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Sporting Kansas City v Vancouver Whitecaps: Knockout Round - MLS Is Back Tournament

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Hasal’s Heroic Effort Not Enough as Whitecaps Bow Out in Round of 16

It was a special night in Orlando, and although the Whitecaps fell in the end, it’s one that’s unlikely to be forgotten anytime soon.

Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

They’re calling him the Saskatoon Schmeichel.

Even as the Vancouver Whitecaps bow out of the MLS is Back tournament in the Round of Sixteen (on Penalty Kicks by a score of 0-0 (1-3) to Sporting Kansas City), the feeling around the team has shifted dramatically over the course of these last two matches.

In any other year and at any other tournament, losing your reigning MVP would probably have the opposite effect. Yet since Maxime Crepeau was forced out of the Seattle Sounders match a week ago, the Vancouver Whitecaps have been a different football team.

Although the Whitecaps midfield still left a lot to be desired, and Vancouver’s short passing against Sporting Kansas City continued to be well below average, the Whitecaps defensive efforts were remarkable Sunday night.

Sure, it’s not a sustainable way to play, but the Whitecaps were so depleted against SKC that they weren’t even able to field a full bench. Heck, Ali Adnan was the backup goalkeeper.

The point of all this being, in the course of two matches, the Whitecaps have transformed themselves from potential laughing stocks into the feel good story of the tournament so-far.

Thomas Hasal is taking home a lot of the praise, and rightfully so, but Derek Cornelius and Jake Nerwinski are two names which should not go amiss in all of this.

Nerwinski’s tackle saved the game against Chicago, and if not for Cornelius’ rock solid play over the last two matches, I doubt Vancouver would’ve made it as far as the penalty shootout.

When it came down to said penalty shootout, the Whitecaps takers simply weren’t up to the task.

It’s a fickle thing the spot kick, and you could question Marc Dos Santos’ choices until the cows come home. But at the end of the day, Tim Melia simply seems to be a PK savant: it looked like he could read minds on a few of those kicks.

As the team looks to move on from the loss, the question which remains is what exactly lies ahead for the Whitecaps? Two weeks of quarantine when they come back to Canada for starters...but after that, who knows?

It appears as though Major League Soccer is moving closer to a return to play solution which could see the three Canadian teams face off against one another until border issues are (or aren’t) resolved, and selfishly, this seems like a great idea. But hopefully the Whitecaps continue to put the health and safety of their players and staff above all else.

On the footballing side, the Whitecaps have proven that they can defend well when organized properly, and although they will certainly need the benefit of their full squad going forward, the young bench has proven itself worthy when given an opportunity. It’s been great experience for this young group, and it will only serve them well in the long run.

You can’t help but get the sense now that both Marc Dos Santos, and many Whitecaps fans, are cautiously optimistic about what the team could look like with a fully available squad and a more predictable playing environment. Dare I say the prospect of such an occasion might even be tantalizing.

At this moment in time however, the spotlight very much belongs to Thomas Hasal.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen Whitecaps goalkeeping coach Youssef Dahha loudly barking out orders to Thomas during training these past few seasons, I would be a very rich man. And yet it looks as though all the hard work grinding away as the third keeper on the roster has been a blessing. If you can survive Youssef it seems, you can survive anything.

And boy did Hasal thrive when the lights shined brightest in this tournament.

He’s charmed the league as a whole, and certainly endeared himself to Whitecaps fans, who knows, maybe we’ll even get a good ol’ fashioned goalkeeping controversy in this city sometime soon.

For now though, Marc Dos Santos prefers if both our own expectations, as well as those of the young keeper, stay grounded. Stop me if you’ve heard that before.

What were your thoughts on the match, Hasal’s performance, and the tournament as a whole? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll be back soon with more post match reaction.

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