The Vancouver Whitecaps took on LAFC at BC Place in their first true home game in nearly a year, and first home game with fans in almost 2 years. Here’s what stood out from a memorable night of Whitecaps soccer at their home stadium.
The stage was set, but all that was left was for the stars to show up and make it a show.
As the Vancouver Whitecaps got set to play their first match at BC Place in 11 months, and almost 30 matches, one certainly wondered how they’d mark the occasion, as a stiff test awaited them in LAFC.
Sitting 3 points behind LAFC in the standings, it was a massive game for the ‘Caps, who had a chance to get within 3 points of the playoff line in MLS’s Western Conference with a win, only adding to the drama surrounding their long-awaited return to BC Place.
So for the ‘Caps to then go out and pick up a massive come-from-behind 2-1 win over LA was all the spectacle they could’ve hoped for in their grand return, as a show-stopping 90th-minute goal from their new DP #10, Ryan Gauld, gave those watching a night to remember.
In his home debut, no less, Gauld quickly showed why’s he’s rapidly becoming a fan favourite for his new team, nodding home a lovely cross from Ryan Raposo to send the home supporters into a rapture of noise, as they completed a come back from down 1-0 at half time.
Thanks to that, they’re now undefeated in 8 straight games, and in 10 of their last 11, helping them continue their slow climb up the Western Conference signings.
With a swath of games back at their home park, and the addition of Gauld, things are looking up for these ‘Caps, who will look to use this memorable victory as a catalyst for the bigger and better things that they hope awaits them now.
The game would start out quite lively, as both teams seemed intent on giving the fans an occasion to remember.
To start, LA would be the team pushing the initiative, as Brian Rodriguez had his low cross cleared by Andy Rose in the 1st minute, before Jose Cifuentes curled a shot just over the goal in the 4th minute.
At the other end, the ‘Caps then had a few chances of their own, as they started to ramp up their intensity level up to match that of their opponent.
First, Brian White won the ball high up the field, sending him in all alone, but he would be caught by an LA defender before he could get a shot off. Then, Cristian Dajome won the ball back right away, but he wouldn’t be able to fully catch his shot properly, sending a dribbler right at Tomas Romero in the LA goal.
Then, Deiber Caicedo had a nice chance in the 12th minute after he cut inside from the left, sending a nice curled effort, one that would be just kept out by the desperate outstretched arms of Romero.
After that, though, the next chance wouldn’t come until the 29th minute, as Cristian Arango found himself wide-open in the Whitecaps box, but his shot would be kept out by a lovely point-blank kick save from Maxime Crepeau in the ‘Caps goal, as he kept his team in the game with a beauty. A few minutes later, he then denied Arango’s tidy shot from just inside of the box, stymying the LA forward once again.
From there, LAFC would continue to ramp up the pressure, as Diego Rossi then had a point-blank chance of his own from nearly the same spot as Arango, but MLS’s 2020 Golden Boot winner sent his shot over the goal, much to the relief of Crepeau. A few seconds later, he then broke behind the ‘Caps defence for a 1v1, but he continued his tough start to the game, shanking the ball right into Crepeau’s grateful arms.
Continuing the end-to-end action, the ‘Caps then had their next best chance in the 39th minute, as Caicedo once again found himself open at the edge of the box, sending a powerful low strike in, one that Romero did well to react to in goal.
And a few minutes later, as was the case all half, LAFC then replied with a great chance of their own, as Rossi was left wide open in the box once more, and he continued his tough first half, sending his shot just wide, although it did appear that the ball did bounce off someone before sliding wide, as the referee pointed for a corner on the play.
But then, Rossi found his golden moment right at the stroke of halftime. After a lengthy video review, it was determined that the ‘Caps Javain Brown had fouled LAFC’s Brian Rodriguez inside the box, giving LA a penalty.
That allowed Rossi to step up and slam home a ball right into the side of the goal, gifting his team a lead, and giving him a goal that certainly felt like it was coming based on his play throughout the half.
