The Vancouver Whitecaps took on the Portland Timbers in a huge MLS Western Conference clash on Wednesday night. Here’s our recap from this one, a game in which the ‘Caps rescued a 3-2 win after going down 2-0 just before halftime.
They just continue to find a way.
Faced off against one of their closest rivals, the Portland Timbers, the Vancouver Whitecaps needed to find a way to pick up a win on Wednesday night, as they knew that doing so would push them above the playoff line with just 4 games remaining in their MLS season.
Plus, considering that a win could also give themselves a lifeline in the Cascadia Cup, the supporter-run trophy between Vancouver, Portland and the Seattle Sounders, there was plenty of incentive for the ‘Caps to want to win this game against their longtime foes and they were well aware of that.
So when they went down 2-0 before halftime, things weren’t looking good for the ‘Caps, who seemed doomed to head towards a tough loss, one that would set them back in their quest towards the playoffs, especially given that the out-of-town scoreboard wasn’t too kind for them on Wednesday.
Having done so well to even be in this position, recovering from a tough start to the year to then go on a scintillating run that had them within 1 point of a playoff spot heading into this game, it would’ve made a loss an even tougher blow to stomach.
But then, as this ‘Caps team has done all year long, they battled back, and they picked up a result for the ages, as they managed to come back to win this game 3-2, picking up a massive 3 points in their race for the playoffs.
“Well you know it’s beautiful,” ‘Caps head coach, Vanni Sartini, said after the game. “At the end of the first half, my speech was basically we needed to do a couple of tactical adjustments, that we did perfectly, and I said “we’re going to win. And I didn’t say that just because [I was] trying to, I would say, put them in the right spirit, but because I believed it”
By picking up their 8th win in their last 12 games, which has all come part of a run that has seen the ‘Caps lose just 3 times in their last 21 games, this Whitecaps side has been on fire as of late, and this was just the latest example of that.
And thanks to that, it has put them in a great position heading into their last 4 games of this 2021 season, as they now sit in a playoff spot, and by beating the Timbers, they now sit just 3 points back of 4th place, which means that they could even host a playoff game, too.
So while the goal for them will just to get into the playoffs, that they even find themselves in this position through 30 out of 34 games that they’ll play this MLS season feels like a miracle, but that’s this edition for the Whitecaps for you, as they just seem to find a way to pick up results out of nowhere, which is a far cry from some of the past iterations of this squad.
“We want to take it day by day, game by game,” ‘Caps forward, Brian White, added. “We knew that coming into this game we’re one point out of a playoff spot so we wanted to get above that line and as far past that line as we can. So we’re looking to get three points every time we’re on the field and I think the team has great belief in that no matter who we go up against, no matter where we’re playing, that we can come out and put in a good performance if we stick to the tactics, stick to the system, and believe in everyone on the field. I think that’s a strong feeling among the group.”
As they look to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017, they’ve put themselves on a good path with this victory, one that won’t soon be forgotten in Whitecaps lore, helping them continue their memorable postseason push.
But while the ‘Caps controlled the end of the game, to start the game, the Portland would come out strongly, getting the better of their rivals through the first few minutes.
They wouldn’t find a way to score, but they’d come close early on, as Pablo Bonilla had a decent sight at goal from distance in the 5th minute, before Sebastian Blanco fired the first big warning shot in the 9th minute, as he sent a left-footed shot off of the crossbar from just at the edge of the six-yard box.
But then, that early pressure would pay off in the 15th minute for Portland, as they then found their opening goal. After a nice passage of attacking play, Cristhian Paredes did well to cut the ball back for Yimmi Chara, and he did well to curl the bar low into the bottom corner, wrapping it just past the hands of Maxime Crepeau in the ‘Caps goal.
For the hosts, it was a big goal, because not only was it a lovely goal that got their home crowd amped up, but it also gave them all of the momentum, giving them a bit of incentive to go on and add to their lead. On the other hand, it was a tough goal to give up for the ‘Caps, because while they were always going to be in tough on the road against Timbers, the last thing they needed was a big hole to climb out of early on in the game.
And Portland wouldn’t stop there, either, as they seemed hungry for more. They continued to press, and it nearly led to a goal in the 25th minute, as Dairon Asprilla forced a nice save out of Maxime Crepeau with a low shot from distance, before Paredes sent a powerful header just over the crossbar on the subsequent corner.
