The Vancouver Whitecaps took on LAFC in MLS action on Sunday night. Here’s our match report from that one.
It was a chance to head into the international break on a high note.
Instead, a nightmare start to the 2022 MLS campaign continued for the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday, as they fell 3-1 to co-league leaders, LAFC, at the Banc of California Stadium.
It’s hardly a surprising result, as LAFC are one of the favourites to win the 2022 MLS Cup for a reason, but it was still a tough outing for the ‘Caps, who after this result, remain as one of just 4 teams in MLS without a win, sitting with a record of 0W-3L-1D (1 PT).
Because of that, it almost feels like the international break is coming at a perfect time for the ‘Caps, who after this slow start, have limped right into it, desperate to hit the reset button on their season.
And this LA game was just a prime example of why, as despite a strong start, one where they grabbed a surprise lead, things fell off quickly for them as the game went along, allowing LAFC to wrestle back control of the match.
A week after doing the same against the Houston Dynamo, where the ‘Caps grabbed an early lead on the road before falling 2-1, it’s a bit of a concern for the ‘Caps, who you’d like to see leave those sorts of games with points.
“We knew it was going to be hard,” ‘Caps head coach, Vanni Sartini, admitted after.
“We had some good, we had some bad,” ‘Caps defender, Javain Brown, added. “We can’t blame anyone but us, but this is a great group, we’re going to get things right.”
But alas, it’s just been that kind of start to the season for this ‘Caps side so far. Short several key players, and with a tough schedule that has seen them play 3 tough away games already, it just feels like everything that can go wrong for the ‘Caps has already, which is backed up by their record.
Sooner rather than later, they’re going to need to grab results, so it’s just ramped up the pressure to grab wins when they come back from the break, as they look to avoid having their season fall off the rails before it really has a chance to get started.
Despite the doom-and-gloom, however, as mentioned earlier, the ‘Caps did come out strong, as they did well to show some early signs of life right from the opening whistle.
And almost unsurprisingly, that would lead the ‘Caps to draw first blood early on, as they managed to grab an early advantage.
Off of a free-kick won by Marcus Godinho in the 12th minute, Pedro Vite and Sebastian Berhalter both stepped up to stand over it, and there, they decided to do a bit of trickery, as they quickly crossed the ball into the box on a designed play.
There, the ‘Caps were able to catch LA sleeping, as Lucas Cavallini met the ball first with a header, and he got a great shot off, but he’d just find himself narrowly denied by the crossbar.
The good news, however, was that Tristan Blackmon reacted well to that shot, staying in the middle, and he quickly pounced first on the rebound, sliding it home to score his first goal in MLS. Plus, not only that, considering that it was his first game back in the Banc of California Stadium after spending 4 years with LAFC, it was a special goal for other reasons, as well, giving the ‘Caps plenty to be happy about.
Despite that, though, they had to be careful, because while they tried to enjoy their early lead, LAFC was eager to give their fans something to cheer about at the other end. And to give them credit, they nearly did that right after the goal, as Jose Cifuentes did well to react first to a nice cross into the box, and he sent a nice header goalbound, one that was just narrowly denied by a fantastic save from the ‘Caps Thomas Hasal.
But then, the ‘Caps then looked to add to their advantage, showing that they weren’t going to sit back to defend the result. Because of that, they came close to doubling their lead in the 16th minute, as Cristian Dajome found himself on a 2 on 1 with Cavallini, but he played himself into a tight corner, forcing himself to have to shoot from a tight angle on former Whitecap Maxime Crépeau, who made the easy save.
Seeing that, it really started to open the game up, as LAFC managed to win a set-piece in a dangerous position in the 21st minute, where they found the always-dangerous Mamadou Fall in the box off of a cross, and Fall managed to win his header despite Hasal’s best attempts to get out there, only narrowly sending his header over the top of the goal.
And riding that momentum, they were then able to tie things up in the 27th minute, as it was yet another wide ball that proved to be dangerous for them. This time, it’d be Ryan Hollingshead who’d win his header, as he managed to get up onto a nice cross from Carlos Vela, and he made no mistake in nodding it into the net to tie things up.
