Here we are again. Another season is coming to a close, and another long (actually, probably much shorter than normal) offseason lies ahead.
In dropping a 1-0 result Sunday evening against the Portland Timbers at Providence Park, the Vancouver Whitecaps are all but officially eliminated from playoff contention. It’s been a wild year for this team with many unprecedented challenges, and it certainly played out much differently than anyone could have expected, with just 22 regular season matches played at the beginning of November.
Update: With the rescheduling of San Jose vs. LAFC for Wednesday night, the Whitecaps are still alive, and would make the playoffs if San Jose drops their last two matches while Vancouver beats LA Galaxy.
While the season itself has been quite unpredictable, the performances of this Whitecaps team have not. In fact, it’s right about where I expected this team to be. On February 20th, we put out our preseason predictions here at Eighty-Six Forever, and when I was asked to make a standings prediction, this is what I had to say:
“I’m predicting moderate improvement, but not enough to get in the playoffs. I’m going to go with a 9th place finish.”
As things stand right now, the Whitecaps sit 9th in the West. Now the whole point of this is not to say that I’m amazing at predictions, but rather that as much as this team might like to point to all the challenges of the season holding them back from their true potential, I think this is right about where they are supposed to be. Were moderate improvements made from last year? Yeah, absolutely. Has it been enough to consider themselves a truly competitive team in MLS? No, not really. Am I going on a somewhat meaningless tangent? Maybe.
What I think I’m trying to get at with all of this is that the Whitecaps missing the playoffs could be a blessing in disguise. Obviously, a playoff match have been nice in a year largely devoid of joy, but if there’s even a slim chance it forces Marc Dos Santos, Axel Schuster & Co. to take a more critical look at the roster this offseason, I think that’s a worthy sacrifice. I know for a fact I don’t want to see a team next year that is basically incapable of scoring on the road or holding more than 50% of the ball, so some changes are definitely in order.
Trying to place my general thoughts on this season aside, it’s time to take a look at the individual performances from Sunday night against Portland. This is one I had to re-watch after the fact, because I found myself essentially blacking out for long stretches as the match was live. Five total shots on target doesn’t exactly get the adrenaline pumping, and the Timbers’ overall performance in this one made me reconsider my comment that they belong in the top echelon of Western teams alongside Seattle and Sporting KC.
Ok, let’s get into it.
Evan Bush (7.0)
Bush has done exactly what the Whitecaps were hoping for in goal, he’s been reliable and made an area of turmoil something they don’t have to worry about. I feel really badly for him as he’s been deserving of a clean sheet a couple of times, only to have it taken away by individual errors or moments of quality from the opposition. He had two saves in this one and his distribution was solid.
Jake Nerwinski (6.0)
Jake was lively but the partnership with Ranko on the right-hand side simply doesn’t work. I felt as though Nerwinski’s positioning had improved a lot this season but playing alongside Veselinovic has put a real strain on that, as he’s forced to play much more centrally. I think that Cornelius would be a much better fit for Jake, but perhaps the Whitecaps go in another direction entirely next year.
Ranko Veselinovic (5.5)
Ranko does a nice job with his distribution, but his defensive positioning is still a massive concern. I don’t want to put the entirety of the Timbers goal on him, but he has a funny habit of marking empty space inside his own box rather than picking up the nearest attacker. At the very least, it would be good to see some more communication with those around him at critical moments. He made life difficult for Godoy and Nerwinski numerous times in this one.
Erik Godoy (7.5)
The Argentine is one of the few players on this team I can say I’m 100% confident with going into next season. Godoy collected 4 clearances, 5 interceptions and two tackles in this one, and he was also the Whitecaps’ leading passer, with 52 completed passes.
Ali Adnan (7.0)
This is such a different Ali Adnan than I’m used to. He’s been consistent lately to the point that it feels a bit out of character, but I’m certainly not complaining. He was lively down the left with a few darting runs, and set up what was perhaps the Whitecaps’ best chance of the match with a ball into the feet of Cavallini.
Janio Bikel (6.5)
Bikel is always up to the task defensively and is another guy (along with Godoy and Dajome) I’d like to see stick in the team next year. He had 5 tackles in this one and won 7 of his 9 ground duels.
Leo Owusu (6.0)
A bit of a tough one to evaluate – not a lot of good, but not a lot of bad either. He passed at 93% but there were very few critical attacking balls. I also think Owusu could have done a better job tracking back on the Timbers goal. Right now, Owusu looks better as a depth piece than a regular starter.
Russell Teibert (6.0)
Teibert’s best attribute right now might be just how much he allows Ali Adnan to play his game. That being said, most of Portland’s best chances began down the Whitecaps’ left-hand side, usually with a pass beating Teibert’s press in the midfield. Teibert was decent in this one, but I still think you need a proper winger out there in a 4-4-2, Milinkovic is sorely missed.
Cristian Dajome (6.5)
I really like Dajome’s game. The hustle and persistence he shows both defensively and in creating chances is admirable, and although his game needs some polish, I think he’s a good piece for this Whitecaps team going forwards, especially if MDS is still here. Dajome had 2 key passes, won 6 ground duels, and had three tackles.
Looking at data for the Canadian MLS teams.— Peter Galindo (@GalindoPW) November 3, 2020
Three takeaways when looking at #VWFC's xG+xA: Dájome was a solid signing, Milinkovic was just as good pre-injury and Montero over a full season would've been
Data: @fbref pic.twitter.com/N6EcOj10wJ
Fredy Montero (5.5)
It wasn’t a very good night for Fredy, but you still have to like his hold up play. It’s been obvious recently that opposing teams are keying in on Montero as one of the Whitecaps’ few creative outlets, and the Timbers really seemed to disturb Montero with their physical play.
Lucas Cavallini (6.0)
It was a decent showing from the Canadian frontman in this one. I found it funny how differently he pressed knowing he didn’t want to pick up a yellow card – he was very passive. The Whitecaps didn’t do him a lot of favors in terms of service, and he did about as much as he could’ve with his few looks on target.
Tosaint Ricketts (Sub – 5.5)
I just don’t think that Ricketts is suited for the wing, he looks a bit lost without the ball, and can’t be relied upon in build up play. He’s better up top, and I would’ve liked to see him come on late for Montero rather than as the first sub.
Michael Baldisimo (Sub – N/A)
It’s a shame Baldi won’t be available for the last match of the season. He tried to get something going with some long balls but they didn’t really come off. I’m excited for what he can do over a full season next year.
Theo Bair (Sub – N/A)
It’s almost as if the Whitecaps could have used an aerial presence sooner as they pushed for a tying goal. Theo was good in his brief action, and the way he has been used this season has frustrated me.
Marc Dos Santos (4.0)
The Whitecaps were still sitting in a mid to low block with less than 20 minutes left, down a goal, in a must-win match. Either the players don’t take instruction very well, or the instructions weren’t good enough.
That’s it from me, what were your thoughts on this performance which essentially sealed the Whitecaps’ playoff fate? Let me know in the comments!