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Offense sputters as Vancouver falls on the road to RSL

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The Caps will rue not getting something out of this one

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps at Real Salt Lake Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

While there were no blizzard conditions this time, Vancouver fell 2-1 to Real Salt Lake in Sandy, Utah, as the Whitecaps’ attacking efficiency gained no traction against a disciplined RSL side.

Manager Carl Robinson kept the core of his defense intact from last week’s clash against Columbus Crew SC but mixed things up in the midfield as Alphonso Davies and Efrain Juarez were back in the starting XI, replacing Jordon Mutch and Russell Teibert. Nico Mezquida also got the start in his 100th appearance for Vancouver, joining Kei Kamara up top.

The Caps departed from their smash-and-grab strategy, actually holding more of the possession throughout the first 15 minutes, liberally using the press to force turnovers. While they had no shots on goal, Alphonso Davies and Jake Nerwinski both showed good success in penetrating the RSL flanks, whipping in some dangerous crosses.

But it was RSL that had the first dangerous chance eight minutes in, with Albert Rusnak bearing down on goal after sneaking in behind Marcel de Jong. But just as soon as Caps fans’ hearts could rise to their throats, the Slovakian was adjudged to be offsides, although replays showed this was incorrect. Regardless, Vancouver got away with some sloppy defending.

There were few clear cut chances for either side for the next 15 minutes or so. Marcelo Silva blazed a shot from distance on target, forcing a save for Marinovic. The Caps grabbed their own first chance of the game, with Ibini slaloming through defenders and creating an odd man rush (or the soccer equivalent) for the Caps. He found Davies, who elected to go for goal instead of attempting to cross the ball in and the shot went over the bar.

RSL should have been down to 10 men, in the opinion of this humble writer, when Silva lunged in dangerously from behind on Kamara. Referee Marcus de Oliveira oddly decided against going to the VAR to look at the call and the defender escaped with only a yellow card.

Silva seemed to want to push his luck and nearly earned a second yellow moments later for knocking down Davies but escaped without punishment and Kendall Waston’s header off the set piece sailed just over the bar.

It was actually Silva who came closer than any Whitecap to putting the away side up 1-0, after he made a meal of clearing Kamara’s cross into the box and nearly put it by an out-of-position Nick Rimando but it slipped just wide of the post and out for a corner. Silva aggravated his groin in the process, and was forced to make way for David Horst, the second injury related sub that RSL had to make in the first 45 after Mike Petke took off Demar Phillips inside 15 minutes.

But despite all of Vancouver’s pressure, it was the home side who struck first. After a scramble inside the box, the ball found its way out wide to Brooks Lennon, who found an unmarked Luis Silva in the box. Silva rounded Jose Aja and a sprawling Nerwinski could not prevent the ball from beating Marinovic. It was poor defending after a first 45 where they worked hard to seal off RSL chances and it was a frustrating end to a half where Vancouver atypically dominated.

The goal appeared to buoy RSL as the second half started. Silva nearly got a brace, as he was played through on goal, catching de Jong out of position. But he skied his shot, keeping the scoreline at 1-0.

The Caps regained their footing but did little to create clear cut chances, instead opting to bomb scores of long balls forward for Davies. Robinson prudently elected to bring on Cristian Techera for Bernie Ibini in the 65th minute, which seemed to add more of a sense of urgency to the Caps’ outlook.

Davies nearly linked up well with Mezquida just a couple of minutes later, with the teenager playing a lovely ball into the box off a quick free kick but Rimando just about claimed it ahead of the Uruguayan. A second change was made in the 74th minute, as de Jong made way for Brek Shea in the Great Man Bun Swap of 2018.

The Bug made his presence known in the 78th minute. Marinovic snagged a looping RSL free kick and immediately played a searching long ball for Techera, who found himself in space and worked a powerful long shot that Rimando palmed away.

In a last ditch effort to snag a point, the Caps brought Anthony Blondell on for Mezquida and the Venezuelan made his presence felt immediately by forcing a turnover deep in RSL territory. Unfortunately, Techera booted the resulting shot well over the bar.

The home side put things out of reach in the dying moments of the match. RSL grabbed a dangerous counter attack, with Corey Baird slipping in behind and he cooly crossed it in for Jefferson Severino, who tapped in to make things 2-0.

Brek Shea managed to pull one back deep in stoppage time (despite initially believing he did not), delivering a lovely half volley past Rimando. But it was too little for late and Vancouver deservedly fell 2-1 at Rio Tinto stadium.

Thoughts:

  • Alphonso Davies’ crossing was poor and it really let the Caps’ counter down, especially in the first half. On multiple occasions he simply could not pick out a man in the box. Davies has, in general, looked a lot better at delivering that final ball this season but he needs to iron out the inconsistencies as it hurt the Caps on Saturday.
  • Unfortunately, the rest of the team was no better at delivering balls into the box. Vancouver had upwards of 30 crosses and had seven corners but could not get a goal, much less trouble Nick Rimando. With a player like Kei Kamara on the pitch, this is simply unacceptable.
  • As a Tottenham fan, RSL’s borderline dirty play reminded me very much of the Spurs-Stoke match this morning. For a team that has had as much luck on set pieces as the Caps have recently, it is frankly a surprise that they were unable to work anything.
  • In a similar vein, I am not sure how Marcelo Silva remained on the pitch after hauling down Kei Kamara in the first half. If we’re gonna use VAR to send Kendall Waston off (not to mention how it was used in Atlanta to dubiously rescind Chris McCann’s red card earlier in the day) then this was a no brainer and would have significantly changed the match (not that the ref is to blame for this loss).
  • The good news is Vancouver proved they could show flashes of optimism on the road without resorting to the smash-and-grab strategy they so often employ. The bad news is they gave fans plenty of reasons to worry that the lack of a dependable number 10 will continue to haunt them this season. RSL are likely to be one of the worst teams in the west this season and not getting a result here is a missed opportunity.