The Vancouver Whitecaps maintained their hot run of form on Saturday with a win over LAFC. Here’s a look at the ‘Caps form as of late, and what’s working as they’ve vaulted to the top of the MLS form standings.
Sometimes, it’s all about the result.
Of course, the process is just as important, but on some nights, it’s all about getting the job done.
And on Saturday, it was one of those nights for the Vancouver Whitecaps, who faced off against an LAFC side currently top of the MLS standings, in great form as of late.
Always a tough matchup, it was never going to be easy for the ‘Caps, but thanks to some good luck, they did have some key factors in their favour as they got set to take on LA.
From the fact that they were rested, while LA wasn’t, to go along with the fact that they were playing at home, and against a relatively depleted side, there was no doubt that the ‘Caps entered this game in a bit of a fortunate position.
At the same time, that would all mean nothing if they didn’t take advantage of it, leaving them needing to go out and grab a result, no matter how tall the challenge.
Which, to give them credit, they did, snatching a 1-0 win at the death thanks to the boot of new signing, Andrés Cubas, who opened his MLS account in style to ensure his team would leave with all three points.
It might not have been a vintage ‘Caps home performance, especially in the first half, but after a late push, they managed to earn the reward that their efforts deserved, even if it wasn’t probably how they planned it.
Yet, at the same time, that’s been the ‘Caps as of late. Ever since May 8th, they’ve got a record of 6W-2L-2D (20 PTS), meaning that they’ve picked up the most points of any MLS team over that span, just ahead of the Seattle Sounders (19) and CF Montréal (15).
It hasn’t always been pretty, as the ‘Caps have the fifth-lowest Expected Goals (xG) for per game, and are middle of the pack in terms of xG against and Expected Goal differential, but thanks to some timely scoring, some defensive improvements and some good goalkeeping, they’ve been getting the job done lately.
Especially at home, where they’ve lost just once this season, it’s been night-and-day for the ‘Caps compared to the beginning of the campaign, where they had a record of 1W-6L-1D (4 PTS) through their first eight games.
“I think it’s because of three things,” ‘Caps head coach, Vanni Sartini, said afterwards. “First of all, it’s the players, they believe in what we do when we push. Second, a huge shoutout to our performance department, they’re not mentioned too much, Jon Poli is our head of fitness preparation and all the people he works with, not only on the fitness staff, as well as the physio, they allow the players to be always on top of condition to the end.”
“And then third, shoutout to the coaching staff because doing rotations and playing everyone makes it so we always have players ready at one hundred percent.”
But this latest victory is just the latest example of what’s changed for these Whitecaps as of late.
Faced off against an LA side deploying a bit of a new-look 5-3-2, one that was used both out of necessity and as a counter to the ‘Caps free-flowing 3-5-2, LA came out with the intent of slowing the game down and dominating play in the middle of the park.
And through the first 45, their plan worked to perfection, as they kept the ‘Caps extremely quiet, with two shots and 0.1 xG all the hosts had to show for themselves through that first 45.
Then, they broke things wide-open. Through some smart subs, as well as a tactical shift from the 3-5-2 to a 3-4-2-1, they started to wear down LA, racking up nine shots, including two on target, as they tried to batter down the hatches.
So although not all of them were of high quality, as they amounted for just 0.5 xG, the intent was most definitely there, making Cubas’s goal a well-deserved one in the end.
As a result, it’s allowed the ‘Caps to continue their slow push back up the standings, one that hasn’t been easy, but sees them finish this game tied for a playoff spot, just two points off the top four in the West.
The approach might not be one that is entirely conventional, but it’s getting the job done, which is all that matters right now.
Despite scoring just seven out of their 19 goals in the first half this year, including just one first-half goal at home, they keep finding a way to get things done late, even if some of the starts have left something to be desired.
But having crested the halfway mark of this MLS season, they’re in pretty good shape, all things considered, and still have time to iron out the kinks that still dog them at this stage.
After the start that they had, that’s all they can ask for, setting the table for a fun summer, especially as the support continues to grow around the team.
As seen when 18 000+ roared in unison at Cubas’s goal, it’s a fun time to watch the Whitecaps right now, so they’re going to look to keep those good times rolling into what lies ahead later this year.
Photo Credit: Beau Chevalier (IG: @shotby.beau Twitter: @beauchevalier_)