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Report Card: Whitecaps Get a Taste of Their Own Road Medicine

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The Vancouver Whitecaps were unable to capitalize at Rio Tinto Stadium despite controlling the vast majority of play. Here’s our take on the individual performances.

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

Maybe it was karma, or maybe it was just bad luck, but in a strange twist of fate the Vancouver Whitecaps were simply outplayed at their own game on Saturday in Utah. Real Salt Lake turned in a quality “road style” performance at home, surrendering the majority of possession and chances, yet still walking away with all three points.

As some pointed out, it might as well have been an away match for RSL:

Regardless...In my view, the Whitecaps’ struggles can be boiled down to two main factors: Carl Robinson’s starting lineup choices, and critical defensive lapses.

This should become clearer as we move through the individual performances. I’m going to roll with the same grading system as last weekend, trying to use the full scale of 1 to 10 as it seems appropriate.

STARTING XI

Stefan Marinovic (6): Outside of the two goals conceded (neither of which Marinovic could have really done much about) it was a pretty uneventful night for the Whitecaps keeper. On the play below, Marinovic makes his presence felt in the box before floating a wonderful through ball to the feet of Techera. At times Marinovic’s distribution has been called into question, so hopefully we’ll see more of this moving forward.

Marcel De Jong (3): While often promising in attack, De Jong is a defensive liability. Because De Jong is constantly looking to go forward, he is often caught in no-man’s land on the counter attack. If not for a mistaken offside call, this could’ve led to an RSL goal:

Getting caught deep upfield, De Jong left Jose Aja on an island several times defensively - a situation Aja struggled to cope with. I can’t help but wonder if swapping Waston and Aja’s positions in central defence may have helped shelter Aja and De Jong’s vulnerabilities.

Jose Aja (2): This was a tough match for Aja. As mentioned above, the Uruguayan really struggles with his positioning and marking when left to his own devices in open field. Who is Aja marking on this play?

On the second RSL goal, Aja completely quits on the play. Rather than continuing his run to close out at the near post, cutting off the passing angle, he decides to employ the Sunday league “you got ‘em” finger point.

Aja’s open field tackling also left something to be desired.

Kendall Waston (5): Not much to say here really. While it wasn’t a great match for Waston, he also didn’t make any glaring errors defensively. It would’ve been nice to see him avoid picking up a yellow card, but Waston’s reputation seems to proceed him when it comes to getting booked.

Jake Nerwinski (6): Despite deflecting home the first RSL goal inadvertently, I thought Nerwinski turned in a solid performance. He consistently provided some of the ‘Caps best service into the box and looked more confident in his own half than he has at times this season.

Felipe (7): Another quiet yet consistent performance from Felipe. The Brazilian completed a team-high 24 successful passes in the opposition half and linked play well from his central midfield position. Some have suggested that his talents could be better used in a more advanced role - I agree.

Erfain Juarez (1): I haven’t been a fan of Juarez’s play so far this season. Many have pointed out that the off-season addition is a defensive minded midfielder and that it would be unfair to expect too much from him going forward - sure, fair enough. In this match, Juarez was also dreadful defensively.

In my view, Juarez is at least partially responsible for both of RSL’s goals. On the first RSL goal, Juarez chooses to pass off his defensive responsibility, leaving Nerwinski to mark two RSL attackers.

Juarez eventually realizes his mistake, but at this point it’s already too late to recover.

If Juarez tracks back earlier and simply marks one of the two RSL attackers, this goal could most likely have been avoided.

Juarez’s lacklustre defensive work-rate was also on full display in the build-up to the second goal. At the very least this would have been a good situation to concede a foul, something Juarez has done often so far this season.

At high altitude, in what was always likely to be a sweaty, grind-it-out kind of match, I’m struggling to justify why Juarez started in place of Russell Teibert. Perhaps it’s simply because of Juarez’s on-pitch demeanour, but it often looks as though the Mexican midfielder is putting in significantly less than a full effort. That’s something which can never be said of Russell Teibert.

Teibert might have also been able to summon a better headed effort than this in the late stages, wouldn’t have taken much...

Alphonso Davies (5): As pointed out by Andrew in the post-match report, Davies struggled throughout the match with his passing in the final third. There were lots of situations just like this one:

While Davies consistently out-duels defenders down the wing, his passing is yet to match the quality of his dribbling.

On a different note, I’m still struggling to understand how this wasn’t worthy of a booking:

Bernie Ibini (5): Similar to Davies, Ibini took on RSL defenders well, but struggled to complete his passes going forward. Ibini failed to convert both of his crosses and completed only 7 of his 13 passes in the attacking half.

Nicolas Mezquida (3): I would characterize myself as one of the bigger advocates of giving Mezquida a prolonged look in an attacking midfield or “#10” position. However, the Uruguayan thrives when balls are played to his feet and he is able to make quick passes and overlapping runs with those around him in the middle of the park. Given the Whitecaps propensity for either playing down the wings 1v1 or simply reverting to a “hoof and hope” approach, I can’t help but think that another “target-man” type forward, be it Brek Shea or Anthony Blondell, would have been better suited for the start, adopting more of a 4-4-2 type formation.

Kei Kamara (7): Kamara was rock solid yet again, maintaining possession through hold-up play and heading the assist on Shea’s late equalizer. For most of the match, the service into the box simply wasn’t good enough for the head-master to add another goal to his 2018 tally.

SUBSTITUTIONS

Christian Techera (5): Techera is still lacking much of the quality that we saw last season, although there were some flashes of his 2017 form, notably a rocketed effort on target in the 79th.

Brek Shea (7): Another game, another road goal for Brek Shea. Although the goal came in garbage time, I can’t help but wonder what the match might have looked like had Shea started alongside Kamara.

Anthony Blondell (NR): Blondell did well to force a turnover shortly after his addition in the 81st, but wasn’t involved enough to earn a match rating.

There has been plenty of discussion in the comments section this season about the way we grade individual perfomances. From my perspective, while I will always strive to give a fair and honest evaluation of each player, an element of this piece is going to be editorial. Ratings are altered by my expectations of the player, the role thrust upon them, etc. The rankings are a way to convey my perception of an individual’s performance, and not necessarily an entirely numerical calculation. If you’re looking for purely statistical analysis, I definitely recommend checking out MLS’s Audi Player Index which is a really thorough and insightful tool. All that being said, if you don’t agree with some of my grades, be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments!