After a contrasting weekend for both of the Vancouver Whitecaps teams, we look back at how those two teams did, and what it means for the club going forward.
It continues to be a tale of two seasons for the pair of Vancouver Whitecaps teams, their MLS and MLS Next Pro sides.
And there is no better example of that than this past weekend, where both sides were in action, and much as they’ve done this year, achieved very different results than the other.
On one side, there’s the Whitecaps first team, who continued a nightmare start to their MLS campaign with a 3-0 loss to Austin FC, one that drops them to a 1W-6L-1D (4 PTS) record to start the year.
But on the other side, there’s the ‘Caps second team, consisting mostly of younger players in the team’s system, who continued to roll in MLS Next Pro action. There, they extended a four-game undefeated run with a 4-1 over Sporting Kansas City II, giving them a 2W-1L-2D record on the year (9 PTS).
Yet, that shows how it’s really been a tale of two different campaigns for both sides, who despite being closely aligned with the other, couldn’t be seeing any different results.
As a result, it only makes one wonder if any solution that the first team finds to solve their woes might include the second team. Given how good the pair of players to make the step up this year, Emiliano Brienza and Ali Ahmed, looked in their limited opportunities, that could prove to be a potential solution for the struggling Vancouver side.
No matter what happens, however, there is a lot to like with this ‘Caps second team, one that will certainly be graduating players up the ranks eventually, if not soon.
So seeing that, here’s a look at how both teams’ respective matches went down this weekend, as they continued their divergent paths away from each other.
Whitecaps vs Austin:
Facing off against one of the hottest teams in MLS, away from home, it was always going to be a tough test for the ‘Caps.
Entering this match mired in one of their worst starts in their 12 seasons in MLS, the ‘Caps were just looking to take any sort of positives out of this match, especially considering how good this Austin side has been to start the 2022 MLS season.
Knowing that a week off awaits them next weekend, leading into a nice stretch of home games, any sort of momentum gained ahead of that stretch was going to be a big plus for the ‘Caps, giving them an incentive to want to grab something out of this one.
And considering how they started, they seemed to realize that. Brian White came close inside just five minutes, forcing a decent save out of Austin’s Brad Stuver, giving hope that the ‘Caps would come out to play.
But then, Austin woke up, and things went south quickly for the ‘Caps.
First, longtime ‘Caps killer, Maxi Urruti, buried home from inside of the box with a powerful finish after a nice run into the area in the 11th minute. Then, not satisfied with that first goal, he then outdid that with a wonderful finish from distance in the 26th minute, catching the low corner with a rocket of a shot.
From there, that pretty much ended the game before it really got started for Vancouver. Of course, they were still in the game, but considering that Austin was knocking on the door, it felt like a matter of time until they grabbed a third as they reached half time.
Despite that, the ‘Caps did show a bit of fightback to start the second half, nearly halving the lead via Cristian Dajome in the 45th minute, but he slashed at what was a great opportunity at the edge of the box, giving Austin a lifeline.
And having dodged that bullet, the rest of the match would be all Austin, only capped off when Sebastian Driussi finished home from inside the area in the 68th minute, giving his team a third goal and confirming all three points for them on the night.
“It’s not enough,” ‘Caps head coach, Vanni Sartini, said afterwards. “It was clear today that we have to mainly up the quality of our game in every part, because we’ve been very naive.”
As a result, it leaves this ‘Caps team with all sorts of questions to answer after eight games. Not only do they have just four points from those eight games, a bad enough record on its own, but they’re also now officially last in MLS due to that, leaving them with a big mountain to climb.
On top of that, they are seemingly taking steps back each week, erasing the progress they had slowly appeared to have been making through the first few games of the season, making it hard to imagine how they’ll climb out of this rut.
So while there are silver linings to cling onto, such as the fact that they are missing some key players due to injury, and have a bunch of home games ahead, at a certain point they need results.
Plus, they don’t have much time to fix all of that, as the next three weeks loom large for them. After their bye this weekend, which they only got as their game with the Seattle Sounders was postponed after their qualification to the CONCACAF Champions League final, they host a red-hot Toronto FC team the weekend after, and then start their Canadian Championship journey a few days later.
