“We showed a lot of improvement”: Vancouver Whitecaps show signs of growth in 0-0 draw vs NYCFC at BC Place

The Vancouver Whitecaps took on New York City FC in MLS action at BC Place on Saturday. Here’s our match report from that one.

It might not have been an opening day to remember, but it wasn’t one to forget, either. 

For the Vancouver Whitecaps, they were probably looking to give their fans a little more to cheer about than they did in their home opener against New York City FC at BC Place on Saturday, but despite that, they still put up a strong performance in a 0-0 draw against the defending MLS Cup Champions. 

And coming off of a 4-0 loss at the hand of the 2020 MLS Cup Champions, the Columbus Crew, away from home in their season opener last week, it was a nice step up from that game, giving the team a boost as they continue to ease into their MLS season here. 

So while it was disappointing to see the ‘Caps unable to keep up the sort of magic that they showed at BC Place last season, where they had a record of 7W-1L-0D on their run to the playoffs, this was ultimately a positive performance. 

There are questions to be asked of the offence still, as the ‘Caps are yet to score through 2 games (and have just 1 shot on target to show for themselves, too), but the defence was miles better in this game, and that was reflected in the clean sheet. 

Because of that, there is a lot to like here if you’re the ‘Caps. They’ll have to be far better across all facets of their game, no doubt, but a draw against the defending champions is never anything to sniff at, especially this early in the season. 

“We have to do much more if you want to win games,” ‘Caps head coach, Vanni Sartini, said afterwards. “Today was enough, in order to not lose, but we need to do much more in order to win games.”

Now, the ‘Caps just need to get back out on the training pitch and continue working on what they started to show in this game, giving them what they need to grab that first victory of this season, maybe as soon as next week when they’ll take on the Houston Dynamo away from home. 

But returning to this game, there’s no doubt that if the ‘Caps continue to battle and tidy up certain areas of their play, as they did for flashes in this one, better results are on the horizon. 

At the same time, one area that the ‘Caps have to work on here?

Coming out of the gates stronger, because despite an even start between both sides, NYCFC would nearly draw first blood in the 7th minute, as Talles Magno found some space in the box, and unleashed a dangerous low strike, but he’d be denied by the strong hands of Thomas Hasal in the ‘Caps goal. 

Then, on the ensuing corner, New York would come close again off a good look on a volley courtesy of Thiago Andrade, but Hasal would deny him as well, keeping his team tied. 

Continuing their strong start, NYCFC would find a bit of space at the edge of the ‘Caps box in the 10th minute, as Maxi Moralez got unleashed in transition, yet he wasn’t able to make much of that chance, sending his shot well wide. 

Right after, it’d continue to be all NYCFC as the half continued, as this time Alexander Callens came close to scoring, doing well to pounce on a cross in the ‘Caps box, only finding himself without a goal due to the crossbar, which he struck with force on his header. 

Because of all that, it felt like a NYCFC goal was imminent, as they were really starting to knock on the door early on. 

But sensing that, the ‘Caps finally woke up and found some life in the 17th minute, as Ryan Gauld did well to unlock Deiber Caicedo on a half-breakaway in transition, and the Colombian did well to open up for a shot on his right foot, one that’d be narrowly blocked before it could reach the target. 

And that’d allow them to really find their legs, as not long after in the 22nd minute, Gauld continued his strong game, finding a streaking Lucas Cavallini in the box on a cross, and the ‘Caps striker would get a good header off, but he’d just be denied by Sean Johnson in the NYCFC goal. 

Seeing that, however, NYCFC would try to reply with a good chance of their own in the 25th minute, with Valentin Castellanos doing well to get open on a corner, where he only narrowly sent his shot over the target on the volley. 

The chances would really start to come in thick and thin at this point, too, as the ‘Caps then immediately went down and nearly scored in the 26th minute. This time, it’d be Cristian Gutierrez, who found some space in the box after a Caicedo cross that just narrowly missed a Cavallini scissor kick attempt, but his curled shot just lacked the accuracy needed to score, sailing narrowly over the target. 

Then, almost in response, Castellanos tried an ambitious effort of his own in the 29th minute, having a go from goal, although his shot would lack the conviction to beat Hasal, who’d save easily. Right after, Castellanos then elected to try and play provider, helping set up Malte Amundsen in the box with some nice interplay, and the left back would try an audacious outside the boot effort, which he just sent over the goal. 

But from there, that’d be all that the first half would have to offer, as both teams would settle down for the rest of the half, as there was not much to talk about. 

And for both sides, that probably left them reasons to be both satisfied and disappointed. On one hand, they would have both preferred to be losing, but considering that NYCFC was on the road, and the ‘Caps were taking on the defending MLS Cup champions, a draw was probably enough to keep both happy. 

At the same time, they still wanted to win, and that was clear to start the half, as they both came out strongly. NYCFC would get the first lick in, as Alfredo Morales got open off of a wide free-kick in the 48th minute, and got a good header off, one that he sent just wide of the mark. 

But from there, the action would die down a bit for the next 15 minutes, other than a Cristian Gutierrez volley that was nicely blocked in the NYCFC box, and a Callens strike that was sent well over the goal, keeping things tied. 

The game would stay that way for the next little while, too, as both teams really seemed content to see out the draw. 

Because of that, the next chance didn’t come until all the way in the 78th minute, when Moralez had a good look in the box, but he sent his shot right over the target. He didn’t have much of a look at goal, to be fair, but it felt like the chances weren’t going to come better than that in this game, making one wonder if that’d be the last good opportunity that either team would see. 

