“To Live and Die in LA” may be Tupac Shakur’s best known single but it also could pretty well sum up the roller coaster ride of the Caps’ 4-3 victory at Dignity Health Sports Park Sunday night.
Fortunately for Vancouver, their hopes of claiming a seventh win of the season dodged several brushes with death, thanks to a last minute goal from Michaell Chirinos, who nabbed his first goal for the Whitecaps at exactly the right time.
The lineup featured a couple of notable changes, most significantly the debut of Tunisian youngster Jasser Khmeri at centerback after his season-long struggle with injuries. The starting XI also featured the return of Maxime Crepeau in goal after his (much maligned) absences in the past couple of matches, Erik Godoy playing right back and, after a late injury, Brett Levis replaced Jake Nerwinski who replaced Ali Adnan at left back (say that five times fast).
It took less than a minute of game time for a chance to fall to the Caps. Almost immediately after kickoff, with Andy Rose finding Theo Bair going forward. Bair found Ricketts but Matt Lampson saved not one but two bites at the apple off the goal line. The tone was set for a wide open game early--Cristian Pavon found side netting on a wide open chance just a few minutes later.
The match slowly shifted in favor of the Galaxy as the half went on. Pavon especially had a lot of success in using his speed against an inexperienced centerback (Khmiri) and an out-of-position right back (Godoy). The ultimate goal, however, for the Galaxy seemed to be to get the ball to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who Doneil Henry had more success in shadowing early.
The away side took a lead against the run-of-play, with the return of the #CornerCaps. A searching cross from In-Beom found Henry at the back post after Diego Polenta made a meal of the clearance and the Canadian international headed/chested/kicked the ball across the line. A more confident performance from either Polenta or Lampson would have stopped the threat but it was nice awareness from Henry to thrust the Caps into the lead.
It took mere minutes, however, for the Galaxy tactics to pay off. Pavon again beat Khmiri and looked as if he would square another shot to the near post. Instead, he lofted a pass to Zlatan and the striker made no mistake to slot the ball by a helpless Crepeau. Pavon is basically everything Caps’ fans wished they would get in a winger and he punished a backline that had fallen asleep after the opening goal.
Vancouver did not, as I expected, fold like a cheap card table. Both teams had chances from distance--a Theo Bair shot off the upright, a Efrain Alvarez shot from distance that drifted wide.
Bair built on his excellent first half showing shortly thereafter. Some sloppy defending allowed the Caps to maintain possession and a Michaell Chirinos shot from distance deflected perfectly for Bair, who made slyly toe poked it into the net. It was a tight margin for offsides (to be honest, I think Bair probably was not onside but the goal was rightly upheld because it was so close) but great awareness from the youngster put Vancouver back in front as the game went into halftime.
At the half PC Giro spelled Brett Levis, a rather predictable move after Levis looked gassed in the first half. Knowing MDS, I’m a little surprised he didn’t go with PC from the get-go but so be it.
The Caps did not immediately drop into bunkering, as I sort of thought they might. Instead they took advantage of the four or five yards of space LA was giving the central midfield. The defense did require a bail-out from Crepeau, who pushed a long range volley from Carlos Antuna off the line on a play the Caps really should have had dealt with long before.
Antuna had better success moments later when Crepeau misjudged a long ball over the top from Jonathan Dos Santos. Caught in no man’s land, Antuna chipped him and Khmiri was too far away to halt the inevitable. A disappointing equalizer to concede after the Caps’ had chances early on in the second half.
But if LA Galaxy struggles in the playoffs it will almost certainly be because of a porous backline that gifted Tosaint Ricketts his first goal as a Caps player. It was all down to an inch-perfect cross from a surprisingly adept-at-right-back Erik Godoy. No one really bothered to challenge Ricketts aerially and it was a nice header past Lampson to restore the Caps’ lead.
The Caps only then really settled into their bunker, in part out of necessity. Fredy Montero came on for Ricketts after his goal and Bair pulled up lame five minutes later, forcing Scott Sutter to come on. That basically depleted the Caps’ pace up front and gave them no other real options aside from sitting back and defending, with the occasional long ball over the top.
The bunker must have had a faulty part, though. The Caps’ were caught in a but of disarray when Chris Pontius launched a run into the box and was able to latch onto a nice header from Zlatan. Even with Henry draped over him, Pontius slotted the ball past Crepeau to find the equalizer the Galaxy had been so desperately chasing, pouncing on the Caps’ getting caught flat footed on the second ball--fatally so.
But wait! The goal-a-palooza did not end there. An expertly launched counter from Khmiri and Montero launched In-Beom and Chirinos through with no defenders near. Hwang opted to square it for Chirinos rather than take it himself and it gave the Honduran his first goal as a Caps player, as well as a match winner for Vancouver.
- Jasser Khmiri got torched out there early, there isn’t any denying it, although he settled into the game and flashed glimpses of his potential later. I think there’s a decent chance his struggles are down to adjusting to the speed of MLS (Cristian Pavon is faster than the average Tunisian Ligue Professionnelle player) and recovering from injury than anything. Remember the mare Derek Cornelius had in Houston on his full debut? And see him now? Yeah, don’t give up on Khmiri--better to have any mistakes happen now than next season.
- I’m glad Khmiri is making us Team Man Bun again too
- LA Galaxy have some of the most annoying announcers in MLS #ESPN+Probs
- The problem with Andy Rose putting in these half-decent performances is he’s going to convince management to keep him on for next year when, in reality, he both isn’t very good and isn’t the DM needed for MDS’ system at all.
- I desperately want MDS to put Theo Bair back at striker and this match only intensifies that desire. That being said, he was really dangerous as a winger, both at swinging in crosses and taking chances when they fell to him (he was unlucky not to have a second, which rocketed off the crossbar). Hope his injury isn’t that serious.
- Hey, remember when Diego Polenta was supposed to solve the Galaxy’s backline woes? Yeah me too
- Really, really good matches from Hwang, Chirinos and Godoy, the latter two really making a strong case for sticking around next season. I’m fully aboard the Godoy as right back experiment, as he looked dangerous all night, was vital on the third goal and was solid defensively to boot. The team should hang its hat on being able to credibly say it went into a top Western Conference team (albeit with a USL-level defense) and deserved to win.