The Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 loss to Atlanta United Wednesday Night BC Place was a match which was, admittedly, largely devoid of storylines on the pitch. Other than an early penalty decision and Maxime Crepeau’s outstanding play, perhaps the biggest storyline of the night was in the stands, where the Whitecaps experienced their lowest attendance numbers for a MLS match since 2013.
On the field, the Whitecaps controlled possession (54-46%) but lost out yet again in the chance creation department, recording just 2 shots on goal in comparison to Atlanta’s 6 and only 7 total shots in comparison to Atlanta’s 17. Marc Dos Santos commented post-match on his side’s offensive struggles, as well as Atlanta’s challenging defensive structure:
“They came with a plan to hit us in transition where they have players that are very dangerous...they are quick to attack the space. I thought that when we had possession, we spent a lot of time in their half, but couldn’t find any kind of opening. I have to give credit to Atlanta, I think they did a very good job in their defensive organization, it showed as this is their fifth game in a row they did not concede...It says a lot.”
One of Atlanta’s keys to defensive truculency on Wednesday night was debutant Florentin Pogba (older brother to Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba). Florentin was a menacing presence on the backline for Atlanta in his first MLS appearance, several times breaking up the Whitecaps offensive build-up, and (through a translator) he had this to say about his MLS debut:
“Yeah, I was waiting for this opportunity to get my first chance to play with the team, the first start. I think it went well, so thank God it did. I’m happy with how I played, and how the team played, because we were able to get the win, and that’s what’s important. Now we have to get some rest and focus on these games that we have coming up and hopefully I’ll get some more opportunities.
Pogba also commented on his decision to move to MLS, having played almost all of his professional football in France, other than a short stint at Turkish Club Gençlerbirliği in 2018:
“I wanted a new challenge, I had another offer, but I decided to come to Atlanta because I wanted something new and I’d been on trial here last season. I’m very happy, so far it’s been everything I wanted it to be.”
Pogba’s stellar debut helped lead the Five Stripes to their fifth straight win in MLS play - which was also their fifth straight clean sheet (an MLS record).
After a difficult start to the season, Frank de Boer’s team appears to now be firing on all cylinders and sits third in the Eastern Conference standings. De Boer had this to say regarding his team’s third road victory of the season:
“I’m very proud of the team, it’s a long trip, short period in between those two legs. I think we started off a little bit sloppy. With passes lacking concentration, but after 20 minutes we took the control a little bit. In the second half we were even more concentrated, and at the end I think the best team won.”
De Boer’s assessment of the match was, I think, a fair one. If not for two outstanding sequences of play from Whitecaps goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, Atlanta United may have put the game out of reach long before the final whistle. Specifically, in the 59th minute, Crepeau made back to back (to back!) saves which produced a standing ovation from the BC Place crowd.
Crepeau broke down how he saw this sequence of play in his post-match presser:
“You know, I just try to ball watch, the first action is the counter attack off the corner kick, Villalba was running at me and I just tried to close the angle well. The second save is just…ah, I don’t even remember very well, I’m just trying to focus on one ball at a time, I’m just happy that I kept the team in the game and gave us a chance to tie or win - but it’s disappointing to come out of this match with no points.”
Marc Dos Santos also echoed the post-match praise we heard for Crepeau last Friday, as the Canadian keeper has been arguably the Whitecaps most valuable player so far this season, especially considering his last few perfomances.
“Max has been a keeper that has kept us in games, an important player to this team, and that’s why he’s with Vancouver Whitecaps.”
A final storyline from the match against Atlanta was the performance of Whitecaps midfielder Felipe, who drew into the starting XI following an injury to Jon Erice at training on Monday.
The Brazilian played 78 minutes on Wednesday night and completed 50 passes at a rate of 87%, including going 5 for 8 on long balls and winning 4 of his 5 duels. Despite this, I would describe fan reaction towards Felipe’s performance as “mixed” at best. Even though Felipe performed well as a replacement No.6 overall, it felt as though there was something missing in his showing. Felipe reflected on his performance prior to departure for KC Thursday morning:
“Last night, I think, as a midfielder, we established a lot of possession, but we could’ve done a better job moving the ball from one side to the other. Especially when they tried to attack us down one side of the field. There were times where I could have switched the game...we are going to continue to work hard to do a better job for our forwards.”
Dos Santos added his own thoughts on Felipe’s performance:
“I think overall, his job was okay. I don’t think it’s a position that effected the result of the game, the loss didn’t come because Jon didn’t play.”
Looking forward towards Kansas City this weekend, manager Marc Dos Santos relayed that potential squad rotation is still very much up in the air, and that both Lass Bangoura and Jon Erice were not on the flight to KC, but could join the club later in the trip:
“[On Squad Rotation] I’m totally lost right now...I’m being honest...we’re going to have a meeting with the medical department, have a look at the results and the data from yesterday night, talk with some players, so then based on the players who are available, we’ll have a very good idea on how we are going to address the game.”
I think this indicates that we may see a much different looking squad in Kansas City this weekend. Without Lass on the wing and Erice at the No.6, Dos Santos may need to get creative with his formation in order to spark some offence and find the best roles for the players he has available. While I would’ve like to see Andy Rose draw into the starting lineup vs. Atlanta, I think it’s very likely that Rose will get a start this weekend, perhaps with Felipe getting the start again against his former club in New York. In both the case of Rose and Felipe, I think it might make more sense to drop Teibert back into the role of deep-lying midfielder in order to allow either Rose or Felipe to be more involved in the attacking buildup - although perhaps a more dramatic tactical change will make this point moot.
If one thing is clear, it’s the fact that these next two matches will go a long way as to indicate whether or not the Whitecaps overall current run of form is sustainable, and whether or not they have the squad depth to withstand injuries at key positions.