The Vancouver Whitecaps took on Sporting KC in MLS action on Saturday night at BC Place. Here’s our report from that one.
It was a great way to get the monkey off their back.
Fresh off a much-needed international break, back at BC Place for just the second time this season, everything was set up quite nicely for the Vancouver Whitecaps as they got set to play their fifth game of the 2022 MLS campaign against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.
Entering this game winless through their first four matches, sitting with a record of 0W-3L-1D in those games, it felt like this game would be a great opportunity for the ‘Caps to put the sour taste of that start behind them.
It wouldn’t be easy, as SKC has always been a team that has seemed to have their number, but with them also going through a bit of a mixed start to the year as well, you did wonder if the ‘Caps could use this game as a springboard towards that first win.
And it’d turn out that they would be able to, as they rode a very solid defensive performance and a clutch Ryan Raposo goal to a tidy 1-0 win, one that’d give their home fans plenty to cheer about.
Not only were they able to grab that first win, but did so off the back of a very solid performance, arguably their best one of the year, continuing to find ways to grow as a team.
Which for the ‘Caps, is huge, as while they’d been struggling as of late, they’d actually been finding ways to get better in each game, but just didn’t find a way to get the results to show for it.
That changed in this game, however, and that’s hoped to be a real game-changer for this team’s season, as they look to get things back on track now.
“(It feels) really good,” ‘Caps head coach, Vanni Sartini, said after the game. “For the win, of course, but also for the performance. We were clearly the better team on the pitch, we had all the chances, we played in their half.”
With a decent schedule in front of them now, as things have evened out after a tough start filled with hard away games and tough opponents, it feels like they can really go on a run here, provided that they find a way to keep building off of what they did in this game.
So although this might not have been the prettiest win that they’ve gotten in recent years, as it really took a gritty effort to get things over the line, it will be a huge boost of confidence for a group badly in need of one, making this a key result.
“It took a group of warriors, ‘Caps midfielder, Russell Teibert, said of this win. “It took a team that was resilient, it took a team that put the team before the individual and you saw a real team performance from the first minute.”
And when we see it was a pretty scrappy game, you better believe that it was. Right from the start, neither team could really find a foothold on the match, leaving them to duke it out for positioning, which paved the way for a cagey first few moments of the game.
As a result, it took until the 13th minute for either side to attempt any sort of shot attempt, when SKC’s Khiry Shelton decided to have a go from distance, but he probably wished he chose differently when he slashed at his attempt, sending the ball wide of the mark.
But while it wasn’t the greatest attempt, you did wonder if that would open the game right up, leading both teams to ramp up the effort level.
Unfortunately, though, it wouldn’t, as the next attempt didn’t come until the 24th minute, when Ryan Gauld managed to get on the end of a nice low Javain Brown cross, and he sent a decent flicked shot towards goal, but his shot sailed well wide of the mark.
After that, however, the ‘Caps would find some momentum, leading to their best chance of the game up to that point just a few minutes later. Having done well to find some space out wide, Deiber Caicedo managed to look up and find the streaking run of Brian White with a low cross, and White got to the ball first, but SKC’s goalkeeper, Tim Melia, just managed to get out far enough to cut down the angle and save White’s first-time shot attempt to keep the game level.
Other than that, though, that’d be all that the first half would have to offer. A late potential penalty shout from Shelton aside, there really wasn’t all too much to write home about in that first stanza, as both teams seemed content to stay in this sort of waiting game phase.
And that wasn’t a bad thing, as the ‘Caps would certainly have no complaints about how things were shaping up as they got to half, given that they were actually playing pretty well, but at the same time, it felt like they were going to need a goal sooner rather than later.
So as they got set to come out for the second half, you’d only wonder if they’d find the energy in the dressing room to make it happen, or if a 0-0 draw would end up being the final outcome.
The good news, though? That’s something that the ‘Caps clearly looked at in the dressing room, as they then came out strong, nearly grabbing the lead right in the 46th minute, as Gauld got on the end of a nice ball into the box, with his flicked header only finding itself denied by Melia.
But as they chased a goal, they still had to be wary of the SKC threat, and they got a nice reminder of that in the 52nd minute, when the always-dangerous Daniel Salloi found space for a shot in transition, and he unleashed a good one, but his attempt would be saved nicely by Thomas Hasal in the ‘Caps goal.
At the same time, they continued to knock on the door, and nearly were rewarded for that in the 62nd minute, as a nice ball into the box found a wide-open Lucas Cavallini at the back post, but the second-half substitute would then send his header too close to Melia for an easy save.
Then, however, the game would really start to open up, as SKC managed to create their best chance of the game in the 65th minute. On another transition moment, they managed to find their veteran midfielder, Roger Espinoza, wide-open at the back post, and Espinoza made decent contact on his shot, but much like Cavallini’s earlier header, his attempt would be too close to Hasal.
Continuing that frenetic pace that the game was starting to be played at, that then led the ‘Caps to get their best chance of the game in the 68th minute, as Russell Teibert found himself in a great pocket at the edge of the box after a nice Ryan Raposo cutback, where he only narrowly sent his curled shot wide of the post.
And thanks to that, the ‘Caps would then finally find their opening tally in the 72nd minute. After some nice interplay, the ball would fly into the box, where it’d find the late run of Ryan Raposo, who had snuck into the box from his spot at left wing back.
There, he’d do the rest, taking the ball down and then slotting it into the bottom corner, giving his team the lead, while scoring the first MLS goal of his career in the process.
