Raise a Sartini: Vancouver Whitecaps open Vanni Sartini era with dominant 4-1 win over RSL in ‘Interim Derby’

The Vancouver Whitecaps took on Real Salt Lake at BC Place on Sunday. Here’s our match report from that one. 

Heading into the game, no one knew what to expect. 

In a midseason MLS clash between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Real Salt Lake, two teams sitting in the middle of the Western Conference standings, it always felt like Sunday’s night clash might be a listless, late-night affair. 

With both teams coming off of coaching changes, however, as the ‘Caps had parted ways with head coach Marc Dos Santos a few days prior, while RSL had lost Freddy Juarez who left to go join Western Conference leaders, the Seattle Sounders, it added some spice to what could’ve easily been a boring game. 

That wouldn’t end up being the case, though, as the ‘Caps came out and outplayed RSL in the battle of interim head coaches, with Vanni Sartini’s Whitecaps doing well to put RSL’s Pablo Mastroeni to the sword in the form of a 4-1 win, one that the ‘Caps dominated from start to finish. 

Other than a late Anderson Julio goal right at the death of the game, the ‘Caps were the much better team over the 90 minutes, paced by a big game from Ryan Gauld, who had a goal and an assist, along with goals from Brian White and Florian Jungwirth to go along with an early RSL own goal. 

Fresh off of an embarrassing 4-3 loss to Canadian Premier League side, Pacific FC, in the Canadian Championship this past Thursday, no one knew what to expect from the ‘Caps in this game, so it was nice to see them bounce back as they eventually did. 

Unbeaten in 9 MLS games now, and in 11 of their last 12, the ‘Caps all of a sudden sit in a playoff spot as of writing, which after spending most of the year in the basement, must feel relieving, as they can now realistically dream of playing in the postseason with 13 games left in this season. 

But despite all of that uncertainty heading into the game, both teams would come out of the gates by showing good initiative, with the coaches on either side eager to show what they can bring to the table. 

First, RSL would get the proceedings going, as Jonathan Menendez came close with an effort from distance in the 5th minute, before the ‘Caps Cristian Dajome tested RSL’s Andrew Putna in goal with a decent swiped shot. 

From there, though, it’d be all ‘Caps for the next while, as Ryan Gauld looked to continue his strong start to life in MLS, almost scoring a worldie of a volley with his right foot that would be caught nicely by Putna in the 14th minute, as he did well to catch a bouncing ball with his supposed weaker foot. 

Not long after, the ‘Caps Russell Teibert then almost forced an own goal out of Justen Glad in the 18th minute, but Putna was once again on the case, getting low to slap away the chance.

Then, in the 24th minute, Gauld would continue his strong start to the game, as he once again found some space for another right-footed volley in the box, but the angle on his shot would prove to be too tight for him, making it an easy save for Putna. 

Riding that wave of pressure, the ‘Caps continued to try and break down the hatches, and came close in the 32nd minute, as Javain Brown made a nice mazy run through the RSL defenders, combining nicely with Dajome before trying to cross a ball, one that Putna just got a palm to in order to send it out for a corner. 

And on the ensuing corner, they found the breakthrough. After a nice cross in from Gauld, the ball would pinball through the box and bounce off of RSL’s Marcelo Silva and in for the own goal, giving the ‘Caps a lead. 

Obviously, they would’ve probably preferred a proper goal, but considering that they’d dominated most of that half up to that point, they certainly weren’t complaining about being up 1-0. 

But naturally, as usually can be the case in soccer, RSL would then find a bit of life, as they looked to find an equalizer. They nearly found it, right in the 42nd minute, as Noah Powder had a good shot from distance, but his effort would be kept out by the post, before Justin Meram skied the ensuing rebound. 

Other than that, though, the game would reach halftime without any further fanfare, leaving the ‘Caps to relish having a 1-0 lead heading into the locker room. 

The better team throughout that first 45, they could be proud of their effort under their new manager, and that was sensed in their vibe as they got off the pitch. 

And to start the 2nd half, they’d look to translate that into more goals, something they’d come close to doing in the 50th minute. After some nice dribbling down the right side, Dajome whipped in a nice ball, one that Brian White did well to meet first at the near post, but he sent his shot just over the goal. 

That’d prove to be a warning sign for RSL, though, as the ‘Caps then found their 2nd, and it came via the same connection, as Dajome sent in a dangerous ball for White, one that Putna struggled with, and the ball then bounced right to White, who slammed it home from close range for his team’s 2nd. 

Much like the first goal, it might not have been the prettiest goal that they’ve ever scored, but most importantly, it came off of the back of them dominating their opponents, which based on how they’ve played for most of Dos Santos’s tenure, was nice to see. 

Fuelled by the energy of the home crowd, who were doing their best to recognize the effort of their team, the ‘Caps nearly added a 3rd in the 55th minute, as Gauld did well to find Brown all alone at the edge of the box, but Brown’s side-footed effort sliced just wide, although it did give Putna a nice scare in goal. 

After that, though, RSL did start to find a bit of life, as Meram looked to amend his earlier miss when he cut inside and unleashed a nice curler, but he didn’t catch all of the ball, sending his shot just past the post. 

But then, the ‘Caps then delivered the dagger. Given a bit of space after an RSL turnover, Brown had all sorts of space to run up the right side and deliver in a cross, and he whipped in a peach, finding Gauld at the back post for his 2nd goal of the season, and his 4th in all competitions. 

And the push wouldn’t stop, emphasizing the ‘Caps impressive performance. They nearly grabbed a 4th in the 66th minute, as Dajome then whipped in another tasty low ball at the near post, one that White did well to meet, but he shanked his effort just wide of the post. 