It was a huge goal, because while LA were really starting to wake up, a second ‘Caps goal could’ve proved to be a mountain too tall to climb, but instead, they hit the reset button on the game with 60 minutes to go.
But from there, once they hit that reset button, they still had to find a way to make the most of it, which meant grabbing a second goal.
So naturally, they’d do that right in the 37th minute, as Vela was given far too much time in the box after a nice ball in, and he made the most of it, burying his home rebound after his first shot was saved by Hasal, giving his team their first lead of the game.
Other than that, though, that’d be all that the first half would have to offer for both sides, which was unfortunate for LAFC, who were just starting to knock on the door, but good for the ‘Caps, who needed to hit the reset button themselves now, much like their opponents did a few minutes earlier.
They’d started brightly in the game, looking like they could indeed make something of a matchup where no one thought that they’d be able to do much, but they had faded quickly, so they needed any sort of push in this second half as they looked to rescue something from this one.
But if they were to do that, they needed to find a way to do so while keeping LA at bay, as they continued to really knock on the door. As a result, they nearly added a 3rd right as the second half kicked off, as Hollingshead got another free header in the box, but this time Hasal would deny him with a nice save.
And continuing their strong start to the half, they’d keep up their hunt for that 3rd into the 51st minute, this time through Mahala, who did well to create a shot for himself on his left foot, only just sending his shot at Hasal.
After that, though, things would die down for a bit, as neither team could find a way to break through the other, leading to a bit of a stalemate.
Then, LAFC broke things back right open in the 68th minute.
First, they nearly added that elusive 3rd through Carlos Vela, as he got a strong shot off from a dangerous area, but Hasal did well to deny him, forcing a corner.
On the ensuing corner, however, the ball fell to Hollingshead in the box, this time at his feet, and he made the ‘Caps pay for leaving him open once again, slashing home a lovely half-volley to further extend his team’s lead.
And, with that, he probably all but confirmed LAFC’s victory, as while there were still 20 minutes left to play, it felt like the ‘Caps just didn’t have enough to push for a victory, barring a minor miracle.
That only be driven home in the 73rd minute, too, as while LAFC wasn’t able to grab their 4th, Mahala came close once again, just narrowly slicing a low shot wide of Hasal’s goal, much to the relief of the ‘Caps goalkeeper.
Finally, the ‘Caps did strike back a bit in the 81st minute, as Deiber Caicedo found a nice pocket at the edge of the box, where he’d unleash a decent strike, just narrowly sending his shot wide of the mark.
Continuing a lively spurt off the bench, Caicedo then found another good pocket in the 90th minute, this time in the box, and he did a lot better to find the frame with his shot too, but from there he’d be blocked by former Whitecap and Canadian international Doneil Henry on the ground, as the defender did well to get down to Caicedo’s low strike.
But other than that, the ‘Caps just wouldn’t be able to muster up anything else, leaving LAFC to cruise to victory, further cementing their spot atop the standings.
On the other hand, the ‘Caps couldn’t be in a further opposite situation than their Californian counterparts, sitting as one of just two teams in MLS’s Western Conference without a win, joining the San Jose Earthquakes at the bottom of the west.
So now, as they head into the international break, they have every reason to want to hit the reset button here, forgetting this start to the year.
A lot of it is out of their control, yes, as injuries and a tough schedule has done them no favours, but they didn’t help themselves either in a lot of these games, as suggested by the results.
The lone bright spot in this start is that despite the lack of wins, they have actually gotten better as a team in all of the games, but the teams around them are improving at a much faster rate, making it imperative that the ‘Caps find a way to hit the ground running when they return in 2 weeks time.
“That’s a building block for us,” Sartini said. “Resetting, working, and going to BC Place for the next 2 games, with the hunger to get points.”
“Everyone wants to win, but I think the team is staying positive because we need our energy to go out and execute the next game,” Brown added.
Player of the Match: Lucas Cavallini
It’s always hard to pick a standout performer in a match like this, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t any befitting of the honour, with Cavallini leading the way in that regard.
