The Vancouver Whitecaps took on Sporting Kansas City in a massive game for their MLS playoff hopes on Sunday night. Here’s our recap from that clash, which ended with a big 2-1 Vancouver victory, one that could prove to be huge for the ‘Caps in their push to make the postseason for the first time since 2017.
Pushed to the brink once again, they found a way to stay alive.
It might not have been their best performance of their 2021 season, but it might have been their most important one, as the Vancouver Whitecaps did so well to beat Sporting Kansas City 2-1 in a massive game for their playoff hopes.
Entering this game sitting 4 points behind the 7th and final playoff spot in MLS’s Western Conference, with a game in hand, the ‘Caps needed a win against SKC to put themselves back in control with 5 games to go, because or else they’d find themselves in a tough position.
And to give them credit, despite facing off against an SKC team that they haven’t beat since 2017, they found a way to do just that on Sunday night, cruising to a clinical 2-1 victory.
It wasn’t the most eventful match, as the 10 000 or so fans that made the trek to BC Place weren’t exactly treated to what one would deem to be an ‘offensive spectacle’, but the ‘Caps defended excellently, keeping SKC’s big guns quiet for the most part, and that allowed them to grab the victory.
“We did very well,” ‘Caps interim head coach, Vanni Sartini, said after the game. “I think it’s the demonstration again that if you work very well during the week, then the work pays off. The week in training was fantastic. The mentality at the beginning was good, we knew that we were playing against a very good team, but I think we’re a good team too.”
Thanks to that, it’s given them a massive lifeline heading into their last 5 games, 4 of which will come against teams within 7 points of them in the standings, making them massive 6-point games.
So while they now actually need to go out and make something of those games in order to make the playoffs, this win will certainly give them the belief that they can go on and do that now, and that makes it so huge in the overall context of the ‘Caps season.
They could very well go on to miss the postseason, but seeing how close they’ve made things here, that they head into these last 5 games with optimism is massive, and it’ll be interesting to see how they do in their push to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
But while there was a lot of excitement about the result for the ‘Caps, make no mistake – this game was quite uneventful, despite what the scoreline might suggest. That was reflected in how this game started, as both teams seemed intent on feeling out the other, leading to a cagey first 20 minutes of action.
Then, Ryan Gauld decided that he’d had enough of that in the 23rd minute, where he decided to break things wide open.
After Leonard Owusu did well to find an overlapping Javain Brown down the left-hand side, the ‘Caps full back did well to put his head up and deliver a fantastic cross towards the back post, one that’d meet an onrushing Brian White.
From there, White would have the awareness to flick the ball back across the box, where he’d find an onrushing Gauld, who slammed home the ball on his first touch on the volley, giving the ‘Caps an emphatic lead in front of their home supporters.
It was a dream start for the ‘Caps, who not only needed the win for playoff reasons, but also for confidence ones, too, as they’ve historically struggled massively against SKC, and were coming off of a tough loss last week against their rivals, so there was no doubt that this goal would give them the energy to chase an important result.
And seemingly inspired by that opener, the ‘Caps would nearly find a second right after, as Gauld then found a bit of space in the box after a loose touch from an SKC defender, and he got a good shot off, but Tim Melia would manage to stand strong to his effort in the SKC goal, palming the ball out for a corner.
Continuing that, the ‘Caps then struck again in the 36th minute, and it would be one to remember.
After a nice counter-attack, White found himself in a bit of space in the corner, where he had a few good options, including a safe back pass. Despite that, though, he then elected to play a dangerous ball with the outside of his foot right to the edge of the box, where he’d find his captain, Russell Teibert, in space.
And then, the magic happened. Usually expected to take a touch and try a pass, Teibert would instead decide to take the ball forward and hit a shot off the volley on his second touch, and he connected as sweetly as he could’ve ever dreamed of, ripping the ball off the post and in for the ‘Caps second.
Having not scored since 2018, it was a rare goal from Teibert, and he made sure to mark it in a very special fashion, something that his team would have no complaints about, as they settled in to enjoy their 2 goal lead.
“Just took a shot on the target, and like Tosaint Ricketts said (after the game), it was either going to Kitsilano, or it was hitting the back of the net,” Teibert explained after the game.
But unfortunately, they wouldn’t get to enjoy it very long, though, as SKC then pounced in the 43rd minute. After a nice bit of play through the middle, they did well to find the always-dangerous Johnny Russell in transition, and the Scotsman did well to make something of his half-chance, as he’d manage to open up his hips and strike the ball across goal from the right-hand side with his left foot, curling it into the net for SKC’s opener.
Having controlled most of the ball, it was a deserved goal for SKC, and it left the ‘Caps needing to wake back up again, because while they were full value for their lead, you just had a feeling that their guests wouldn’t want them to keep it, and that goal was just a warning of that.
They’d continue to remind them of it, too, as SKC’s Remi Walter then got a good look at goal from outside of the box in the 45th minute, but the Frenchmen wouldn’t be able to get over his shot, curling it just over the goal to keep the game 2-1 heading into half time.
That’d be great news for the ‘Caps, as they would get 15 minutes to reset and get set for a big second 45, in which they would look to try and protect their unlikely lead at all costs.
