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From The Locker Room(s): VWFC vs. TFC, Better Than the UCL Final?

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The Whitecaps match on Friday night was bad, but was it worse than the Champions League Final?

MLS: Toronto FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Friday nights’ matchup between Canadian MLS rivals Vancouver Whitecaps & Toronto FC was one which could have produced many captivating headlines heading into the international break. Toronto FC was desperate to go out on a positive note finding themselves winless in their last five matches, while the Whitecaps looked to secure all three points and push their heads above the playoff line in the Western conference. But rather than a feeling of vindication, the final whistle at BC Place likely left both sides feeling unsatisfied - as neither squad had achieved their goal, or even played the kind of football you’d hope to see in a marquee Friday night MLS matchup.

And if you thought the Whitecaps match was disappointing, then i’m sure you weren’t exactly thrilled with how the Champions League final went down on Saturday afternoon. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but there’s a genuine case to be made that the Whitecaps match on Friday may have actually been more exciting than the Champions League Final Saturday afternoon (the most watched annual sporting event in the world), so there’s always that.

Regardless of how the Whitecaps might stack up against the European giants in terms of watchability, the ‘Caps perfomance at BC Place still left a lot to be desired, and Marc Dos Santos echoed these sentiments in his post-match press conference.

In particular, the first half likely embodied the type of football Dos Santos is trying to avoid playing under his watch:

Once we got in their half - it was rough, especially in the first half, it was sloppy and we made bad decisions on the ball. In my opinion, it’s probably our worst first half of the year.”

At the same time, Dos Santos did his best to keep perspective, as the month of May has seen the Whitecaps go on a crazy run of 7 matches in 25 days, and fatigue was undoubtedly a factor for both sides:

“These guys have been on an incredible run, it’s been very difficult with the travel. And we just felt that tonight, there was a bit of a lack of energy. When the mind is tired, then we’re not sharp enough - these guys deserve the break.”

While the majority of the match was admittedly rather listless, perhaps the most important moment for the Whitecaps came in the 62nd minute when Yordy Reyna replaced Lucas Venuto alongside Fredy Montero. The Peruvian attacker (in his first match back from injury) not only drew the crucial penalty which led to the Whitecaps lone goal on the night, but also noticeably altered the Whitecaps tactical approach in the final 30+ minutes. Dos Santos commented on the tactical change in the game which coincided with Yordy’s appearance:

“The game stretched. Yordy came on in the game very, very well, he brought a lot. He continued the run of form that he had before his injury. So that opened up the game a little bit more.”

The man who made way for Reyna, Lucas Venuto, also had a rather interesting (although overall less successful) appearance in his second start as a forward alongside Fredy Montero.

Although the Brazilian has only been with the club for a brief period, the diminutive forward has already developed somewhat of a reputation for not being able to finish his chances, or to pick out a critical final pass in the right moment. In a way this is a compliment, as Venuto is very adept at slipping his defender and finding himself in space, but at the same time, Venuto’s lack of finish and poor decision making in the final third makes him easy to single out as the cause of the Whitecaps offensive frustrations. I asked MDS whether or not he thinks Venuto’s issues come down to decision making or simply a lack of confidence:

“It’s both. It’s confidence but we also have to work with him a lot. [his decision making] is an area that he needs to become better in, because he has incredible quality when he turns and he runs with the ball. He attacks the space in behind [defenders] very, very, well. But with all of these qualities, with his explosiveness, if he was in the final third all the time and his passes were perfect, and his shot was perfect, he would be in Barcelona”

As much as I appreciate the banter of Dos Santos’ reply, I would argue (and I hardly think that this is a hot take) that there is a significant gulf between Venuto’s quality and the type of quality which would put him on Barcelona’s radar (lol). At the end of the day, I think Dos Santos and I would both be pleased if Venuto’s improvement falls somewhere between his current form and replacing Suarez or Messi at Barcelona.

On the Toronto FC side of the match, perhaps the best player on the pitch was Canadian midfielder Liam Fraser, who after being left off the Canadian Gold Cup roster, certainly looked like a player who had something to prove. Toronto FC Manager Greg Vanney commented on Fraser’s standout perfomance:

“I thought he was excellent. In these games where we have a lot of the ball, Liam’s qualities shine. He’s so good under pressure, so good at spreading the ball with different passes, he’s got a great frame - so he’s also got a good feel for protecting the ball. So in these types of games, where we have good stretches with a lot of the ball, it plays into Liam’s hands.”

Even Kristian Jack got in on the action, and while it’s not particularly on brand for us at 86Forever to credit the KJ & Caldwell gang, credit where credit is due. Also, make sure to check out JJ Adams’ story on Fraser when it comes out.

Another perhaps crucial moment of the match which went largely unnoticed was the possibility of a second yellow card for Toronto FC defender Drew Moor on the foul which led to the Whitecaps’ penalty kick. While this was largely overshadowed by Montero’s goal from the spot, the failure to call a second yellow card may have had a drastic impact on the outcome of the match. Here are MDS’ thoughts on the foul:

“Do you think that was for Moor a yellow card? [asking the media] Yea, me too. I’m not saying a red. But for me it’s a clear second yellow card. So maybe the game changes there, maybe now you’re ten versus eleven and it changes a bit. So it’s a very defining moment in the game.”

At the same time, Dos Santos was eager to keep his squad grounded about the end result:

“We have to admit that the tie is fair. That’s a fair result for both teams, and if we don’t admit that, we’re delusional and we don’t progress as a team.”

While this may seem like a bit of a “what if” proposition after the fact, it appears as though even Moor himself was surprised that he wasn’t sent off. So It’ll be interesting to see whether or not this incident gets any traction on the MLS’ “Instant Replay” this week (I look forward to Bobby Warshaw’s awful take).

Last but certainly not least, Dos Santos spoke about the transfer window, and if the lack of a dominating midfield presence (especially in this match) makes his staff view their priorities any differently than they might have previously.

His message was much the same as we’ve heard many times before, a call for cautious optimism. At the end of the day, it’s likely not down to MDS and his staff’s ability to recruit quality players, but instead the front office’s ability to buck up and secure the quality pieces Dos Santos needs to push his squad to the next level - and I get the sense that as the window grows closer, even Dos Santos himself is being forced to temper his expectations.