The Vancouver Whitecaps got things done in style on Friday, nabbing a key comeback win over the Houston Dynamo. Here’s a look at how they were able to do that, with the assist of some unlikely heroes.
The kids are most certainly alright for the Vancouver Whitecaps right now.
During a week in which their very youthful women’s side became inaugural champions of League 1 BC, the Whitecaps continued to rely on youth at the MLS level, too, as they managed to pick up a crucial three points in MLS action this weekend.
Despite missing six regulars due to COVID protocol, and with a whole host of players either injured or unfit to play much of a role, the Whitecaps still found a way to take down the Houston Dynamo by a score of 2-1 at BC Place on Friday.
Thanks to two goals in the 88th and 92nd minute, the Whitecaps managed to erase what was an otherwise uneventful performance from them, one that seemed destined to end in a loss for them in front of their home fans. Instead, they ensured that their home losing streak wouldn’t extend to three, picking up what could be a season-saving result for them, as they now sit just two points below the playoff bar.
And playing a big role in that comeback? The insertion of youngsters, Ali Ahmed and Simon Becher, who after earning a short-term loan from the Whitecaps’ second team earlier this week, helped out the first team in a big way on Friday.
It certainly caught people by surprise, as entering the game, the pair had just a combined one MLS game under their respective belts, which came from Ahmed when he got a stint against Austin FC back in April, making it hard to see how much of a role they’d be able to play on Friday, if it all.
Of course, with Becher leading the second team in goals with six, and with Ahmed leading them in assists with four, the talent was there, but proving it at the MLS level is a whole different beast.
Yet, as has been the case for a lot of the second-team players this year, they then went out and exceeded expectations, not just filling the bench and providing depth minutes, as was the plan, but genuinely played a big role in the victory, too.
First, it was Ahmed’s turn, as he entered in the 69th minute, helping shore up the ‘Caps width as they tried to push for an equalizer. There, he had quite the shift, showing great confidence on both sides of the ball as his team tried to find the gas for a late swarm.
Then, rounding things off, Becher then came in the 82nd minute, as he gave the ‘Caps a different focal point up front, helping put another body in the box as they started to filter the ball there in the chase for an equalizer.
Through that, it all led to a magical moment right in the 88th minute. After Ahmed did well to cut inside and create space for a shot, he wired an attempt, one that would bounce before finding Becher, who deflected the ball into the back of the net, tying the game at one.
From there, the rest was history for the ‘Caps, as they were then able to grab a winner through leading scorer, Lucas Cavallini, in the 92nd minute, but there’s no doubt that without the moment of magic from the WFC II pair just minutes earlier, that late goal wouldn’t have been possible.
But that just shows how important the ‘Caps second team has been to the club this season. Currently sitting three points off the playoffs in the maiden MLS Next Pro campaign, and sixth in the overall standings, they’ve been one of the stronger teams in their new circuit right from the get-go, all while playing some nice soccer along the way.
Not only that, but they’ve also been able to provide some depth for the first team in times of need, too, such as in this game, where they were able to secure a result despite being severely shorthanded.
That’s exciting, as this is just the start of what’s coming for the ‘Caps youngsters. In just their first year with a second team since it was disbanded over a half-decade ago, the ‘Caps are hoping to use it as a legitimate long-term pipeline to get talent through to the first team.
And while there’s still a way to go before they’re able to claim that they’ve done just that, when the likes of Ahmed and Becher have moments the way they did in this game, you can see the blueprint being laid for years to come.
“I’ve always said that the biggest miss of this team was not having a second team (for a few years),” Whitecaps head coach, Vanni Sartini, said after the game Friday.
“Today, where we had a problem with injuries, we had guys ready to go because they already played 20 professional games, yes it’s at a lower level than MLS, but at a high enough level to transition well.”
Although the ‘Caps remain firmly focused on the present, as they try to build off their recent Canadian Championship victory with a second-consecutive playoff appearance and a run into the CONCACAF Champions League next year, it’s important to remember that they are slowly building towards the future, too.
And if this game is anything to go off of, that future doesn’t look half-bad all of a sudden, showing that the process is slowly starting to come together.
So as WFC II continues their push towards the playoffs, much as the first team does the same, keep an eye on what’s going on over at Swangard Stadium, as the youngsters look to try and chase some silverware in the now, while providing the first team players of tomorrow for later.
As a few magical minutes at BC Place on Friday showed, those kids are certainly more than alright, and are far from done showing what they’re capable of at this level.
“The level (of the second team) is good,” Sartini said.
“They’re playing games that are hard, and are making points, and are growing as a team. I think (second team head coach) Nick (Dasovic) and his staff are doing a fantastic job, so every time that we have players that regularly play with them play with us, they play very well.”
“I think the balance of the second team for the season is already in the green, and hopefully we’ll have some guys ready to get into the first team next year.”
Could Easton Ongaro be the latest WFC II player to get a nod?
Speaking of which, we could very well see that the next contribution come as soon as next week now, too , as while it’s still early, the ‘Caps appear to be in a bit of a bind at the striker position at the moment.
With Cavallini suspended for next week, as the ‘Caps leading scorer also picked up an eighth yellow card to go along with his eighth goal on Saturday, that could very well leave Tosaint Ricketts as the ‘Caps only available first-team striker if Brian White isn’t ready for their trip next week to Los Angeles.
Of course, Becher could very well be asked to fill in after his goal-scoring heroics in this game, but even if he is called, that is still a light attacking corps, which could lead Sartini to call in another face.
And if that is the case, the good news is that there is someone ready to step up, that being Easton Ongaro, who has hit the ground running with the second team after signing from UTA Arad in Romania earlier this summer.
In just three games with his new club, the former FC Edmonton man already has four goals for the second team, including one in their game this weekend, where he was the lone Cap to find the scoring sheet in a 3-1 loss to the Real Monarchs.
Yet, that’s typically what Ongaro does, which is to fill the net, no matter where he goes. In just 135 minutes in Romania, he managed to score one goal, and across three seasons in the Canadian Premier League with FC Edmonton, he nabbed 25 tallies, showing his ability to make things happen in the box.
And so far in Vancouver, he’s maintained that pace, already sitting as the team’s second-leading goalscorer, just two off of Becher for first, wasting no time in hitting the ground running with his new team.
As a result, as the ‘Caps get set to take on the Galaxy in just under a week’s time, look for Ongaro to be a potential call-up, as he looks to emulate some of the magic that Becher and Ahmed provided versus the Dynamo, continuing an already strong year for the second team youngsters.