Wednesday night, heading into the match I didn’t give the Whitecaps much chance of pulling out a result. That’s the simple way of putting it. The way things have happened this season, it just felt like it was going to be another difficult evening at BC Place.
While it was difficult, the end result was actually something that several media members were discussing after the match – that this result was the embodiment of MLS as a league with manufactured parity.
Last night, against the odds, Marc Dos Santos’ team picked up a victory that could become a marker and proper turning point for the season. Korean international In-Beom Hwang told press through an interpreter “We had a great first half, and even though the second half was tough, at halftime Marc told the team that we were playing very well, and to keep it up. Without a doubt it was the complete team effort.”
The commitment was clear to see, and it has been throughout the season. It’s been the word that Dos Santos himself has used so often, that I expect to hear it in every response he has to media questions. It’s something that clearly players have bought into as a whole.
Doneil Henry says it, Max Crepeau says it, even Ali Adnan says it when he speaks to the press and he’s been here for 3 weeks. Henry added on that saying “we [each] understand our role, we do that every day in training. Working on where we should be, how to make blocks, how to defend as a unit instead of individually, and I think we do it really well.”
Henry continued “Individually a team like [LAFC] could kill you, they have quality and if they can isolate players 1v1 or get guys in free, that’s where they beat you. You know we’re always knowing where each other are, and how to defend as a collective unit. So, I think that’s why we’re finding our success here.”
It’s clear to see it too, the Whitecaps are gathering momentum after a tough start to the season. With the draw against the Seattle Sounders (that came into BC Place with a vaunted offence of their own), followed by the defeat to Zlatan and then the draw in Chicago. The team has played really well in spells of games. It’s not hard to imagine that the ‘Caps could be higher in the standings if they could compete from the first whistle to the last.
Against the Sounders, Joaquin Ardaiz was so close to winning the game at the death, but for a fantastic save from Stephen Frei. The ‘Caps could and should have been up 1-0 minutes into the LA Galaxy match when they were awarded a penalty. If not for what was deemed a handball by Henry, the ‘Caps could have had their first win last week in Chicago.
There’s been real and consistent growth here, and that’s something Marc Dos Santos himself highlighted.
We always stayed in the process and the work, and a lot of times unfortunately we did a lot of things well and we got out of games with a tie or a loss. And it’s important because it’s paid off, all the work, all the consistency of the players in training. Keeping their head up. You know the effort they gave today, especially in the last 15 minutes against a team that always, when Diego or Carlos are on the field, it’s going to be dangerous at any moment. They stayed compact, they fought, there was a feeling of fighting together.
The win certainly felt good, and the three points will certainly go a long way to helping ease some of the early season knee-jerk anxiety that goes with 5 games without a win. Going into Wednesday night I felt like it was going to get worse before it got better, and it sounded like the players felt that way too.
All around nice guy, and burgeoning talent Hwang told reporters “It’s going to be a lie if I say I did not have any pressure on me. I know I’m an international player, and, also a DP for the team, so I did have a little bit of pressure.” Clearly it’s something that Dos Santos himself could see, that the expectations the young South Korean has of himself is of a very high standard.
Both Hwang and MDS mentioned in their conferences that the two had a one-on-one conversation on Tuesday with MDS telling Hwang “you are not a finished player, you are a developing player, so even if you’re an international and even if you’re a DP for the team, you are not Wayne Rooney, you are not Zlatan. What Marc told me was that I want you to be Inbeom on the team. So that really helped me to set the mindset.”
With the first win of the 2019 calendar now in the books, the Whitecaps head to Orlando ahead of their game against City. Even on Wednesday night, the workaholic Dos Santos told his team “that the positive of tonight is the fight, the grind, how they played in the first half. How they did everything to get the 3 points.” He’s also not kidding anyone, saying “I told them [the Whitecaps] this is a win, let’s not get too high with this. Let’s focus on tomorrow, we’re at the airport, go to Orlando and try to get points in Orlando.”
The grind is still in its early days, but it’s starting to show signs of its potential yield. Will there be a harvest this fall?