Finally, though, the ‘Caps then started to push some of that pressure the other way in the 28th minute, as they managed to flood some bodies forward into the Portland half, and nearly tied up the game as a result of that, as Marcus Godinho found a bit of space to curl a dangerous left-footed shot from the edge of the box, but he sent his shot just over.
A few moments later, Ryan Gauld whipped in a nice ball off of a corner in the 35th minute, one that Javain Brown did well to connect with, but he sent his header well over the goal, much to the relief of the Portland defenders.
Continuing that push to equalize before halftime, Deiber Caicedo then found a bit of space at the edge of the box in the 39th minute, and he did well to get a powerful shot off, one that would sail just over the Portland goal.
But then Portland, sensing that their opponents were growing a bit too comfortable for their liking, shut down their attempts to equalize in the 42nd minute, when they picked up their 2nd of the match.
After a bit of sloppy defending in the ‘Caps box, the ball fell to Portland’s Asprilla in a fantastic position, and from there, he did well to open up space for himself and rip the ball home, doubling their lead in the process.
It was certainly a deserved goal for the hosts, no doubt, but it was a tough goal to give up for the ‘Caps, who were just growing into the game, but instead, they were left to chase the game for the rest of the
And to give them credit, they nearly responded right away, as Lucas Cavallini found a way to open up some space for himself in the 43rd minute, doing well to unleash a hard shot, but he sent his effort just wide of the post.
But then, half time would come, and with that, a needed break for the ‘Caps, who had a lot of reflecting to do as they tried to fashion a way back into this game. They didn’t necessarily have a bad first half, but Portland were much more ruthless in the key moments, and that’s what allowed them to grab the lead.
So while the ‘Caps certainly needed an improvement in their performance, they also needed to find a bit more of a killer instinct, something they tried to seek in the second half.
To start the second half, though, it’d begin much like the first half, as Portland fashioned a nice chance in the 54th minute, as Felipe Mora found himself a bit of space in the box after a decent cross, but he was unable to turn his volley towards goal, sending it just wide.
At the other end, the ‘Caps then fashioned their first chance of the half in the 54th minute, as Lucas Cavallini stepped up to a relatively dangerous free-kick from about 30 yards out, but his curled attempt lacked power, making it too easy for Steve Clark to save.
And that’d pressure would finally pay off in the 62nd minute, when the ‘Caps finally grabbed their opening goal, which came via a bit of individual brilliance from Deiber Caicedo. After picking up the ball at the half-line with space in front of him, Caicedo then decided to turn the jets and get going, creating a breakaway for himself, before slotting home the ball into the bottom corner to tie up the game.
It might not have been the sort of goal the ‘Caps expected to score, but it was a massive one, as it put them right back into a game they were quickly fading out of, leaving them to be able to still dream of being able to snatch a result with just under 30 minutes to go, making it a key tally in the overall context of the game.
Soon after, though, the next best chance fell to Portland, as Larys Mabiala did well to find a bit of space off of a corner, and he made nice contact on a header, but he sent his shot just over the goal, tickling the top of the net on the way out.
But then, the ‘Caps struck with their second in the 75th minute. It came off of a bit of a broken play, but the ‘Caps managed to make it work, as second-half substitute, Brian White, managed to get on the scoreboard.
After a close call in the box, the ball rolled out to Bruno Gaspar out wide, and he did well to just quickly whip a cross right back into the box, where he’d find White, and despite his header being contested by a defender, White managed to rise highest and thump home a header, tying the game up for the ‘Caps.
It was a massive goal for the ‘Caps, who had done so well to get themselves back in the game after a slow start, and all of a sudden had a chance to pick up all 3 points, giving them all to play for with 15 to go.
And then, the magic happened in the 82nd minute. After a lovely ball from Ryan Gauld, Cristian Dajome did well to make a probing run into the box, and he’d be fouled in the process, winning a penalty for his team.
From there, with the game on his foot, Dajome then cooly stepped up and buried the spot-kick, giving the ‘Caps a surprising lead, but one that was fully deserved after their first half wake-up call.
Somehow, someway, despite seeming down and out of this game, the ‘Caps had made something out of this match, leaving them just needing to hang on as they headed into the last 10 minutes.
A few minutes later, Gaspar nearly got in the action himself, as he had a sight at goal from outside of the box in the 87th minute, but he sent his volley just over the goal, keeping Portland in the game.
But then, the ‘Caps got a nice reminder that the game wasn’t over yet, as Diego Valeri found a bit of space in the box in the 95th minute, and he unleashed a nice shot, sending his effort just wide of the goal. He didn’t score, but he gave the ‘Caps a reminder that their lead wasn’t as sure as it felt, giving them a bit to think about to end the game.
