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Coffee with the Caps, Friday August 14

MLS: Sporting Kansas City vs Vancouver Whitecaps FC Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Good Friday morning Caps fans, hope you all are gearing up for a restful weekend and (maybe) one full of football, what with the Canadian Premier League back and all.

The big news this morning is that In-Beom Hwang has (finally) been sold to Rubin Kazan in the Russian Premier League. That obviously has big ramifications for the team and we’ll be tracking those in the coming hours and days.

But, if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I figured we could go back to the MLS Is Back world for just a moment longer.

As I’m sure you all know by now, Portland Timbers (ugh) won the whole shabang on Tuesday evening, despite a brave performance from Orlando City SC. It was, I think its safe to say, not the final we expected in terms of teams but in terms of quality, it was a fitting end to what has been a surprisingly entertaining tournament.

The question then becomes who should be tapped as the player (or players) of the tournament. The obvious answer here is Thomas Hasal, which we’ll return to in a few moments.

Sebastian Blanco was the actual winner, buoyed by eight goals and assists combined, including a stellar performance in the final. Anyone who watched the tournament would have a hard time disagreeing with the pick—the Timbers were not always firing on all cylinders but like any good number 10, Blanco was around to pick them up while they were down.

Take the quarterfinal against NYCFC. Portland were trailing 1-0 early thanks to a Jesus Medina penalty. Blanco releases Jorge Villafana on the left hand side with a lovely pass, recieves a (deflected) ball back from Villafana and slots home a perfect curl to level the match and turn the tide in his team’s favor.

It was equally difficult to quibble with the other finalists: Nani, Diego Rossi and Andre Blake. Nani, in particular, would have been my choice had I been voting—while Blanco may have been slightly better stats (the Orlando City man only had six goals and assists combined), Nani set the tone for his side’s underdog run to the finals.

Ironically, the final was why Nani likely did not win the award. Despite long spells of possession, he was largely frustrated for most of the game and didn’t get as much involvement as his team surely would have liked. The lone exception was the goal, which came about because of a lovely run and cross that unlocked the Portland backline in a way the Lions had not been able to until that point.

The fact of the matter is the final was easily Nani’s weakest match of the tournament and, incidentally, was also his team’s weakest match. Not sure that necessary outlines his case as the best player of the competition but I think it does underscore that he was perhaps the most valuable. And it was refreshing to see the impact a veteran, European star had on a young team, which exceeded basically everyone’s expectations. Nani was fired up the whole tournament and it showed in the rest of his side.

But back to the Caps and Hasal for a moment. Yeah he only played two-and-a-half matches, basically. But Hasal truly transformed the team. As Between the Sticks noted in their recent statistical analysis, Max Crepeau faced roughly 70 percent of the xG, despite starting in goal for only 40 percent of the tournament. And anecdotally, a team which was plagued by baffling defending certainly tightened up (with some exceptions, to be sure) and stopped conceding the silly set piece goals that plagued them in the first two matches.

But beyond statistics, Hasal was without a doubt the feel good story of the tournament. For a team that neutral fans have every reason to ignore, Hasal gave a good reason to tune into Caps’ matches. The only keeper that had a more significant impact on his team’s performance was Andre Blake—a much older, national team-starter quality keeper. 220 straight scoreless minutes would even be something that a keeper of Andre Blake’s would find impressive, frankly

In a tournament that can only be described as “wild,” the Hasal development was the perfect bizarre subplot. A global pandemic is basically the public health equivalent of being on the brink of having to play your left back in goal. So while Tommy won’t be on any of the official awards lists from the tournament, we officially dub him the CWTC MiB Player of the Tournament. I’m sure he’ll be dialing us up to claim his trophy any day now.

Shameless Self Promotion

Let down by MiB being over? Want to watch a league not making horribly irresponsible decisions and having fans in stands? Canadian Premier League is back and waiting for you! Sam Rowan runs down what to expect

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