The Vancouver Whitecaps’ home woes continued Friday night, as they fell 2-0 to Los Angeles Football Club at B.C. Place, as the expansion side showed their explosiveness to leave Vancouver in the dust.
Carl Robinson opted to rest target man Kei Kamara, as the Sierra Leone international picked up a knock in training Thursday, and replace him with Erik Hurtado up top. Russell Teibert also returned to the lineup, as did Cristian Techera, who slotted in alongside Efrain Juarez, Felipe Martins and Alphonso Davies in midfield. It was the usual suspects in defense for the Caps.
The match marked the return of two ex-Caps to B.C. Place: Steven Beitashour and Jordan Harvey. Joao Moutinho’s red card last week against Atlanta FC paved the way for Harvey to start in his first match back in Vancouver. The home fans gave him a warm welcome back, including a standing ovation after he was substituted out in the dying moments of the match.
The first real chance of the game came in the 13th minute, when midfielder Carlos Vela found himself with space in the box and proceeded to unleash a potent half volley wide of the net. It never troubled Stefan Marinovic but it was a harbinger of things to come later in the match and showed the Caps consistently not respecting Vela’s left foot.
Marco Urena did make Marinovic sweat just minutes later. After nicking the ball off Jose Aja, Urena found himself in space and forced the Kiwi keeper into a full stretch effort to push the ball out for a corner.
It was Davies who notched the Caps’ first real chance in the 16th minute, capping a nice move through the LAFC midfield with a long range shot that forced keeper Tyler Miller to scramble and make a save but Miller was able to pounce on the rebound before Hurtado could get to it.
The best chance of the first half came off a set piece (remember those Caps fans?) in the 28th minute. After Teibert knocked down Urena, Benny Feilhaber unleashed a searching ball into the box and Walker Zimmerman nearly beat a helpless Marinovic but his header dinged off the crossbar. It was an example of how well LAFC used set pieces, creating two or three chances off of free kicks on a night when Vancouver was virtually useless on set pieces.
LAFC kept pushing and it was the Canadian Mark-Anthony Kaye who showed some flashy footwork in the 39th minute, before forcing Marinovic into a sprawling save. The resulting corner amounted to nothing however, and Vancouver managed to get to halftime 0-0, still in the match.
But it was Vela who finally put the Caps to the sword at the 58th minute mark. After one dangerous chance created by Beitashour, it was Vela who grabbed the ball back and launched a spectacular curling effort from just inside the right corner of the box and beat Marinovic, who was rooted to the spot.
1-0 down, the Caps were perhaps lucky not to go down a man in the 62nd minute, after Nerwinski saw yellow for a wayward elbow to the face of Rossi. It was a silly foul and I was convinced as soon as it happened that the referee was going to go to VAR and send the second-year man off. But it was only a caution and the Caps stayed at full strength.
Moments later, Teibert made way for Yordy Reyna in an effort to beef up the Caps’ attacking presence.
But it Rossi doubled LAFC’s advantage in the 69th minute, capitalizing on some abysmal defending from the Caps. After Nerwinski gave up a poor turnover, Harvey and Vela linked up in the box before Marinovic and Waston collided going for the ball. Eventually, the ball fell to Rossi, who slotted it between the legs of Marinovic to make the scoreline 2-0.
Marcel de Jong made way for Brek Shea immediately after the goal, with Erik Hurtado coming off for Nicolas Mezquida several minutes later. It was a weak night for Hurtado, who managed 0 shots on goal in his time spelling Kamara.
Probably the best Caps’ chance in the dying moments of the match came after Tchera latched onto an excellent long pass from Reyna and launched a cross into the box that came within inches of giving Shea his fourth goal of the season. It was a good run from the Texan, who has shown a lot of fire and energy all year as the Caps’ most consistent offensive weapon.
The most fireworks caused by any Whitecaps attacker all night came when Cristian Techera hacked down a streaking Latif Blessing in the 88th minute, causing a tussle to break out. Perhaps surprisingly, the referee did not elect to go to VAR and Techera was only issued a yellow card.
Despite a near goal from Mezquida at the death, the final whistle blew shortly thereafter and the home side was (deservedly) booed off the pitch after another disappointing home result.
It’s been a while since B.C. Place has been a fortress for Vancouver, but 200 minutes without a home goal is a new low for a side that has struggled at home in recent years. This type of form is simply not acceptable for a team looking to push for a playoff spot in the West.
If the tactics continue to insist on crosses into the box, Friday’s result made it clear that there is effectively no way the Caps will be able to win without Kei Kamara. Erik Hurtado does many things well but he was virtually impotent in the style of play featured in this match. I don’t like the “let’s bomb balls forward and hope we get lucky” strategy (especially at home) BUT if you’re going to do it, having Techera or Felipe as your target man is idiotic. Sadly Kamara is not getting any younger and starting every match is probably not in the cards (as his injury shows) but, if Robbo is going to give him a rest, a better backup plan is needed than what we saw Friday.
I watched LAFC wistfully tonight for many reasons, but especially their facility with set pieces. While the away side didn’t actually get a goal off of free kick delivery, Walker Zimmerman’s near goal in the first half reminded me of several Vancouver scored last year. This element of the game has been missing almost entirely, which is almost hard to believe on a team that has Kei Kamara, Kendall Waston and Cristian Techera. Again, if Vancouver is going to rely on their current tactical strategy then they should probably consider a little more time dedicated to set pieces on the training ground.
Biggest highlight of the night was unfortunately the extended ovation Jordan Harvey got in his return. But a great moment when he was given a curtain call late in the match. Kudos to LAFC manager Bob Bradley for using his last sub to give Harvey that honor.
I was frankly surprised the Caps ended the match with all 11 men. Both Jake Nerwinski and Cristian Techera committed serious fouls that have resulted in red cards in the past and I was a little taken aback that VAR wasn’t used in either instance.
Maybe the lone bright spot on the pitch was Brek Shea’s continued energy. In a year when many of Vancouver’s offense options have looked listless, it is Shea who has been the hardest working. Tracking back on defense and pushing forward, despite a two-goal deficit late, the Texan is flipping a lot of the stereotypes many Caps fans had formed on their head. Here’s hoping he continues his run of form going forward.