Following a disappointing 1-1 home draw for the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday afternoon against the Philadelphia Union, the prevailing tone in the media room was one of frustration. Perhaps no one exemplified this frustration better than manager Marc Dos Santos in his post-match presser:
“I’m trying to calm down...I’m still upset. I feel that we did enough to win the game. I feel that we created enough opportunities. But then if you don’t finish your chances, you’re always playing on the edge in this league...today, we lost two points.”
As Province reporter JJ Adams pointed out to Marc, the Whitecaps have only managed three goals from open play so far this season, and it seems clear that the lack of attacking productivity is wearing on the first-year MLS manager.
“We just lacked quality in those moments. The chances were there - Yordy in the first half, the cutback from Rusty at the end of the game to Ardaiz in the box, there were enough things happening there to score a goal.”
One bright spot that Dos Santos commented on was Yordy Reyna and his continued success in the “No.9” role as the Whitecaps frontman.
“Yordy does everything that I think that a No.9 should do. When he doesn’t have the ball, he’s very loyal to the team. He runs. He steps. He presses. He’s always in movement trying to make important runs. It’s sad he had to come out because he was good in the game.”
Reyna was seen sporting an ice-pack after the match, but other than his ailment being a “muscular injury” his status is unclear going forward.
Rather than stressing the one defensive error on the night in an otherwise solid performance, Dos Santos put the majority of his focus on his squad’s offensive struggles.
“It’s one play that happened, and then we payed the price for it...The concept of how we want to play, the organization of the team, the understanding of the players, is all there. We have to grow offensively and it’s not a secret.”
Despite the failure to capitalize on their chances, it was clear to anyone who’s watched the team on a regular basis throughout the season so far that Saturday’s match represented a good step forward in terms of possession and the overall style of play Dos Santos wants to promote. This can be said both in terms of quantity (their first match with +50% of the possession this season) and in terms of quality, where the Whitecaps had plenty of time on the ball in dangerous areas.
Dos Santos gave some final thoughts on how the team can do a better job building on this positive progression in the coming matches.
“Our runs into the box needs to be better, the quality of the ball, the quality of the connection...we’re always looking to better the team.”
Next up was what I would describe as a “visibly dismayed” Russell Teibert, who echoed many of the same sentiments which had just been heard from the manager moments earlier:
“We were the better team today by far, everyone could see it...for some reason or another the luck is not going our way right now, this was one of our best performances.”
“Whether it’s being more selfish or more selfless, it just seems like it’s always the wrong decision at the wrong time.”
After noticing a trend during the match, I asked Jake Nerwinski, as a back who’s had success playing crosses into the box from wide areas in the past, why it seemed so many of those types of crosses were left unclaimed. (For reference, the Whitecaps completed just 3 of their 8 crosses, all of which were completed by Ali Adnan). Jake gave what I thought was an insightful response.
“Tonight was a bit different, Yordy’s not a big presence and their two centre backs are well over six feet. I think we need to figure out how to cut the ball back and play the ball low so players like Yordy, PC and Venuto can get on the end of those crosses.”
It seems as though the Whitecaps may have benefited from employing this tactic more often than they did during the match. With the tallest player in the front three (before the addition of Ardaiz) standing just 5’8”, it appeared as though far too many balls gave the Whitecaps forwards a nearly impossible task against the Union’s towering central defenders - and this often led to a breakdown in the Whitecaps attack.
Last but not least, a few of my favourite soundbites of the night came from the Whitecaps lone goal-scorer, Doneil Henry.
Doneil is the Whitecaps’ leading goal scorer on the year (with two goals so far), and this is also his his first MLS season with multiple goals. After being asked if his recent goal scoring form was unexpected, his response was perfect:
“No, I’m playing consistent, so keep expecting more of this.”
A few moments later, when Doneil was asked about going up against Kei Kamara next week, the defender was quick to crack a joke:
“I’m not feeding into Kei’s ego right now (laughs), that’s my brother”
While the tone in BC Place was undoubtably one of disappointment and frustration on Saturday afternoon post-match, it seems clear that the Whitecaps believe this was a performance they can build on this week in training and carry with them to the away fixture in Colorado on Friday night. The question is, can it translate to balls in the back of the net?