It was a tale of two halves Saturday for Vancouver, but a late charge in the second 45 was not enough to help the Caps get their first points of the season as the team fell 3-2 to Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Dominance from Alberth Elis and a brace from Memo Rodriguez lifted Houston to victory, negating efforts from Lass Bangoura and Fredy Montero to open their goal-scoring accounts for the season.
A potpourri of tactical changes were on offer for the Caps in Saturday’s match. MDS opted to go with a previously unseen 3-4-2-1 formation, with Derek Cornelius slotting in at his natural position aside Doneil Henry and Erik Godoy. PC and Scott Sutter, making his first start as a Whitecap, were on the wings with Jon Erice and Andy Rose in the middle. Yordy Reyna and Hwang In-Beom played as more attacking mids, with Fredy Montero up top, despite many fans who wanted to see Joaquin Ardaiz in that striker role.
It should’ve been 1-0 to the Dynamo a mere 6 minutes in. Alberth Elis, long a nightmare for the Caps, burst down the flank and cut a perfect ball into the box. Maxime Crepeau punched the ball but only as far as Rodriguez who couldn’t hit the open net and sent his chip wide.
A sleepy offensive start for Vancouver was remedied with two quickfire chances. Reyna nicked off a poor Mauro Manotas back pass and cut it across for Montero, who was unable to quite direct his header to Hwang. A corner produced from another Dynamo turnover resulted a header from offensive engine Erik Godoy whizzing over. If you wanted proof that MDS’ system is at its best when the press is purring, this was it.
Disaster at the back mere moments later produced an opener for Houston. Derek Cornelius attempted to clear the ball away from Elis but it was lazy and the Honduran won the ball and quickly set it across Rodriguez, who tapped it into the back of an empty net. Not a good look for all of us who were hoping Cornelius would be a boost to a sometimes shaky backline; still early yet for the youngster but clearly he is still adjusting to dealing with the kind of athletic talents that just aren’t plentiful in Serbia.
The Caps quickly took to dropping into a back five when the Dynamo were in possession. They thusly withstood numerous blow from the Houston attack, including a header from Ellis that rattled the post. The team was able to break but, frankly, this was not a lineup constructed to counter effectively and it resulted in few chances going forward, as Houston was able to effectively put 11 men behind the ball with the time Vancouver afforded to the opposition.
The Fredy Montero Getting Hacked Tactic ™ finally paid off for Vancouver, however. A corner was flicked on by Erice and found Montero at the back post. The Colombian brought it down but got hacked down by Adam Lundquist before he could pull it down. Montero went over too easily but no Whitecaps fan was complaining when Nima Saghafi pointed to the spot. Montero then cooly dispatched the penalty to bring the match level at 1-1.
Unfortunately, penalties were doled out on both sides in the first half. A failed Whitecaps break resulted in Elis streaking at Cornelius on the break, with predictably poor results. Cornelius strains for the ball and appeared to get a piece of it but also hauled down Elis and the referee pointed to the spot, a decision upheld by VAR. Ellis made no mistake and sent Crepeau the wrong way to restore a 2-1 lead for Houston.
A halftime change also brought a (much welcomed) change in formation, with Lass Bangoura replacing the ego-bruised Cornelius. The change brought out a more livelier Vancouver side. It also brought an equalizer, after Lass Bangoura latched onto a poor Houston turnover and polished off a delectable finish past Joe Willis. The tactical shift seemed to prompt a more aggressive mindset from the away side, with Hwang and Reyna really shifting into a more urgent tempo that set the tone for the rest of the team.
The match opened up, however, and it was not without chances for Houston. A chaotic corner kick from the Dynamo easily could have been finished off by Kiki Struna but Erice did just enough to put him off. A couple sloppy turnovers from Vancouver were also forgiven, as Houston couldn’t quite string together the quality needed to take advantage.
More careless play helped put Houston back in front for good in the 73rd minute. Crepeau did well to deny Rodriguez on a 1v1 but could do nothing to stop the American winger moments later. Ellis once again found himself behind the Caps’ backline and picked out Rodriguez, who dodged a late-arriving Godoy to make it 3-2.
Problems compounded for the Caps after Rose collided with Mauro Manotas while attempting to clear a cross. The Honduran striker received more of a glancing blow and was able to continue but Rose was forced to come off with a possible concussion and the Caps were forced to finish with 10 men.
Despite some late pushes forward from Vancouver, it was for naught and the Caps fell on the road 3-2.
- A disappointing result but just to illustrate how different the two halves were for the Caps, here is what I wrote after the first 45:
I think it is safe to say the 3-4-2-1 is an unmitigated disaster. The stated reason for why MDS opted for it was to help counter the Dynamo wingers. And it … really did not do that? At all? PC and, in particular, Sutter were largely ineffective at helping out with defending Ellis and Rodriguez, who both got numerous, unmolested runs straight at Cornelius and Godoy. Cornelius had a mare dealing with Elis (see: both goals) and part of this was on the young Canadian but also, when you strand a mediocre centerback 1v1 with one of the most dangerous players in the league, bad things will happen. This was a tactical misstep from the manager.
Ok so the first half was a train wreck but full credit to MDS for making quick, decisive changes that gave the Whitecaps a fighting chance in this one, rather than doubling down on a failed tactical strategy. The Caps looked much livelier in the second half and, for perhaps the first time this season, showed some semblance of cohesion in the final third. Spotty defense for sure (which will be addressed in a moment) but some progress was shown from an offensive standpoint and I think today’s match showed the tactical way forward.
- Maybe my supporter card will be revoked for saying this, but I thought the penalty for Vancouver was VERY soft and the penalty for Houston was correctly given [ducks]. I do, however, think Quito should have been sent off for dangerous play after a dangerous elbow on Montero in the later stages of the game.
- Yordy Reyna impressed me as one of the few players really willing to run and push the attack forward in that first half. Had trouble linking up with Montero at times but I think that’s more on Fredy than the Peruvian. This is something that will need to be sorted out, however, because MDS seems committed to sticking with Montero up top.
- There’s still room in the Lass Bangoura fan club I founded after Week 1. Even the people who called him the next Bernie Ibini after he signed are welcome!
- Ok so the backline needs work. A lot of work. While Darwin Quintero and Alberth Ellis are two of the most dynamic players in the league, the team’s defensive performances gifted them with more space and time than any competitive team ever should. Cornelius was just the tip of the iceberg today and the Caps were lucky Houston didn’t convert the other half dozen chances they created off of turnovers or lazy defending. I can’t tell if this is simply a cohesion problem or if there is some systematic defect that is producing these performances but it cost them points in week one and it cost them points this week as well. Ali Adnan should help resolve some of these issues but ultimately can only do so much.
- Easy to end on a negative but I wanted to instead finish by commending the Caps’ medical team for preventing Andy Rose from continuing on. Far too often we see teams acquiesce to player demands to continue playing after suffering serious head injuries and while it hindered the chase for an equalizer in the last 10 minutes, teams around MLS should look to Vancouver’s lead on this.