Raise your hand if you thought the Caps were going to see off FC Dallas in Frisco on Saturday?
Now put your hand down.
Nonetheless, Vancouver trounced one of the top teams in the West 4-0, with a brace from Fredy Montero and goals from Bernie Ibini and Nicolas Mezquida powering the away side to a stunning victory and one that could mark a turning point in the race for a playoff spot.
The lineup represented a significant change for manager Carl Robinson. In were Sheanon Williams, Marcel de Jong, Bernie Ibini, Brek Shea and Yordy Reyna. Jacob Nerwinski, Jordan Harvey, Christian Techera, Christian Bolanos and Andrew Jacobson were out. Whether a statement of intent to mix things up tactically or a chance to rest some key players, the shift was a welcome one for fans clamoring for change after a poor performance last week against Portland.
The first part of the match was fairly quiet, with the Whitecaps seemingly unwilling to leave themselves open to a potentially lethal Dallas counter. Despite this threat (and the hot Texas sun), the Caps managed to hold their own during the early stages, with both Ibini and Reyna adding a bit of energy and spark that has been missing recently, forcing turnovers and holding possession.
The first good chance for Vancouver came in the 14th minute, when Reyna created a bit of space and tried his luck from the edge of the box but it went just wide and did not manage to trouble Jesse Gonzalez.
Ibini did much, much better in the 18th minute, when he took a stab from distance and, with the help of a deflection, caught Gonzalez off guard and notched the Aussie his first goal in a Whitecaps shirt. A dream start for Vancouver was off with a 1-0 lead.
After the goal, the Caps were more content to sit back and while they did not firmly park the bus, they were willing to concede longer swaths of possession to the home side. Ryan Hollingshead especially tested the Vancouver defense with multiple tantalizing crosses but the central defense denied any shot opportunities.
There was, however, a hearts in throats moment for fans, when Roland Lamah tapped a swinging Carlos Gruezo cross past David Ousted and into the back of the net, seemingly equalizing. The flag was up for a deserved offsides, however, and the 1-0 advantage was preserved.
And despite the low expectations of pretty much everyone (including myself) for this match, the Caps took that 1-0 lead into halftime.
They added to that lead shortly after the break when wonderkid Kellyn Acosta, a halftime sub, barged into Fredy Montero in the box and Baldomero Toledo pointed to the spot. While Montero goes over easily, Acosta also very clearly ran into him and it is easy to see why the penalty was given. Montero made no mistake from the spot, putting aside his past troubles on penalties, and the Caps were up 2-0.
Things went from bad to worse for FC Dallas when Carlos Gruezo was shown a straight red for elbowing/kneeing Reyna to the head in the midst of a tackle. And while Toledo is known for being card happy and may have been over eager in awarding the penalty, there is little doubt in my mind that Gruezo earned that sending off.
It was Montero again who put Dallas to the sword once and for all, as he latched onto a nice little pass from Tony Tchani and coolly slotted it past a helpless Gonzalez to make it 3-0 to the away side.
The Caps mostly coasted in from there, although Acosta rattled the goalpost (and some fans’ nerves) with a fantastic strike from distance in the dying minutes of the match. The joyride continued for Vancouver in the 83rd minute, when Nico Mezquida, fresh off the bench, converted a stupendous overhead kick past a stunned Jesse Gonzalez. While the keeper could have done better, Nico really put the cherry on top of a stunning victory and put himself in the conversation for Goal of the Week.
Dallas looked sapped of energy for the final 20 minutes and Vancouver eased to a deserved and, frankly, unexpected 4-0 win that keeps them firmly on the right side of the playoff line.
- Did the Caps maybe get some good fortune in refereeing decisions? Sure. Did the scoreline flatter them? Yeah. Did the defense bend (but not break) a little too much? Probably. But make no mistake, this game was one where the Caps outplayed one of the top teams in MLS, a side that won 3 straight games. Tack on Vancouver’s historic struggles in North Texas and this win was even sweeter.
- I enjoyed the win even more after watching the fanbase collectively lose their mind that Alphonso Davies didn’t make the starting 18. Look, I love Fonzie and he will have to play a key role in this team going forward, probably more than he has been. BUT he is one player and this team will also need to play as a unit if they want to make the playoffs and contend for a cup. They proved they could do that Saturday in Frisco.
- I know people weren’t enthused about the Ibini signing initially and the one other match where he got meaningful minutes was the dumpster fire of the Chicago Fire match. But I think his pressing really adds a dimension and an urgency to the attack that’s lacking. He is a hard worker and it is easy to see why he was a fan favorite in the Land Down Under. Whether he’s a super sub, a rotation player or, who knows, maybe even someone who can force his way into the XI, I think Bernie has a role to play on this team going forward.
- As mentioned earlier, Waston and Parker bent but did not break and even when Dallas were swinging in some dangerous crosses, the central defense did well to close down the home side’s vaunted attack. More of that please!
Man of the Match:
I would give the honor to Ibini, who not only notched his first goal as a Cap but also injected some much needed energy and work ethic into the attack. But this was also one of Montero’s best matches for Vancouver and I was impressed with the work of Waston and company in the backline. Hopefully the Caps keep making it this hard to select a standout in the future!