And there, they could stand to define their season. Against a Valour FC team rounding into form nicely in Canadian Premier League action, even grabbing a 6-1 win against Atletico Ottawa this weekend, that game will not be easy for the ‘Caps, even if they’re at home.
Especially given their record against CPL teams in the Canadian Championship (0W-2L-1D), they’ll have to be careful not to add a third loss to that list, knowing that it could potentially define their campaign.
Because of that, it’s going to be interesting to see how the ‘Caps respond to that test. They’re far from out of MLS contention, and they do have a favourable Canadian Championship draw ahead of them, but that could all be very different in a few weeks’ time.
The 2022 season is far from over from the ‘Caps, but they’ll need to inject some life back into it pronto, making this month of May a crucial one for them.
“We need to start winning games,” Sartini said. “We need to change everything in the sense of the quality of the work, we need to get out of our comfort zone. We need to get out of the fact that we need to reevaluate everything, from the depth chart, even the way of playing that this year, it’s not working.”
WFC 2 vs SKC:
But while the ‘Caps first team continues to figure out how to stop the bleeding on their end, their second team, WFC II, continued to roll in MLS Next Pro action on Sunday.
In their second home game of the season at Swangard Stadium, they picked up their second consecutive win with their 4-1 result over Sporting KC II, doing well to build off a tidy road win over the Tacoma Defiance from last weekend.
Not only that, but they did so while playing some fun and expensive soccer, too, looking like a fluid and cohesive unit. Unlike the first team, who is struggling to do basic things right now, the second team has continued their rapid growth, looking like a potential team to beat in MLS Next Pro.
And this game was a prime example of that.
Right from the beginning, they came out and put the pedal to the medal, putting pressure on their guests. Despite an early scare from SKC’s Julian Vazquez, who rattled the bar inside the first 10 minutes, the ‘Caps would grab a commanding 2-0 lead in the first half, thanks to goals from Simone Masi and Emiliano Brienza just minutes apart.
First, it would be Masi, who did well to tap the ball home at the near post off of a corner in the 23rd minute, before Brienza tapped home a great cross from Chris Lee at the back post from open play in the 25th minute.
Then, Filip Rakic would pot his team’s third with a tidy finish after rounding the SKC goalkeeper in the 67th minute, really sending his team off to the races.
And from there, they’d then respond to conceding a goal from SKC’s Michael Lenis from a tight angle by scoring a fourth via Joe Hanson in the 84th minute, who roofed home on his left foot after a great ball into his feet from Ali Ahmed.
As a result, they’d be able to cap off what was a pretty memorable victory in front of their home fans, their first home win back at Swangard, showing that while the present might not be the most exciting for the ‘Caps, the future certainly isn’t looking bad.
Playing fun, direct and expansive soccer, they’re executing a lot of the principles that the first team just isn’t finding a way to do right now, so far showing good growth in the early days of their project.
“We pride ourselves on possession-based football, building up from the back,” WFC II coach, Nick Dasovic, told BTSVancity after the game.
“Development for the players, it’s about developing, yes, but also about winning and finding what’s your poison.”
So seeing that, might we now see more ‘Caps youngsters get a shot with the first team? It’s hard to say, as that’ll ultimately depend as much on luck as it does anything else, but if they’re called upon, they’ll be ready, no matter the circumstances.
“This is a process,” Dasovic said. “They put in the hard work, and if the guys are going to work hard, they’re gonna get the chances.”
And hey, considering both sides train side-by-side, with some players bouncing between the groups, maybe that second team magic will rub off on the first team soon, allowing them to pick things back up, preparing them for the stretch that lies ahead.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs Toronto FC, Sunday, May 8th, 13:00 PDT, 16:00 EDT (BC Place, Vancouver)
WFC II vs SJE II, Saturday, April 30th, 15:00 PDT, 18:00 EDT (Swangard Stadium, Burnaby)
Cover Photo via: Vancouver Whitecaps