Despite holding their own for stretches, a combination of offensive stagnation and a period of, to put it mildly, inelegance in the second half saw the Vancouver Whitecaps fall to the Seattle Sounders Saturday night, 3-1. Goals from Joao Paulo and Raul Ruidiaz sandwiched an own goal from Erik Godoy, before a Fredy Montero PK precluded a Whitecaps red card that effectively sterilized the match.
The Whitecaps came out in a 4-4-2 for the second straight match, with Marc Dos Santos making two changes to the lineup while rotating players around the pitch.
Derek Cornelius started in place of Leonard Owusu, moving Andy Rose off the backline and into a central midfield pairing with Janio Bikel, while David Milinkovic replaced Cristian Gutierrez, going to the left wing and moving Ali Adnan to left back.
The Whitecaps kicked this one off, but you would never know it had you tuned in late, as it was Seattle who quickly took possession and earned the first shot of the match inside the first two minutes, where a Nicolas Lodeiro effort found the outside of the net.
The Whitecaps quickly struck back with a quality chance of their own, when Lucas Cavallini was able to beat Xavier Arreaga to a whipped in cross from Adnan, catching the ball with his knee and driving it straight at goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
From that moment on, the first half broke down into a sequence of repetition, as Vancouver offered up the worse end of a 70/30 possession rate, punctuated by Seattle’s wingers having consistently gained the corners of the final third.
The Whitecaps never seemed interested in threatening the Sounders’ attack until the moment Seattle began to approach the penalty area. Once a breach appeared imminent, Vancouver’s backline would quickly close down on the threats from the corner and either force passes across the box into a tangle of legs or, when a pass would find its target, result in a shot or header going wide of the goal.
And on occasion, there’d be a great save or two from Bryan Meredith whenever the keeper was pressed into action, particularly on the third of three corner kicks the Sounders crammed in before the end of the first half:
In contrast to Seattle’s measured passing and possession, the Vancouver players would move up the pitch in a panicky earnest, hastily doing so while almost as quickly losing possession of the ball, one give away coming shortly after another. Even back passes felt mitigated, as they often resulted in an uncontested punt to clear the ball.
The pattern would then start again, with an intermittent mix of tackles and grabs referee Timothy Ford seemingly had no interest in whistling down.
Not gonna lie, I hate this BS about players having a 'diving reputation', it's such a useless trope. When Cristian Dajome gets fouled, it should be called a foul, no matter some preconceived notion about going down easy or not#VWFC— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) October 4, 2020
However, the Whitecaps did finish the first half with an uptick of better possession and passing. Was this foreshadowing of things to come? The TSN studio crew seemed to think so, remarking how Vancouver were 4-0 in games this season when they were level at half time. Surely good times were ahead! In fairness, sometimes it’s nice it to be so hopeful and naïve.
Instead, the game quickly went off the rails in the second half for Vancouver, as things got weird and stayed that way.
Seattle broke the deadlock seconds after the break, as recent signee Joao Paulo put a dipping worm burner across Meredith and inside the far post to make it 1-0:
Following an exchange of yellow cards, one to Paulo at 49’ and another to Cavallini at 52’ (guaranteeing a suspension from Wednesday’s match for the striker, due to yellow card accumulation), Seattle earned its second goal of the match in ugly, ugly fashion:
Of course you’ll take it, they all count the same!
That’s Meredith getting a hand to the whipped in cross from Cristian Roldan, only to have the ball skip up and carom off the thigh of Erik Godoy and into the Vancouver net.
After all the quality Whitecap defending in the first half, the club certainly did not do itself any favors in the second. Another great example came at 56’ where, after Vancouver could not break down the Sounders’ defense and ultimately turned the ball over following a series of awkward passes, Jordan Morris quickly broke out on the counter on what should have been a third goal. Thankfully, the ball found its way to Nouhou Tolo and nothing came of it.
I mean, nothing came of it then, because soon after we received a glimpse of Vancouver’s inadequacies when defending corner kicks:
Can't get over the vision from Morris on this assist. Eyes in the back of his head. Clear pass of the week. pic.twitter.com/pI9kvERZ2d— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) October 4, 2020
That’s Morris inadvertently redirecting the cross off his back to a camped-out Raul Ruidiaz, who heads past Meredith as Bikel was caught admiring the Cascadia flag on the back of his jersey.
And despite the immediate conceding of three goals to open the half, things were actually about to look up for Vancouver, but in a very bizarre fashion.
In trying to latch onto a through ball from Fredy Montero, Cavallini collided with Seattle center back Yeimar Gomez and was somehow able to draw a DOGSO red card for the defender and a penalty!
Or did he?
VAR is very quickly brought in and rightfully so: after appearing to push off Yeimar prior to crossing into the penalty area, Cava seems to have been tripped up by the dragged, errant boot of the defender. I’m guessing the VAR review revealed the play was far more innocent than first glance, and the red was quickly rescinded.
Instead, Yeimar is given a yellow card, I’m guessing for the dangling of a reckless foot behind him after being pushed? Honestly, I’m not exactly sure, but it was enough to have the Whitecaps retain their penalty kick. No red, just a yellow, and a PK brought on from contact initiated by Cavallini outside the box. Weirdness, but technically correct: the best kind of correct.
Up steps Montero to coolly panenka one past Frei to make it 3-1:
Did that card-rescinding leave you wanting for a genuine expulsion? Well, I’ve got good news and bad news for you...
Straight red for Bikel. pic.twitter.com/SjVZpD77xL— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) October 4, 2020
Yes, that’s Bikel firmly planting his boot into the midsection of Gustav Svensson, effectively ending any hope for a Whitecaps comeback over the remaining twenty-two minutes.
Worth noting: unless there’s an unexpectedly successful appeal to be had for either player, both Bikel and Cavallini will now be unavailable for Wednesday’s match in San Jose.
From the red card onward, play in the second half wasn’t all that different from the first: Seattle maintained its rate of a 70/30 possession, working the ball to the corners and threatening to get into the penalty area before putting shots either wide or over the net, whereas the Whitecaps would occasionally get forward without ever truly breaking down the final third of the pitch.
So, if you want a silver lining, I guess Vancouver was able to do with ten men what they were accomplishing with eleven? Hooray.
To be fair, there were some quality moments as the match was drawing to a close, as substitutes Michael Baldisimo and Ryan Raposo both looked good in possession while Meredith was able to produce a few more quality saves.
Nevertheless, this match wrapped up as a 3-1 win for the Sounders, another in a long line of results where 2020 continues to have us all feeling like Kelvin Leerdam: