The Vancouver Whitecaps took on Columbus Crew in MLS action on Saturday. Here’s our report from that one.
It was a less than ideal result, no matter how you cut it up.
Be it through the scoreline, or the overall performance, and everything else that led to it, the Vancouver Whitecaps had a season opener to forget on Saturday, as they fell 4-0 to the Columbus Crew to kick off their 2022 MLS campaign.
After a strong end to last season, one that saw them ride a strong second half of the campaign to a surprise playoff berth, their first such qualification in 4 years, the ‘Caps had high expectations heading into this year.
Because of that, it makes this result quite a disappointment for the ‘Caps. After looking like one of the more dynamic and exciting teams in the league for flashes of that second half of the 2021 season, they looked a lot more like the unit that was among the worst in the league for most of the 2.5 seasons that preceded that run.
“The result speaks for itself,” ‘Caps head coach, Vanni Sartini, said simply to sum up the game afterwards.
At the same time, though, these sorts of games can happen, so it’s not the end of the world quite yet for Sartini’s side. It’s game #1 of 34, so it’s not as if the ‘Caps playoff hopes are cooked after the game, even if it might feel like a big disappointment.
This only puts the pressure on them to ramp it up heading into their next game, of course, as the last thing that they’ll want to do is to start the season on the wrong foot with a string of losses once again, but this isn’t a complete disaster, even though it might’ve felt that way.
So now, the ‘Caps will look to turn their eyes to what lies ahead of them next here, which is their home opener against New York City FC a week from now.
They showed a lot of negative things in this game, yes, but they also had several good learning moments, so if they can find a way to take those into next week, they can find a way to improve.
It’s easier said than done, of course, but after a start like that, the only way to go is up, and they’ll hope that can be the case next week.
“We need to forget this result,” Sartini said. “(But also) don’t forget the things that we have better at, because next week there’s another top team coming to BC Place, and we need to be better.”
But as for this game, they didn’t get much of a view of the bright side, at all, as the game quickly developed into a bit of a one-way affair right from the get-go.
Early on, the Crew would nearly get off to a dream start right away, as their dangerman, Lucas Zelarayan, found some space at the edge of the box after a sloppy ‘Caps turnover in the 3rd minute, and he nearly made them pay for it, just sending his shot over the mark.
Right after, Zelarayan continued his strong start into the 5th minute, as he did well to find Milos Degenek off of a corner, and the big Australian got a strong header off, sending his shot just wide of the ‘Caps goal.
And those warning signs would prove to be ominous, as in just the 9th minute, the Crew turned one of them into a goal.
Ironically enough, it’d arguably come off of the least clear-cut of the three chances that they had through the first few minutes, too, as Miguel Berry found a pocket at the edge of the box, where he unleashed what seemed to be a pretty tame chance.
Despite that, however, it’d be enough to find the goal, as it’d bounce off of two ‘Caps defenders in Jake Nerwinski and Ranko Veselinovic before trickling past a wrong-footed Thomas Hasal in the ‘Caps net.
It was a tough goal to give up for the ‘Caps, no doubt, as they’ll certainly feel unlucky that it happened as it did, but at the same time, it was coming, as the Crew just got what they had deserved early on.
And it’d just be the start of what’s to come from the Crew, who kept on knocking. Their next best look would come into the 17th minute, as Artur found himself in space at the edge of the ‘Caps box, in what was becoming a theme for the hosts, but his shot would be right at Hasal.
Then, a few minutes later, Berry did well to find Derrick Etienne Jr also at the edge of the box, and the Crew winger also went for a shot, but much like too many of their chances, It’d be sent right at Hasal.
But soon in the 26th minute, Etienne Jr would get a chance to atone for his earlier error, as MLS debutant, Yaw Yeboah, did well to find Etienne Jr all alone in the ‘Caps box, and the longtime MLS veteran made no mistake with an outside the boot finish to double his team’s lead.
For the Crew, they were in dreamland, as they were rolling through the early stages, but for the ‘Caps, it was more of a nightmare, as they’d gotten off to arguably the worst start possible through the first 30 minutes.
And it was a dream they wouldn’t wake up from soon, either, as the Crew continued to chase another goal. They’d come close to doing so in the 34th minute, as Artur had another good look at goal from a distance, but he’d just tickle the wrong side of the top of the net with his shot.
So seeing the dominance that Columbus had through the first 35 minutes, it almost felt calming to see the ‘Caps escape the rest of the half without any further damage, other than a few deflected shots that came close.
There was still a big hill to climb still, of course, of which it felt unlikely that they’d do over the next 45, but to only be down 2-0 despite all that they’d given up almost felt like a positive, showing how tough of an opening half it was for them.
Because of that, it was interesting to see how the ‘Caps would react to their fast start. Obviously, it didn’t help that the Crew came out flying in front of their home fans, but there was no doubt that the ‘Caps could’ve offered far more resistance, which was surely a goal as they got set to tackle the next half.
Which to give them credit, they then started to slowly do.
It didn’t turn into much right away, but they pushed the Crew back, and they nearly halved the deficit in the 47th minute through Cristian Dajome, who took advantage of a deep-lying Columbus backline to cut in and unleash a shot, but his effort sailed just wide.
But then, that positive start would be short-lived, as while they were doing some damage going forward, they were far too loose at the back. That would be evident when Nerwinski was left to defend a chance as the last man, and he’d just get stuck on the wrong side of his man, forcing him to foul, giving him his second yellow card of the game to put his team down to 10 men.
