Two second half goals turned things around for the Caps, who clawed back a 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake Saturday night at Providence Park.
Five minutes of magic, powered by supersub Michael Baldisimo, lifted the Caps on a night when both teams looked to be feeling the effects of this season’s condensed schedule.
A few slight changes were on offer from the midweek, with Lucas Cavallini slotting back into the lineup next to Fredy Montero. Russell Teibert again slotted in on the left midfield to protect Ali Adnan. Leonard Owusu also returned to the lineup but next to Janio Bikel this time. Erik Godoy, saved from a suspension, paired next to Ranko Veselinovic as Andy Rose was not granted a reprieve following his red card against San Jose.
Much like the previous two matches, the Caps started fairly brightly. They spent a lot of time in the RSL zone and put the away side in some compromising positions, with RSL picking up a half-dozen fouls in the first 15 minutes. Montero especially was really unleashed to be creative and his interplay with Cavallini was especially strong.
There were, however, few clear cut chances from either side. Most of the Caps’ opportunities came from set pieces, with the RSL fouls really chopping up the flow of play. The best of these was a Fredy Montero cross in on a dead ball play from near the sideline, which was brilliantly placed and found the head of Cristian Dajome, only for the resulting shot to fizz over the bar.
RSL’s first shot on target resulted in a goal, one which was similar in the build up to the goal they pulled over the Caps a few weeks ago. Jake Nerwinski had played with fire by leaving Justin Meram unmarked and was finally burned, with the Iraqi international heading a lifted cross to a totally open Demir Kreilach, who tapped in. It was a frustrating goal to concede shortly before the half, with the Caps defense falling victim to the same mistakes again and again.
An offsides call on Kreilach saved the Caps from conceding a second in first half stoppage time. There is no better metaphor for this season than Ali Adnan stopping to appeal for (an admittedly clear) offsides call while letting Kreilach and Marcelo Silva fire at Evan Busch.
The second half was similarly sleepy to start. The Caps continued to ask questions of RSL via long balls over the top and set pieces, with RSL getting more chances on the break. Neither side had much luck on finding direct chances.
The introduction of Michael Baldisimo was, perhaps predictably, a boon for the Caps. After an hour of mediocre set piece delivery, Baldi stepped onto the pitch and sent in a lovely ball which caused problems for Douglas Martinez, who attempted to clear only to beat his own keeper to give the Caps the equalizer they were searching for.
The Caps fortune continued after some sloppy RSL defending allowed Adnan to get forward, fed by none other than Baldi. A series of chances in the box tested Andrew Putna but it was Cavallini with a one-time poach to put the Caps in front. It was the Caps’ first goal from open play against 11 men in over 700 (yes you read that right) minutes.
There were some warning shots for RSL, with Jake Nerwinski and Ali Adnan giving the RSL wingers space on several occasions in quick succession. This was evidenced after Aaron Herrera was given acres of space on the lefthand side to find an unmarked Corey Baird at the back post but Evan Busch, who had a much stronger night Saturday, tipped the header over the bar.
Despite a bizarre stoppage time, with Busch getting clattered by Maikel Ramirez and RSL making things interesting on a couple set pieces, the Caps saw out their second 2-1 win over the Utah side this season.
- A bit of good news for the Caps: despite initial reports to the contrary, Ranko’s purchase obligation is not triggered with his start tonight. It appears the clause is tied to 12 STARTS not appearances. Based on the way he totally lost Kreilach on the first RSL goal, I probably speak on behalf of most Caps fans when I say that he shouldn’t get those two starts.
- To that end, man Derek Cornelius really has to be wondering how he’s going to get a start when a guy who isn’t even a centerback by trade is suspended (Rose) and the other main option to replace him has looked poor (Ranko). Unclear why exactly MDS doesn’t believe Cornelius would be an improvement but he should get a look in the next match.
- I thought subbing left midfielder Rusty off at the half in the midweek was the Caps’ undoing but ... this was probably the game where they needed David Milinkovic (or Ryan Raposo, I suppose) sooner rather than later.
- The team needs to revisit its set pieces in training this week. Montero, who looked generally lively otherwise, didn’t have a good touch on corners and there were a couple free kicks plays that certainly should be left on the practice ground. Whether it was a conscious strategy or not, RSL’s fouling really broke up the flow of play and a bit better set piece delivery would have been a way to fight back against this.
- Every time Lucas Cavallini gets booked it is for, I swear to God, the exact same tackle.
- Given the style of play the Caps tried to roll with in the first half, it is mystifying why Leonard Owusu got the start over Baldisimo. The youngster’s transformative effect on the match underscored that he should be one of the first names on the team sheet for MDS—he transformed set piece delivery and it was an ingenious bit of work to spring Ali Adnan on the second goal. He won a free kick to help seal away some crucial seconds in stoppage time and his chemistry with Adnan shouldn’t be understated. It’s hard to disagree with Caleb Wilkins on Baldi being the team’s best midfielder and I would argue he might be their most crucial player right now.
- Praise should also be heaped on Erik Godoy, who is looking much better when he isn’t asked to play right back. His steadiness on the ball and creativity is most welcome and there was a reason that most of the RSL chances were due to errors on the right side of the defense.
- Wasn’t the prettiest of wins for the Caps but aside from falling asleep on Justin Meram in the first half, the defense was solid enough and they got a couple of breaks to grab the goals they needed. Can that be duplicated against LAFC? Highly unlikely, but enjoy this one for now Caps’ fans.