VANCOUVER, BC – When the Vancovuer Whitecaps reached a deal with Paraguayan international Andres Cubas, there was a realization — the team could compete with MLS’s best.
On Saturday, the 26-year-old thrived as he lined up alongside Leonard Owusu to face the New England Revolution, a side featuring 2021 MLS MVP Carles Gil and proven goalscorer Gustavo Bou.
Cubas came to the Whitecaps with abundant experience in some of the world’s biggest footballing stages, with Boca Juniors in Argentina and Nimes in the first division of France. However, with the Whitecaps, he’s changed how they go about a match.
With the abundance of skill in MLS attacks, Vancouver had lacked a shutdown player in the midfield since the departure of Matias Laba in 2017, who tremendously filled that role during some of the club’s most successful campaigns.
On Sunday, Cubas showed his qualities against some of the league’s finest attacking talents.
Dropping into deeper pockets before launching himself on opponents, Cubas finds spaces where he can see the plays develop before putting himself in a position to get the ball. Then, when he steps in, it’s with force and often rips the ball away from an opponent rather violently.
Like Laba, and other defensive midfielders who have graced MLS, the tough tackle takes a special touch in North America, and it certainly did on Sunday. Canadian debutant referee Filip Dujic called a foul on Cubas 5 times in just the first half, despite some of the challenges leaning more towards the fair side.
In particular, a challenge in the 11th minute showed what Cubas would have to work on. He went in from behind, which put him in a threatening position to foul, but he got the ball and was still called, partly due to the fact he approached from behind.
While that challenge stood out on the poorer side, Cubas showed his quality in the 36th minute when he ripped the ball off Bou, who had eyes for a goal at the top of the box. Cubas made a pass from the tackle and advanced the Whitecaps into an attacking movement that proved fickle.
In the first half, Cubas ended with 5 tackle attempts, 2 successful tackles, and 3 fouls. He ended the half with a perfect passing percentage, advancing the ball most often to Ryan Gauld and Owusu. Once with Gauld, the play consistently moved forward for the Whitecaps.
“He’s a player whose overall aggressive, and he’s a guy we want to be overly aggressive sometimes,” Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini said. “We need to live with the fact there will be some fouls, but I thought some of those calls could have gone the other way.”
Despite making the tackles and moving the ball forward, the Whitecaps did not have a much-attacking flair in the first half finishing with 0.1 expected goals (xG) after 45 minutes. However, they picked up their pace in the second half, finishing the match with an xG of 1.2.
Cubas, though, isn’t relied on to create these chances. Instead, his job is to get the ball up the field to some more attacking players, and he did that well throughout Saturday night.
As the game wore on, Sartini shifted Cubas into a more attacking role. “It’s the reason we brought [RussellTeibert] on, to help him on the defensive side and let him attack a bit more,” the gaffer said.
Once there, Cubas continued to push the ball up to Gauld, creating a flurry of Whitecaps chances near the end of the match, only to be thwarted by New England’s Djordje Petrovic who earned his first MLS clean sheet.
While Cubas thrives on the ball and in challenges, his positional play is equally important. In the 76th minute, he positioned himself perpendicular to Teibert and continued tracking New England’s midfield. Eventually, his minor adjustments forced the play out wide and to Vancouver’s fullbacks to defend.
“He’s brought a lot of stability that we really needed,” added Whitecaps goalkeeper Cody Cropper. “He’s a dog in the midfield, and he’s very intelligent and sees a lot of things that we needed in our team.”
The 2022 version of the New England Revolution is not the contender of 2021 but still offered a tremendous challenge to Cubas and the Whitecaps on a scorching summer day in Vancouver. Still, despite Cubas’ early strong play, there is a long way to go for the Whitecaps.
Next up, the Whitecaps take on the top team in MLS when they host Los Angeles FC at BC Place. While the Californians won’t feature new signings Georgio Chiellini and Gareth Bale, the likes of Carlos Vela and Latif Blessing will challenge the home side.