From there, though, the ‘Caps would manage to hold on, avoiding any further scares along the way, finding a way to bring home all 3 points. It wasn’t easy, but they managed to hang on, picking up what might very well be their biggest result of the season.
Thanks to that, they were able to finish the night in a playoff spot, something that they haven’t been able to do for a long time, and more importantly, they gained even more control of their own destiny, as they get set to take on 3 must-win 6 points over the next few weeks.
So while this win was big, it’s just the start of what lies ahead for this team, making it important that they find a way to bottle up what they showed in this game, and channel it into their upcoming matches.
“I think it started a while back, I think you can tell that we’re a team that doesn’t give up,” White said. “Especially on the road it’s always going to be tough, and unfortunately we got two goals [conceded] in the first half, so we knew we had to come in and react.”
“I knew coming off the bench I needed to bring another level of energy and do my best to impact the game. So we’ll fight ‘til the last whistle for every game, every time we’re out on the field. Credit to the guys to hunker down, push forward for three more goals and for the win.”
Player of the Match: Deiber Caicedo
And playing a big part in this victory was Caicedo, whose goal really started to turn the tide for the ‘Caps, allowing them to dream of making the comeback a reality.
Thanks to his work rate on both sides of the ball, he was everywhere for the ‘Caps in this game, and that was huge, as it helped them stay in the proceedings when it seemed like it might slip away from them.
Now, sitting with 5 goals and 5 assists this season for the ‘Caps, he’s been one of the best signings in the league this season, and while he gets forgotten in the conversation sometimes, he remains a very important player on this team, and he reminded people of that on Wednesday.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Marcus Godinho
Otherwise, we picked Godinho as a player to watch in this one, and given that he made his first MLS start on Wednesday, he was certainly worth watching.
It might not have been his best performance, but he had some good looks going forward, doing well to make things happen when he had the ball.
So while he still has some work to do on the defensive side of his game, as he struggled at times in that area during this match, he showed that he can make things happen going forward, making him an interesting player to keep an eye on going forward, as he looks to fight for a long-term contract with the ‘Caps.
Heatmap of the Match:
Moving on, it was a pretty good showing from the ‘Caps in the heatmap department on Wednesday, as they did pretty well to push into Portland’s box, which helps explain their late goal outburst.
At the other end, they struggled a bit more, as they allowed Portland into a lot more dangerous positions than they would’ve liked, but considering that they made up for it with a strong offensive performance, you can live with that.
That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t tighten that up in future games, but it does show that on some nights the best way to defend is by scoring goals, and this was most certainly one of those games.
xG Plot of the Match:
Lastly, it’s interesting to look at the Expected Goals (xG) plot from this game, because it paints a pretty intriguing picture.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that this game would’ve been full of chances, especially when you look at the heatmap, yet the ‘Caps managed to hold Portland to just 1.1 xG, which is pretty impressive.
So while their total of 1.6 xG isn’t much better, it shows that they actually defended a bit better than the scoreline indicated, especially in the second half, allowing them to rescue a result.
But while this victory is massive in the overall context of the ‘Caps 2021 season, as mentioned earlier, the work only really starts now for this team.
With some massive 6-pointers coming up against the San Jose Earthquakes, Minnesota United and LAFC, the ‘Caps need to remain on their A-game heading into those matches, as 3 stiff tests await them there.
After Wednesday’s victory, though, they’ll believe that they can beat anyone, and rightfully so, but it’s important that they stay grounded despite the result, allowing them to prepare for San Jose with the best of their ability.
They’ve done a lot of great work just to get in this position, no doubt, but the last thing that they want to do now is to throw all of that away, so they’ll have to find a way to keep the pedal to the medal as they prepare to take on the ‘Quakes this weekend.
As the playoff push continues, it’s going to be a key battle, and the ‘Caps are well aware of that, so hopefully they can bring the performance to match, perhaps using the film from the second half of this game as inspiration, allowing them to continue to chase their dreams.
“No, no, we don’t look at the other teams, we just look at us,” Sartini said. “They’re going to start to play against each other so they can’t win every game, every time, everything. And today, RSL didn’t play. But they need to win to get up, to be higher than us. So, if we keep playing well and not losing, we’re going to be above the line at the end of the regular season.”
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs San Jose Earthquakes, Saturday, October 23rd, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (Ayava Stadium, San Jose)
Cover Photo via: Portland Timbers/Twitter