So while he might not have scored in this game, he did well to create the opening goal, and found a way to stay involved in the game throughout, finding ways to get on the ball and hold up play.
Considering the ‘Caps struggles to hold onto the ball, finishing with just 38% possession, you’ll take that from Cavallini, who has looked good to start this season.
Considering how he’d often fade out of games last year, often leading to frustrating moments, that he’s doing a much better job of staying in games now and not letting his frustration get the most of him is key, showing why he’s been one of the best ‘Caps through this tough start to the campaign.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Pedro Vite:
Otherwise, one player that we highlighted heading into this match was Vite, as he earned his 2nd MLS start for the ‘Caps, and as expected, he looked very lively in attack for Vancouver.
He did turn the ball over a lot, which was frustrating to watch at times, but he made up for it by helping create some of the best ‘Caps chances of the game, looking dangerous whenever he got space in the final third.
So while you’d like to see a little more consistency from him in terms of that chance creation, as those sorts of giveaways can be costly in a game like this where his team didn’t hold onto much of the ball, you have to be encouraged by the flashes that he showed, as he reminded people why so many in South America were high on him when he was playing in Ecuador.
It’s important to remember that while he has plenty of pro experience, he is just a teenager, and that shows at times, even though he does well to often counteract that with some real moments of quality.
The Big Question:
Can the ‘Caps finally get that win at the Banc?
Not surprisingly, despite a great start, the ‘Caps would be left to rue their Banc struggles until next time after this game, as they’re now winless in 6 games against LAFC away.
Funnily enough, though, they’ve now scored first in 4 of their last 5 games in the stadium, so it’s not as if they’ve been all that bad when they’ve played there, but they just can’t seem to find a way to hold onto leads or come back when they go down, which isn’t a great recipe for winning.
That proved to be the case in this game once again, as despite grabbing onto an early lead, they quickly relinquished it, and then just didn’t do enough to try and win it back.
Stat to Watch:
The league’s best defence plays the league’s worst offence – who wins?
Ultimately, despite an early push from the league’s worst offence in the ‘Caps, catching the league’s best defence in LAFC by surprise, LAFC ended up having the last laugh, as the ‘Caps barely mustered up much else, finishing with just 7 shots, 2 on target, along with just 1.1 Expected Goals (xG).
So while they were full value for their actual goal, as suggested by the xG, they didn’t create a whole lot else, which on a night where you give up 3 goals, was always going to make it hard to win.
It was never going to be easy against LAFC’s defence, no doubt, but the ‘Caps didn’t find a way to make enough things happen offensively, and that was reflected in the scoreline.
So now, the ‘Caps will have an extra week to prepare for their next game, a clash at home against Sporting Kansas City at BC Place, which will hopefully be enough time for them to find their legs as they get set for the next stage of their MLS season.
The good news is that despite the results, the ‘Caps haven’t played that bad as a group, and should welcome back some new faces in the coming weeks with the likes of Ryan Gauld, Brian White, Caio Alexandre and Erik Godoy all slated to return.
Because of that, there is a path for the ‘Caps to grab results, but they need to find a way to both learn from what they’ve seen so far through 4 games, while also finding a way to find a new version of themselves.
“Yeah, I think I think we got to look at the games we played,” Hasal said. “We’ve got to take the positives, and we got to work on them and keep building off that”
So for them, that starts with SKC, and then moves into their next games after that, because while it’s still too early to kill a season, having the losses pile up certainly doesn’t make things easy for later, so the ‘Caps will be best served to get some points on the board before it’s too late.
“I know it seems crazy to be positive after two defeats in a row and after 4 games we haven’t won, but I see a lot of progress,” Sartini said. “A lot of progress in these games, we execute the plan like we’re trying to, we had chances.”
“We knew that coming here, they’re probably the best team in the league in terms of talent, in terms of players that they put on the field, and we played a very brave game.”
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, April 2nd, 17:00 PDT, 20:00 EDT (BC Place, Vancouver)
Cover Photo via: Vancouver Whitecaps