The third time apparently is the charm.
The Caps needed a third bite at the apple to beat the San Jose Earthquakes but when they absolutely needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, the squad stepped up with a vital second half to turn around a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win.
The Caps went with a different formation, although the defense and central midfield pairing stayed the same from last match. Russell Teibert moved to the bench, however, and Cristian Dajome and Tosaint Ricketts were out on the wings alongside Fredy Montero and Lucas Cavallini more centrally.
It was a bit of a chaotic start early, with the Caps press in fine form, although it did not create any clear cut chances. When the Quakes broke the press, you got the impression they had done their homework on the types of goals the Caps have been conceding—the away side sent in lots of balls from wide areas to try and catch Jake Nerwinski and Ranko Veselinovic asleep at the back post.
It was exactly that type of goal the Caps conceded. Ali Adnan was exposed without Teibert in the lineup, beaten by Cristian Espinoza. Nerwinski was caught ball watching and Carlos Fierro took advantage, sneaking in behind to pounce on an inch perfect cross to beat Evan Bush one time. While Adnan got rinsed way too easily, it was almost certainly a result of San Jose knowing exactly how to unlock the Caps defense.
San Jose almost hit back with an instant second, with Fierro feeling himself and firing in a cross which fell awkwardly to Andy Rios. Fortunately he was surrounded by Caps defenders, who forced him off the ball and the half shot fell to Bush.
The game settled back into a rather catatonic state for the Caps, with attacks lacking any real fluidity. The team leaned on the left hand side of the pitch for most of its forward verve, which wouldn’t be a bad idea given the form of the Dajome-Montero-Cava trio but more often than not the players weren’t on the same page.
The Caps started similarly slow but things ratcheted up quickly with a bang. After winning a free kick well outside the box, Ali Adnan did what Ali Adnan does, as he fired a rocket past a helpless JT Marcinkowski. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Ali do, well, that, and it left everything to play for.
The goal seemed to galvanize the Caps, who reverted back to the energy they showed in the first 15 minutes where they dominated possession. Things didn’t all click the first couple of forays forward but a bit of magic from Cristian Dajome unlocked a second goal. Dajome beat his first man, using Cavallini as a bit of a screen on the late arriving defenders and while his cross was pushed away by Marcinkowski, Ricketts was there to tap home.
The Caps were unsurprisingly more content to sit back and absorb pressure, although they did not always cope with that stress well. The Quakes opted to continue their strategy of trying to swing in crosses and testing the right side of the Caps’ defense. While the team bent but did not break, there still was a shakiness there.
Ricketts nearly nabbed a second, with some excellent work from Jake Nerwinski to keep an overcooked pass in, beating his man in the process. He put a dangerous ball into the box and it was only a slight touch from Marcinkowski to keep the ball away from the head of Ricketts. It was his final involvement in the match, with Russell Teibert replacing Ricketts shortly thereafter.
More and more breaks started to become available for the Caps and Dajome and Cavallini nearly took advantage of one, playing a nice one-two after latching onto a loose ball. The moment briefly appeared to pass Cava by before he fired right after Marcinkowski, his first real chance at goal since the early moments of the match.
The Caps had remarkably few issues late from San Jose, save from a dangerous Quakes free kick where Rios went for goal from a wide area rather than swinging a cross into the box. Some inspired defending from all 11 men on the pitch helped the Caps see out a massive three points.
- How many times is this team going to concede the exact same goal this season before MDS admits they has no idea how to zonal mark.
- Ali Adnan will probably not be back in a Whitecaps kit and I think that’s a good thing but I still appreciated the reminder of what he can do on his day.
- Let’s face it—Tosaint Ricketts was beyond invisible in the first half. But the decision to swap him and Dajome was much needed—it got more positive involvement from the Colombian on his preferred side after a rather wasteful first half hour. And while it was Dajome who did most of the work on the second goal, give Ricketts credit for showing good instincts (the second-best on the team behind Cava). Having Dajome switch sides saved the game for the Caps.
- If you had asked me, of all the players on the squad, which one would successfully pull off a roulette in the box, Ranko Veselinovic would have been dead last.
- Both Owusu and Bikel put in massive shifts, with the latter showing why he was missed last match against LA Galaxy. Bikel’s lack of passing ability is a bit frustrating but he was worth his weight in gold given how much he was asked to track back in the second 45.
- Speaking of tracking back, a massive amount of credit to Montero and Cavallini for giving it their all defensively tonight. Neither player was as efficient offensively as they would have liked but their work rate helped make things difficult on San Jose.
- Credit Nerwinski: After once again being largely at fault for a goal, the right back turned things around in the second half and was a real asset on both ends of the pitch. And Erik Godoy also merits a shout-out for being the steady hand at the back the Caps needed.
- After watching this team fold their tents so many times in recent years, tonight’s result was so encouraging, regardless of whether it results in a playoff berth. And give MDS credit for a halftime team talk and tactics change which helped things click just enough to save the season.