The smoke has cleared on the fate of our beloved Vancouver Whitecaps vis-a-vis the Canadian Championship, but there was still a lot to play for at BC Place tonight. The Whitecaps came into their game against the Montreal Impact just 4 points out of the final playoff spot in the West, while Montreal had a clear path to winning the aforementioned Canadian Championship with two wins, and a combined victory margin of 4 goals.
These stakes could be felt at the start of the game, as the action could best be described as nervy. Neither team came out of the gate sharply, with giveaways and takeaways being the story early. Even taking a knee at kickoff didn’t quite go as planned, with a few players momentarily forgetting their obligation to demonstrate their solidarity.
Things eventually calmed down, with Montreal dominating the possession early with a good run of play (Montreal ended up with 52% of the overall possession - a moderate improvement over the last few matches). There was a moment where Vancouver was breaking out on the counterattack, and actually pulled the ball back to get a hold of the ball a bit more.
After things calmed down, in the 7th minute, David Milinkovic played a perfectly weighted curling through ball to Theo Bair, who took advantage of Montreal Keeper Clement Diop’s poor positioning, slotting home an absolutely perfect shot of the far post and in.
This was an exciting and enticing moment in the match, as the Whitecaps were pressing hard, going in on tackles and taking possession away from the Impact. Cavallini had a header from distance saved by Diop after some nice build-up play, Baldisimo had one of his potentially patented spin moves start a counterattack, and Theo Bair ended up stripping a strong Victor Wanyama from the ball, setting up a near miss from Milinkovic that proved to be costly.
In the 15th minute, an Owusu pass was picked off, and Samuel Piette found a streaking Romuel Quioto (side note, maybe we can stop mentioning his gruesome injury in Vancouver those many years ago?) who was able to muscle Derek Cornelius off the ball and sneak a cross off the post behind Thomas Hasal. Orji Okwonko was there to easily put the rebound in the net, giving Montreal a new lease on the match.
After some back and forth play, including a pretty spin move from Michael Baldisimo, Montreal regained control of the match to end the half. From minute 35 to 45, it was all Impact. With the Whitecaps’ tight diamond in midfield, the Impact were able to feast on the isolation that it created with VWFC’s fullbacks, and eventually Thomas Hasal was called for a penalty on an astute play from Romell Quioto in the box. Saphir Taider converted and things went into halftime down 2-1.
Let’s face it, the Whitecaps needed to adjust going into the second half, and they didn’t. Not until after Piette (yes, that one!) made it 3-1 from Montreal after further wing domination. In minute 55, Nerwinski, Gutierrez, Montero and Dajome came on for Owusu, Adnan, Godoy and Bair to stop the bleeding. Designated Player Lucas Cavallini didn’t get this message, as he saw red for “Unsporting Behaviour” two minutes later.
Then, some great news: my sushi arrived. This is to say the rest of the match was a bit discouraging, as aside from Montreal scoring two (one on themselves) and Montreal being reduced to ten men, the rest of the match was a bit tame from a soccer perspective. We saw a little bit of possession and pressure to end the match, but Montreal was very much in control. Montreal ended the game with more shots, possession, passes and better passing percentage. It’s really tough to win games with this happening consistently, and that pudding-level proof can be seen in the standings.
If we want to take anything from this loss, look no further than the continued strong play of Michael Baldisimo. He finished the game with 2 key passes, 2 tackles, 2 interceptions (h/t to @AlexGangueRuzic) and 2 successful spin moves. If you want any more from a young homegrown midfielder, well then you obviously haven’t been a Caps fan for long enough.
Up next is another match against Montreal on Wednesday, and if there’s anything I’ve learned about the Whitecaps in relation to other Canadian MLS teams, it’s that you just can’t beat us three times in a row.