And that’d be all the game would have to offer heading into halftime, leaving Vancouver to ponder where they went wrong at the end, while LA certainly felt comfortable with the direction the game was going heading into the 2nd stanza.
The game was still wide-open, without a doubt, as the ‘Caps had a few tricks up their sleeve, but it’d be an uphill battle, especially against a team of LA’s calibre.
Despite that, the ‘Caps would then turn to one of those tricks, and that’d be the insertion of Gauld, who was expected to turn the game around on his own. And to give credit, he quickly started to do that, as he immediately set up Cristian Dajome for a chance inside of the box, but the ‘Caps leading scorer just couldn’t wrap his leg around it, sending the volley wide.
So with that, it was no surprise to see Gauld involved in the ‘Caps opener, as he helped launch the ‘Caps into a counter-attack. From there, Dajome managed to sneak behind LA’s defence before whipping in a great ball, one that White would turn off the crossbar and down, before Gauld jumped in and put the ball in the net himself to be sure.
It was hard to tell who scored, as MLS ruled the goal in White’s favour, saying the ball went in on the initial strike, but with Gauld making sure the ball went in, someone put the ball in the net for the ‘Caps, and that was all that mattered for them, as they had new life in a game that could’ve easily slipped away from them.
But while the ‘Caps seemed to have a bounce in their step after the goal, they were yet to get the job done, and they got a stark reminder of that in the 63rd minute, as Rossi found himself alone against Crepeau on a breakaway. The ‘Caps would be let off the hook, as Crepeau would save Rossi’s shot before Rodriguez slammed his rebound off of the post, although they seemed well aware of how close the game was to turning back into LAFC’s favour.
And from there, the game then settled into a bit of a lull, as both teams looked to avoid making a big mistake that would lead to a winner. That didn’t mean it was completely devoid of chances, as Michael Baldisimo had a good effort in the 70th minute that sailed just over for the ‘Caps, before Eduard Atuesta sent a dangerous free-kick just over the crossbar for LAFC in the 73rd minute.
That’d continue into the late stages of the game, as Gauld then just couldn’t turn his hips around a glorious cross from Dajome in the 86th minute at one end, before Arango sent a show just wide of the ‘Caps goal at the other end in the 87th minute.
But then, the ‘Caps had their moment right at the death. After some nice footwork from Ryan Raposo on the wing, he whipped a lovely ball into the box, where Gauld would meet it with a flying leap, heading the ball into the back of the net for his first MLS goal, and what appeared to be the late match-winner.
In his home debut, it was a script almost too perfect to be true, as he cemented what had been a huge half from him, all but giving his team a massive victory.
And from there, the ‘Caps then did all that they needed to do in order to preserve the victory, including some masterful timewasting that had the LA defenders in knots in the corner of the goal, giving them a huge 3 points.
Now just 3 points off of a playoff spot, with a game in hand over 7th-placed San Jose, they can dream of the playoffs once again, especially with 8 of their 14 remaining games all at home, including their next 3 matches.
A herculean task still remains ahead of them, as they’ve just started what will be a long uphill climb towards the playoffs, but for the first time in a while, they can see a peak at the end of their long journey, giving something to believe in.
Thanks to a moment of magic from Gauld, it marked a very special return to BC Place, one that soon won’t be forgotten by the Whitecaps faithful anytime soon.
Man of the Match: Maxime Crepeau
Moving on, while Gauld’s late heroics certainly stole the show at BC Place, Crepeau had a big role as a supporting actor, as he made some massive saves to keep the ‘Caps in the game.
From a couple of huge stops in the first half, to some huge ones in the 2nd half when the game was still 1-1, Crepeau did what he could to keep his team in this contest, paving the way for Gauld to show up with the late goal.