And then came the 89th minute. 

As NYCFC continued to push for a winner, they managed to push the ‘Caps deeper and deeper, making them seem the likelier team to grab the next goal. 

Which led to a game-deciding moment. After some nice work in possession, NYCFC did well to work the ball down the flanks and into the box, where they found Thiago Andrade on the volley, and the Brazilian did well to unleash a powerful strike towards the top of the goal. 

But there, the ball would be met by the strong hands of Hasal, who soared through the air to get a touch on the chance, sending it over for a corner, keeping his team in the game. 

Which, thankfully for the ‘Caps, allowed them to then cruise to the draw, because while they weren’t able to find enough offence to pick up a victory, they avoided throwing away a game that they did well to compete in. 

Ultimately, they just didn’t do enough to win, but they did enough not to lose, making the game a deserved draw.

At home, you’d like to see them come out a bit stronger offensively, giving the crowd more to cheer about, but ultimately, with it still being early in the season, you’ll take that. Especially after the opening day drubbing that they suffered at the hands of the Crew, it was a nice bounceback, one that they’ll certainly take into their clash next week against the Houston Dynamo. 

Now, the next step is winning, but the progress was there, and that’s all you can ask for at this stage, as the ‘Caps ease into the grind that is the MLS season. 

“Team-wise, much better than last week for sure,” Cavallini said afterwards. “We showed a lot of improvement but I think we’re lacking a little bit of intensity, high intensity and just capitalizing on our chances, which shows, zero goals in our last two games. So I mean, still a long season and you know, we just got to believe in each other. A good group of guys here, everybody gets along well.”

Player of the Match: Thomas Hasal 

After last week, some of the chatter surrounding Thomas Hasal was quite interesting, as while it felt like he couldn’t have done much about the 4 goals that his team conceded, there was some strong talk about his performance in some corners, a lot of it negative. 

But showing poise well beyond his 22 years of age, the ‘Caps goalkeeper did well to quell some of that chatter in this game, putting up a very complete performance. 

From the 4 stops that he made, to some of the sweeping actions that he had off his line, as well as some overall solid distribution, it was just a big bounce-back game for Hasal, who showed a lot of flashes that show why the ‘Caps are so high on him. 

There was a reason why they weren’t completely devastated about losing one of the top goalkeepers in MLS in Maxime Crepeau this offseason, so while there’s a lot of work still left for Hasal to do to completely fill those shoes, he took a big step towards one day doing that in this game. 

“I think he was very good today,” Sartini said of Hasal’s game afterwards.

“So I’m happy that he got this performance because, of course, he needs to be confident so Thomas was very, very good today.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Lucas Cavallini

Otherwise, on the subject of individuals, one player that we highlighted heading into this game was Cavallini, who came into this game looking to snap a goalscoring drought that extends back to July 4th of last year. 

And while he didn’t snap it in this game, there was a lot to be encouraged about with his performance. Much as in the opener, where he was one of the ‘Caps better players despite the 4-0 loss, he was very involved, putting up some good chances, while also linking up nicely with his teammates. 

So even though there were some less than positive moments from Cavallini in this game, such as his frustration-driven yellow card, as well as his reaction to coming off as a sub, it was overall a good game from the striker, who started to look a lot more like himself for the first time during this drought. 

The Big Question:

Was last week’s loss just a one-off, or a sign of things to come?

Ultimately, this question ends up being a bit of a wash, as while there were signs of improvement from last week, there were also some aspects of that game that lingered around in this one. 

So if we were to answer it, the answer (for now) would be a maybe. Especially seeing how much the defence improved, yet how much the offence struggled at times, that’s probably the fairest way to put it, while also showing what needs to improve for the ‘Caps going forward. 

Stat to Watch:

Thomas Hasal’s record at BC Place: 3W-1L-0D (9 PTS)

Lastly, one thing that we looked to keep an eye on heading into this game was Hasal’s strong record at BC Place, where he entered this game with a 75% win percentage. 

And while he didn’t really add to that win percentage with this result, the fact that he picked up a clean sheet, his first in the stadium, is huge, and just a sign of that improvement that we highlighted earlier. 

Again, it’s all about growing from here now if you’re Hasal, but it was a great start, one that he can definitely push forward from. 

Miscellaneous: 

Counting Stats:

xG: 

Heat Map:

Looking Forward:

So now, the ‘Caps will look to take what they learned from this match into training this week, as they turn their focus to the Dynamo here. 

It’s going to be a tough game, as the Dynamo are always a tough side to face, especially away from home, but the ‘Caps will feel positive about their chances of getting a result if they build off of what they showed in this game, and for good reason. 

They’re still ways away from their best, no doubt, but progress is on the horizon, which is all you could ask for after the opener. 

Because of that, it’s raised the morale of the squad ahead of that match, one where the ‘Caps will officially look to get off the mark in 2022, really kickstarting their MLS season now here. 

“I think, especially with last week, we were able to come out with a different attitude, really, as well as collectively,” Hasal said afterwards. “You know, it’s always a tough task against the defending champions but the game could have gone either way.”

“This is what we have to bring, we have to bring more and more of this, as this is the game we have to build off. So I think it was much better than last week, we gotta keep going.”

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Houston Dynamo, Saturday, March 12th, 2022, 15:30 PST, 18:30 EST (PNC Stadium, Houston)

Cover Photo via: NYCFC/Twitter

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