For the ‘Caps, that was massive, as they’d been knocking on the door all half, but you worried if their bad luck from the rest of the season would continue. Instead, though, Raposo had seemed to have ensured that wouldn’t be the case, putting the ‘Caps in a position to grab that elusive first win.
But now in that position, you did wonder if they’d sit back and try to protect the lead, or try and push for more.
Which, almost surprisingly, ended up being the latter, as Caicedo had a nice look in transition down the right side, and unleashed a strong shot, just sending his shot wide of the post.
At the other end, though, SKC would continue to knock on the door despite that, and they came close in the 81st minute, as Marinos Tzionis had a nice look from distance, but much like many of his teammate’s attempts before him, he’d send his shot right at Hasal.
Yet, that wouldn’t push the ‘Caps down, as they then got a good chance in the 86th minute through Cavallini, who fashioned some space for a shot in transition, and got decent contact on his attempt, although that would ultimately mean nothing as he still sent the shot well wide.
And from there, the ‘Caps would manage to sit back and hold on the rest of the way, doing what they needed to do in order to finish the job, picking up their first win of the season in the process.
It wasn’t pretty at times, as they certainly had to grind and claw against this SKC side, but at the end of the day, the ‘Caps did what they needed to do defensively, took advantage of one of their chances offensively, and as they say, the rest was history.
For a team that hadn’t done that often enough this year, often finding themselves on the wrong end of moments in games, unable to capitalize on good performances, to see them finally do so in this game was a huge plus, especially given the nature of their start.
So now, they have to build off of that, starting next week with a crucial all-Cascadia matchup with the Portland Timbers at home, but if they do, as they showed in this game, there’s no reason why they can’t keep the good times going with a big result in that one.
“Winning is a contagious feeling,” Teibert said. “This group is such a good group, we’ve played well so far this season, but this was our best performance from the 1st minute to the 90th.”
“It was a good performance for us to build on, it was a character-building performance.”
Player of the Match: Ryan Raposo
It was a huge day for Raposo on Saturday, as not only did he score his first MLS goal, but did so in his first start at BC Place as a Vancouver Whitecap, with his mother also in attendance.
So maybe seeing that, it shouldn’t have been all that surprising to see him play as he did in this one, but despite that, there were a lot of question marks surrounding him heading into this game. Normally a winger or an attacking midfielder, seeing that he was thrust in at wing back was a big surprise, one that had many wondering if Sartini had made the right decision.
But despite that, Raposo made sure to repay his coach’s faith in him in a big way, not just with the goal, but with his overall performance. All night long, he did well to get up and down the wing, doing some good damage in the final third, making it fitting that he ended up getting on the scoresheet as he did, with it just being a due reward for his good play.
Because of that, it’s going to be interesting to see if he’s now able to earn more minutes off the back of this. Always one of the hardest working players on this side, it felt like an opportunity like this was overdue, and given how he took it, you wouldn’t be surprised if this leads to a run of games for him now with the ‘Caps.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Brian White
Otherwise, one player we highlighted heading into this one was White, who after struggling with injuries all year long, made his first start of the season in this one.
And while he didn’t get on the scoresheet, it was a tidy return for the ‘Caps forward, who looked like his usual self up front. Despite that lack of a goal, he really made his presence felt on the field, doing all sorts of dirty work for his team on both sides of the ball.
But that’s part of the reason why he was so missed. He might not be your most physically gifted striker, or technically sound striker, but he just does so many little things well, and he showed that again in this game.
So as he works back to full fitness, you have to be encouraged by his performance, because if he keeps it up, you feel like the goals will be on the way again, allowing him to continue the hot run he finished off last year on.
The Big Question:
Will we finally see strikers Brian White and Lucas Cavallini get a run of minutes together?
Elsewhere, our big question centred around White and fellow striker Cavallini, but the answer ended up being no, as while both played, Cavallini ended up coming on for White at around the 58th minute.
So while both players actually had pretty strong games, with Cavallini especially doing a great job on the goal, the mystery of what they’d look like together will go on for another day, making one wonder when we’ll finally see it from the start.
Stat to Watch:
Will the ‘Caps winless run extend to 8?
Lastly, our stat to watch was related to the fact that the ‘Caps were actually slumping quite badly heading into this game, even if it didn’t feel like that (the fact that this stat dates back to last season does help, to be fair).
The good news, however, was that they made sure to stop that slump with this win tonight, ensuring that they wouldn’t match their worst slump from last season, which would’ve been the case had they lost.
So now, the key will be to turn this around completely, going on the sort of lengthy unbeaten run that then saved their campaign after they bumped that big slump last year, finding a way to string together a few victories now.
So now, all that’s left for the ‘Caps is to now turn this win into a streak, something they can start doing with a big result over those Timbers next week.
It won’t be easy, as Portland is always a tough team for a reason, but with the Timbers also struggling a bit more than usual to start the year, the ‘Caps could find a way to grab something, especially considering that they’re at home.
Because of that, it’ll be imperative that the ‘Caps find a way to come out strong and get that win. It’s bold, but for a team that wants to make the playoffs, winning these sorts of home games is a must, especially after the start that they’ve had.
And seeing how good it felt just to bust this slump, they’ll have no reason to want to stop those good times any time soon, so look for them to do everything they can to let their fans sing ‘Stand By Me’ at the end of next week’s match, as they do after each victory.
“The fans play a big role,” Sartini said. “Anytime the energy goes a little down, you’re immediately cheered up to go to 100% again.”
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Portland Timbers, Saturday, April 9th, 2022, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (BC Place, Vancouver)
Cover Photo via: Vancouver Whitecaps