While he might not be stealing the headlines as much as he should despite his strong play, he’s continued to be a force for the ‘Caps in goal, and that was certainly the case again in this game.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Ryan Gauld
But while Crepeau certainly deserves kudos for how he kept his team in the game, they would’ve been all for naught if it wasn’t for Gauld’s late winner, as he announced himself to MLS in the best way possible.
After seemingly scoring earlier in the match, before it was changed to White’s tally, one could’ve only wondered if he’d find a way to stamp his influence on the game, so it almost didn’t feel surprising to see him pop up right at the perfect moment to get the late winner.
Coming off a strong performance in the last ‘Caps game, one where he had a secondary assist and an assist to help his team turn around a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win like he did in this one, he showed why the ‘Caps spent the big bucks to bring him in this summer, and why fans are clamouring for him to make his first start.
There’s a reason why he’s yet to get that first start in Whitecaps shirt, as he’s not yet fit enough to do so, but seeing how strong his impact has been across 90 out of 180 minutes in the last 2 games, you can only imagine what he can do across a full game, making that impending debut an exciting one.
Heatmap of the Match:
Elsewhere, much like in the last game, this section is a prime example of the Ryan Gauld effect on the ‘Caps, as he helped make things respectable after a tough start.
As mentioned above, it also makes you wonder what he can do when he does get that first start as a ‘Caps player, as he’s already shown to be quite the capable producer in this role as a super sub.
xG Plot of the Match:
Otherwise, it wasn’t a great performance from the ‘Caps in the heatmap department after a good showing here the last few weeks, but to be fair, they certainly rescued things in the 2nd half after a slow start.
Against an LA team that consistently ranks among the better teams at creating xG, sitting 2nd in MLS in xG for heading into this game, it isn’t surprising that LA had a good night in that area, but it was also good to see the ‘Caps generate significantly more than the 1.18 xG that they were creating heading into this one.
They’ll need to tighten things up defensively going forward, as they won’t get away with allowing chances like this against most teams (despite Crepeau’s best efforts to do so), but if they can keep generating chances like this (and at a higher rate when Gauld starts), a good formula appears to be brewing.
Positive Momentum of the night:
Moving down the list, it’s otherwise important to shout out the ‘Caps faithful, as all 11 144 of them in attendance were certainly in full voice throughout the night, giving the team a big boost at times where they needed them.
After so long away from them, it was a reunion for the ages, and the fans certainly delivered in this return, giving the ‘Caps the legs to return the favour right at the end.
Feel-Good Moment of the Night:
Lastly, it’s worth noting that while the Gauld goal was certainly a moment to remember, it was quickly usurped as the moment of the night, as the celebration after the game was quite special.
As chords of their new post-victory anthem, ‘Stand By Me’, echoed throughout the stadium, the ‘Caps went up to their supporters and sang in unison with them, creating a goosebumps-inducing moment as their voices rang through the night.
It was the perfect way to end what ended up becoming a perfect night for the ‘Caps, and it looks to be the start of a tradition that might be able to unify the team and its fans better than anyone could’ve ever imagined.
But while the ‘Caps will look to bask in the glory of this memorable victory, they must then quickly turn their attention to what lies ahead, as their next match is a huge clash with Canadian Premier League side, Pacific FC, in the Canadian Championship on Thursday.
In a 1-game elimination match to decide the last quarter-finalist of that competition, they’ll be in tough in their voyage to Vancouver Island, where they’ll take on the CPL’s first-place team in a difficult environment.
While their playoff hopes are certainly looking a lot better now than they did a few weeks ago, a loss on Thursday would eliminate them completely from the cup, and would be an upset for the ages, all while stalling their recent progress in league play, so it goes without saying that a victory then would be massive.
Until then, though, they’ll be able to bottle up the memories of this special win and try to push their good momentum forward, as they enjoy the high of a night that soon won’t be forgotten in Whitecaps lore.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Pacific FC, Thursday, August 26th, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (Starlight Stadium, Langford)