And to give them credit, they’d go on and do just that, too. It might not have been the most entertaining strategy, but the game would slow right down in the second, as both teams found themselves stuck in neutral.
To get an idea of how much things slowed down, other than a Cristian Dajome half-chance in the 55th minute and a Florian Jungwirth sighter in the 78th minute for the ‘Caps, and an 81st minute Remi Walter floater for SKC, neither team really got any good looks at goal through the next 37 minutes, leaving one to wonder if that’d change in the last 8 minutes of the game.
And to no one’s surprise, it didn’t, as the ‘Caps managed to kill the game off expertly, allowing them to cruise to a massive victory in their quest to make the playoffs.
It might not have been their best performance of the year, but it very well might have been their best victory, as they did well to keep a very dangerous SKC side quiet, and were clinical with their opportunities, allowing them to pick up an efficient victory.
With some clinical defending from front-to-back, and 2 key goals when they needed them most, the ‘Caps did what they needed to do in order to win, and they arguably couldn’t have done so at a better time.
Thanks to that, that now puts them in a pretty good position with 5 games to go, especially considering that their next 4 games are essentially 6-point games, putting control of their destiny back in their hands.
Had they lost this game, that wouldn’t have been the case, so that they managed to find a way, against a good team to boot, is huge, and it might be the difference between them making the playoffs or not, depending on how they do in the games that lie ahead of them.
Whenever their backs are up against the wall, the ‘Caps just seem to keep finding a way right now, and this match was the latest example of that, allowing them to keep their dream alive
heading into the crunch time of this campaign.
“I think it was a good performance, very important three points,” The ‘Caps first goalscorer, Ryan Gauld, said after the game. “We were aware that yesterday all the teams kind of fighting for the playoff spots won. So we knew that we had to get the three points tonight so that we didn’t lose any ground on them. It was against a tough team, they’re a very good side with some really good players.”
“So that was a huge three points for us.”
Player of the Match: Erik Godoy
And one player that was quite key to helping them make this victory happen? ‘Caps centre back, Erik Godoy, who made his return to the Vancouver lineup after missing some time with an injury, and he wasted no time in getting back to the top of his game despite the absence.
From his stellar defensive play, which included some massive blocks and crunching tackles, to his distribution, which helped the ‘Caps get out of some tight jams, Godoy did everything he was asked to do and then some on Sunday night, helping his team get a result.
There’s a reason why he’s one of the best centre backs in MLS when he’s healthy, and he showed that in this game, showing why ‘Caps fans everywhere are keeping their fingers crossed that he doesn’t suffer any more blows before the season wraps up.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Cristian Gutierrez
Otherwise, we had a rare miss in this section, as we pegged Gutierrez as a player to watch as he continued his slow return from a tough injury, but much like in the last game, he ended up as an unused substitute once again.
That’s not a bad thing, as it’s good to see the ‘Caps take their time with Gutierrez through his return from injury, but at the same time, you’d like to see him back on the field sooner rather than later.
But with such a short turnaround between this game and the ‘Caps next clash, a battle with the Portland Timbers in Portland on Wednesday, that could just very well mean that the ‘Caps were saving him from that one, allowing him to make his official return from injury in that one.
Heatmap of the Match:
Elsewhere, it was quite the interesting performance from the ‘Caps in this section, because while they didn’t do much offensively, the ‘Caps did well to somehow keep SKC out of their box despite losing the possession battle 64% to 36%.
So while it would have probably been nicer to see the ‘Caps hold more of the ball than they eventually did, there’s a reason that the saying “possession doesn’t matter if you don’t do anything with it” exists, and this game was a prime example of that.
xG Plot of the Match:
Lastly, to show how true that last statement can be, the Expected Goals (xG) plot confirms that statement, because while SKC held more of the ball, the ‘Caps created the higher quality chance, helping explain how they won this game.
Yes, it sucks to not hold much of the ball, but if you can find a way to frustrate the team that does, and nab some cheeky goals while you’re at it, that’s never a bad strategy, and the ‘Caps reminded us of that on Sunday.
But now, the ‘Caps must pivot their attention on trying to maintain that sort of grittiness into their next game, a pivotal clash with Portland.
Of course, the goal is to make the playoffs, which a win would help them massively in their quest towards doing, but a win does also keep their Cascadia Cup hopes alive, and does open up the door for the ‘Caps to potentially even dream of hosting a playoff game this year.
So while those are obviously secondary to the main goal right now, seeing all that’s on the line in this one, they’ll have plenty of reasons to be up for this game, as they look to keep this hot run going.
With points in 17 of their last 20 games, they’ve been a tough nut to crack for a reason, and they’ll aim to continue that in their next game, as they aim to keep the good times rolling, with the goal being to roll right into a playoff spot come the end of the season.
Thanks to this SKC win, they’re not far off being able to do that, so if they can continue this form into the Portland game, you have to like their chances in that one, so keep an eye out for them on Wednesday.
“We’re still in the fight, and we’re going to fight ‘til the end,” Sartini promised.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Portland Timbers, Wednesday, October 20th, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (Providence Park, Portland)