And with that, the momentum shifted right back to Columbus, who started to push back, and they’d nearly come close to finding the net on a few occasions, as Yeboah came close off of a dangerous header in the 54th minute, before Etienne Jr narrowly forced a save out of Hasal from a tight angle in the 55th minute.
A few minutes later, they’d continue to knock on the door, as Artur had yet another good look at goal from distance, and he unleashed a rocket, this time hitting it off the crossbar, continuing a night of near-misses for the Columbus man.
At the other end, the ‘Caps finally looked to answer back with something of their own, as Lucas Cavallini had a good look in the 65th minute, but his shot would just be deflected, sending it wide.
That flash of optimism would be short-lived, however, as the Crew would then finally find their 3rd in the 83rd minute. This time, it would be a sub, too, as Luis Diaz did well to get first to a loose ball in the ‘Caps box, before ripping his shot home into the roof of the net.
Then, things just got from horrible to somehow worse, as Zelarayan then carved through the ‘Caps defence in the 87th minute, and he ripped home a shot on his left foot, beating Hasal at his near post to make it 4-0.
But the good news about that goal for the ‘Caps was that while it put them down by a big scoreline, that’d be the last of the tallies that they’d have to collect out of their own net on the afternoon, as the game would finish 4-0.
Other than a late chance from the ‘Caps 19-year-old debutant sub, Emiliano Brienza, who found the wrong side of the side netting with a powerful strike, that’d be all that the game would have to offer.
So thanks to that, it allows the ‘Caps to now focus on their next match, their home opener next week at BC Place against defending MLS Cup champions, New York City FC, in what should be another tough game.
Because of that, it’s going to be imperative that the ‘Caps find a way to improve from what they showed in this game. Of course, it was always going to be tough to win in Columbus away, but they certainly needed to be a lot better to even have a chance, as they were just second-best too often on the afternoon, making this result a fair one.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” Sartini said. “And I think when we were trying to press them we were always one or two seconds late, and it was easy for them to play through us.”
The good news out of all this, however? This is just the first game of the season, so while the result was an unfortunate one, the ‘Caps still have 33 games left to try and sturdy the ship.
They might’ve found some choppy waters in this game, to be fair, but they’ll hope that sunnier days are ahead, showing that this game was just a small blip on the radar, instead of a sign of what could be on the horizon.
“It’s a wake-up call,” Sartini said. “It’s a wake-up call that our level needs to be better, and we really need to be more humble and hungry (going forward).”
He added: “And I think it’s better that you have a wake-up call like this instead of having a game that maybe you tie being very, very lucky, that’s the only thing that I would say is nice of this game, it’s a wake-up call that we need to get better, and we’ll do it next week.”
Player of the Match: Pedro Vite
It’s always going to be hard to pick a player of the game in a match like this, and it certainly was the case here, but that doesn’t mean that there were players who didn’t stand out, and one of those names was Pedro Vite.
He wasn’t on the field for long in this game, as he came off the bench in just the 65th minute to make his MLS debut, but he made the most of the time that he was on the pitch, looking quite comfortable.
Despite having to come into a side that was down 2-0 and short a man, he looked very well like a player that could do some damage at this level, showing why many were excited about last year’s late signing to finally get a chance to get going this year.
So even though his debut didn’t come in the most ideal of circumstances, there was a lot to like with his performance here, and that should hopefully lead to more minutes for the promising 19-year-old Ecuadorian.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Ryan Gauld
Otherwise, one player that we looked to keep an eye on in this game was the ‘Caps biggest attacking threat, Ryan Gauld, as he kicked off his 2nd season in MLS, his first full year with the club.
And while he didn’t have the impact that he often had at times last season, where he’d often score or assist in big games on the ‘Caps run, he still had a pretty decent game considering the circumstances here.
Considering that he hardly got to see the ball in the final third, that he finished with 1 shot and 1 key pass, while completing 5/5 of his dribbles and 78% of his passes is solid, especially when he added 1 interception and 3 tackles at the other end.
So even though it wasn’t a typical Gauld performance in the output we’re used to seeing, he did what he could in tough circumstances, and hopefully, he’ll find a way to build off of that going forward.
The big question:
After a strong end to 2021, will Brian White get off to a hot start in this game?
The answer here would, unfortunately, be no, as White was ruled out of the game with a knock, and the ‘Caps looked to miss him given their offensive struggles. Will be very interesting to see if he can make it back in time for the home opener now.
Stat to Watch:
The Vancouver Whitecaps have never opened an MLS season officially designated as the road team, making this the first time they’ve had to do so in their 12 years as an MLS franchise.
The ‘Caps will certainly hope that this is the last season opener they play on the road after this scoreline, that’s for sure.
So now, all that’s left for the ‘Caps to do is to head back to Vancouver and get stuck back into training ahead of next week, where they’ll look to avenge this loss in their home opener.
It won’t be easy, as NYCFC is one of the favourites in MLS this season for a reason, and will look to want to come out strong after seeing what the Crew were able to do here, so the ‘Caps will need to ensure that their performance is far better next week.
The good news is that based on what we saw last year, they can be a lot better than this, so while this is a new year, where everything is different, that does give a sign that better things could be to come.
Sometimes, you have to take a step backward before getting back on the front foot, and the ‘Caps will be banking that this performance is an example of that, allowing them to do what they were unable to do in this game and pick up where they left off last season.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs New York City FC, Saturday, March 5th, 2022, 15:00 PST, 16:00 EST (BC Place, Vancouver)
Cover Photo via: Vancouver Whitecaps