After a wild and unpredictable season, the Whitecaps were somehow heading into their last two matches with hopes of reaching the promised land of MLS playoffs, something not seen since 2017’s exit against the Seattle Sounders. With the change of position calculation to points per game, the Whitecaps had to secure wins against Portland and LA in order to sneak their way into an extended November. Unfortunately, they were not able to do so, and it seems that the Whitecaps are all but eliminated. Outside of the recent positive play, the Whitecaps have had a pretty torrid season, and it seems that the sentiment of dissatisfaction at the end of last season has remained stagnant until now. Either way, we must take their performance match by match, and today’s match is no different.
Here’s how the teams lined up today:
The opening five minutes of the match seemed to be spelling doom for the Whitecaps, as a particularly strong start from Portland gave flashbacks of earlier Whitecaps collapses, but it proved to just be a blip in the beginning, as the Whitecaps seemed to take more control of the ball after that. The lineup which took the field looked a lot more confident going forwards than the one that went up against Seattle earlier this week, with some attacking plays stopping short of Steve Clark’s line. Evan Bush was tested on more than one occasion by Pablo Bonilla and Yimmi Chara, the latter who seemed to be having a particularly high attacking game today. Luckily, Erik Godoy had also brought his defensive game as well, as he managed to get his body in between a number of shots.
It was a surprisingly solid defensive performance from the back line, and Godoy seems to be a player to keep for the future. In one of these strong blocks, a scramble ensued in front of the Whitecaps box that ended in Fredy Montero’s feet, who was nimble in getting past a couple of players and drew a foul further up the pitch. The transition from defense to attack seemed to be working very well, and there were many occasion when the players seemed super in synch, such as when Ali Adnan charged forwards to tackle a Portland winger, and when he was passed by, Russel Teibert had dropped down and slid to prevent the cross in and stifle the attacking play.
Shortly after, Cavallini missed himself a sitter, misjudging by millimeters his touch on a ball served straight to him thus sending it skying it over the crossbar. This sort of action seemed to define the Whitecaps’ attacks during the rest of the game, as it seemed on a lot of occasions, the Whitecaps were a little bit of effort away from scoring a goal, whether it be through a run Cavallini didn’t make, or a heading opportunity missed by Veselinovic.
The first half was an uninspiring back and forth until the last five minutes, where it seemed to come alive, at least for Vancouver. The Whitecaps began to pose a threat to Portland as wave after wave of attacks seemed to imply that the Whitecaps were going to grow into the game as the second half went on.
Scoreless as the second half began, Portland again struck quickly through shots by the younger Chara, and the Whitecaps looked to be on the verge of one of their early half collapses that they have suffered so much this year. But it seemed after the initial barrage, the Whitecaps seemed to settle down into the game. Owusu was handed an opportunity to be a hero early as a ball was crossed to him for a volley opportunity which he put very off target, looking unconfident with his own ability.
This could have been the turning point for the Whitecaps, but it unfortunately wasn’t, and soon after, they had conceded a goal.
After this, the Whitecaps seemed to buckle under the mental pressure for a while, unable to find creativity nor ability to break down their Cascadian rivals. The answer to this, for Marc Dos Santos, was to frontload the team and fight for an equalizer on goal. Given how the Whitecaps have performed defensively this season, weakening the defense in favor of the offense seemed like a recipe for disaster, but it was one that paid off in opportunities. Teibert made way for Ricketts, and Bikel for Baldisimo, who honestly should have started the game to begin with.
With these new attacking-minded players, the Whitecaps began to become a more threatening team down the flanks, as Ali Adnan did what he did best and provided good crosses into his teammates. The game was slowly closing out but the Whitecaps seemed to either grow or become more desperate due to this since many more chances and shots were taken by multiple members of the team.
Theo Bair was the last substitute to come on, for fullback Jake Nerwinski, and his first touch on the ball was a header that just missed the Portland net off of a corner. As the end of the game drew near, the frenetic finish of the first half seemed to also be present in the second, except since the Whitecaps only had three natural defenders, Portland also found themselves with a heap of chances themselves. This amounted to nothing, as the game ended with the lone goal by Yimmi Chara the division between the two sides.
Overall, the Whitecaps looked more organized than they have before. The side seems a lot more settled than they’ve looked at earlier periods, but its hard to say how that will affect them going forwards with the rebuild of the squad looming in the background. It’s almost the end of the road for the Whitecaps, and this season will be an interesting one to look back at, as it’s hard to call it a win or a failure, as the Whitecaps seemed to just be stuck in an uninspiring limbo for most of it. At the end of the day, the end of the season means a fresh start for everyone, and what better way to begin that renewal process than ending the season with a win? All eyes should be on LA, and possibly setting the weird record of finishing the season without a single draw. The real fun will begin in the offseason, and there’s just one more game to go.