In a cold, often sloppy affair, the Vancouver Whitecaps returned to MLS action after Wednesday’s elimination from the CONCACAF Champions League, succumbing to the elements and hosts Real Salt Lake, 3-0.
Initially, the weather at Rio Tinto Stadium looked tolerable, as the Whitecaps introduced a side with several changes from their previous league match: Fredy Montero, Nicolas Mezquida, Marcel de Jong, Russell Teibert, Tony Tchani, Jakob Nerwinski, and Christian Dean all started, with David Ousted, Kendall Waston, Tim Parker, and Matias Laba proving to be the only hold overs.
As a result of the immense lineup shuffling, Carl Robinson lined up his starting eleven in a 3-5-2 formation. Who saw THAT coming?
With the glut of players in the center of the pitch, the Whitecaps were built for a slog of a first half, and it certainly showed on the offensive side: the ‘Caps closed out the first 45’ with four shots total, none of which were on target, 68% passing accuracy, and less than 38% of the overall possession.
There’s a reason the team made no contribution to the night’s highlight package.
Defensively, any offensive advancements made by Real Salt Lake were generally being forced to the outside of the pitch. “Generally,” as the hosts did come close on a few different occasions. If anything, these close calls proved to be foreshadowing for the second half.
Before it could begin, Mother Nature struck with several centimeters of irony, as large flakes of snow began to cover the Rio Tinto pitch. I’m certain this would have been the dream weather report for Vancouver’s mid-week CCL match against Tigres UANL.
Incidentally, the worsening conditions led to an incredibly unexpected substitution:
That’s right: the bright, orange game ball had to be pulled out of storage, marking its first appearance for RSL in nearly ten years. However, guess who would have benefit from their own swath of bright orange? The Vancouver Whitecaps.
Once the snow began to stick to the pitch, one could say that the Whitecaps were now covert and camouflaged, blending in with the environment. Maybe this description was a little too accurate as, to their detriment, the Vancouver eleven seemingly lost sight of one another. Instead, it was Salt Lake that went on the attack in the sloppy snow against the Canadian side.
Rusnák cut through the center of the Whitecaps backline, latching onto a Joao Plata long ball, juking Dean and Waston before burying inside the near post.
It was at this point the 3-5-2 was deemed a failure, as Christian Dean and Tony Tchani were respectively replaced by Cristian Techera and Mauro Rosales (Welcome back, Mauro!) shortly afterwards. Given the positioning of Parker (too far upfield) and Waston (pulled far to the right), the mid-game change of formation was not shocking in the slightest, but the fact that an RSL goal was needed for the change to happen is disappointing.
The formation change ultimately proved to be immaterial, as Yuri Movsisyan buried far-post on a goal with a build up similar to the previous one:
This time, it was Rusnák’s turn as provider as Movsisyan got in behind the backline, cut to Waston’s left, and put a shot on net where Ousted’s fingertips could only push the ball to the inside of the far post.
If only it were all said and done at this point: on their twelfth (!) and final corner kick of the match, Luke Mulholland was able to escape some rather poor marking and carom home the third and final goal of the match.
For a soccer club that only days ago were aching for harsh elements to play into their game plan, its odd to see how quickly things fell apart for the Whitecaps. Once the snow stuck to the ground, the team could not sufficiently adjust.
If you’re looking for the silver lining, perhaps you can at least get a chuckle out of the following tweet:
But when you are defeated by a team who, in a single night, “match(es) their season goal total” against your side, do you even deserve a silver lining?