They’d eventually grab that 4th, though, as Florian Jungwirth did well to rise highest to a lovely corner in from Gauld, putting his team in a commanding lead heading into the finish line, much to the pleasure of the home supporters. 

From there, though, they’d cruise to victory, other than a late goal from RSL’s from Anderson Julio, who pounced on some sloppy defending from the ‘Caps, cutting the lead to 4-1. 

Other than that, though, it’d be all Whitecaps, giving them a lopsided victory on what proved to be a much more special night than anyone would have ever anticipated heading into it. 

After a tough run in the summer, this ‘Caps team has found some good form as of late, Pacific FC loss aside, which has certainly made this end to the season potentially a lot more entertaining than anyone ever anticipated just a few months ago. 

With just the league left to focus on with their Canadian Championship elimination, they can continue to focus on growing on these results, too, which certainly makes them a strong candidate to make the playoffs, with 7 of their last 13 at home, where they’ve now won 2 straight in their return to BC Place, after spending the first part of the season in the US due to the pandemic. 

It won’t be easy, as they’ve got to maintain this pace over a longer period of time, but things are looking up for these ‘Caps right now, which hasn’t always been the case this season. 

Player of the Match: Ryan Gauld

Gauld in action for the ‘Caps versus RSL (Keveren Guillou)

And a big reason why the ‘Caps have been rolling as of late? The addition of the aforementioned Gauld, who was fantastic in his first MLS start with the Whitecaps. 

After making his first start versus Pacific, one where he scored 2 goals and won a penalty despite the loss, one had to wonder what sort of magic that he had cooked up for this RSL coach, his first start at BC Place. 

And much like his debut at BC Place last week, where he scored the winning goal in a 2-1 in the 89th minute of a dramatic game, he was magic in this game, scoring 1 goal, adding an assist, and forcing the own goal off of the corner, directly contributing to 3 of the team’s 4 goals. 

That means that since making his debut versus the LA Galaxy 5 games ago, he’s directly been involved in 9 of the team’s 11 goals in all competitions, showing how important that he is to this ‘Caps teams. 

Brought in to be the team’s main piece as a #10, he’s proven to be everything the team needed and then some, and that’s scary considering that he hasn’t really hit full speed yet, having not had a proper preseason. 

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Cristian Dajome

Dajome in action versus RSL (Keveren Guillou)

Otherwise, a player that we highlighted heading into this one was Cristian Dajome, and he lived up to that distinction in this game, putting up a solid performance. 

He might not have had a goal, but his cross was key in White’s tally, and he did create some other solid chances to go along with that. 

So although he didn’t officially add to his lofty totals of 8 goals and 3 assists in MLS play (and 9 goals and 4 assists in all competitions), he continued to show his importance to his team, and why he’s one to watch for the ‘Caps going forward. 

Heatmap of the Match:

Moving on, it was another solid showing from the ‘Caps in this section, as they put up a much more coherent heat map, mostly paced by some tactical changes and Gauld’s first start. 

There’s still work to be done before they achieve the perfect heat map, but they’re getting closer with each game, and that’s all you can ask from them at this point. 

xG Plot of the Match:

Otherwise, as seen with the heat map, that led to an improved Expected Goals (xG) plot, as the ‘Caps really put RSL to the sword in this one, and this plot shows it.

After scratching out a win versus LAFC despite getting battered by the visitors last week, it was nice to see them take control of this game, forcing RSL into submission and punishing them for their lackadaisical performance. 

Surprise of the Match:

And nearing the end here, it’s important to shout out a player that played a big role in this victory, but might not get the praise for it, and that’s Florian Jungwirth, who obviously had his goal, but was overall one of the players of the match throughout 90 minutes. 

From his calm play on the ball at the back, to some timely defensive interventions, he was a general on the field in this game for the ‘Caps, and that helped them pick up this victory. 

Talking point of the Match:

Lastly, although the win and the positive performance dominated the headlines, it’s worth noting that there was a lot of chatter about the attendance in this game, as the game was quite sparsely attended by local fans. 

The announced attendance was just a hair over 7500, but it felt closer to 5 000 or 6 000 based on how spread out the fans were, which was a bit of a letdown after the ‘Caps pulled in over 10 000 last weekend. 

Obviously, with the loss to Pacific, and the uncertainty surrounding COVID in the province, those were all factors, but it’s going to be interesting to see if this is what things are going to look like for the ‘Caps going forward, especially if they keep picking up wins, as one would expect a good run of form to bring in fans in droves. 

Looking Forward:

So now, the ‘Caps will get a week to prepare for their next game, a clash with expansion new boys, Austin FC, who the ‘Caps beat in the first meeting between the two less than 2 weeks ago, kickstarting this run of 3 straight victories. 

With Austin near the bottom of the Western Conference, and the ‘Caps in a playoff spot, it’s a game that the ‘Caps have to win, but they’ll be in tough, as the game will be played during the international break, potentially robbing the ‘Caps of a few players, including goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau and striker Lucas Cavallini, who will be with Canada. 

But with the ‘Caps riding high thanks to the play of Gauld, as long as he keeps playing as he has, you feel that they’ll be all right, allowing them to continue this glorious run of form. 

As they continue their climb up the Western standings, you just know that he’s going to keep playing a key role in their success, should they find some, as has been the case so far, and he’ll look to keep that up next weekend. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Austin FC, Saturday, September 4th, 2021, 16:00 PDT, 19:00 EDT (BC Place, Vancouver)

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