mostly outplayed, it’s been nice to see them take this step forward as of late, and hopefully the results start to come with it soon. 

Looking Forward:

So now, the ‘Caps will pack up and finally do something that they’re yet to do all year – return to Vancouver, where they’ll train all week, doing so for the first time since preseason. 

They’re still just under a month of actually playing at BC Place, as they had to schedule their next ‘home’ game back in Utah next Saturday, but after that, they’ll be home permanently once again, which is certainly positive news. 

After spending much of the season in a new home, it’ll be nice to finally see them return to their home market once more, finally bringing a sense of normalcy back to a team that hasn’t seen much of it these days. 

Finally, things are starting to look up again for these Whitecaps, who haven’t had much positive news to deal with this past year and a half, so it’ll be good to see them finally make that long-awaited return home, putting this stretch behind them. 

“Look guys, I miss it,” Dos Santos said of coming back to Vancouver. 

He later added: “We just want to go back home, so we’re extremely, extremely excited.”

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Minnesota United, Saturday, July 31st, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy)

Cover Photo via: Vancouver Whitecaps/Twitter

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