Though the Canadian Championship final was already out of reach going into Wednesday, the Vancouver Whitecaps hit the road in style, defeating the Montreal Impact 3-1 before venturing into the wild red, white, and blue yonder for the remainder of their 2020 MLS season.
As is the case with red cards (see Sunday’s recap for further reading), Wednesday night’s match was defined by one handed out in the 37th minute. Rudy Camacho, after having gone knee-to-knee with Cristian Dajome moments earlier, did not appear too pleased with the absence of a foul being called, and subsequently took his aggression out on Fredy Montero’s knee.
Fredy reacted with every bit of the drama and flair one could expect when a footballer gets punched in the knee, and Camacho quickly was sent to the showers.
The only thing I’m wondering is what Montero might have said to Camacho that caused the defender to lash out. I’m assuming it was anything from, “Are you OK?”, to “Get up, you bum!”, to something nasty about Zinedine Zidane’s sister. We’re only left to speculate.
For what it’s worth, I think ‘knee’ is up there for one of the stupidest places to punch a person, right behind ‘shin’ and ‘butt,’ but what do I know: I’m here to write about soccer.
As per usual, the player ratings are based on the assumption that ‘5’ means a player did exactly what what was asked, where that ‘5’ is the jumping off point from which we standardly deviate based on whatever performance pros and cons we observed (and remember).
And yes, the ratings do feel a bit high, but I assure you there’s a direct correlation in terms of player performance between winning well and being able to do so against ten men for more than half a match. It comes with the territory.
Thomas Hasal - 6.5
Made great saves on some rifled shots from the Impact, pushing searing efforts from Orji Okwonkwo and Bojan Krkic ‘round the woodwork.
However, I won’t be hanging Romell Quioto’s goal on Hasal: the striker did well to control a skipping pass from Saphir Taider, creating space on Ranko Veselinovic before he could turn and roof it. I don’t think there was time for Hasal to react once Quioto leaned into his shot, particularly from so close to the net. Kind of need to look at Ranko for this one.
Of note, my original draft also had notes griping about Hasal’s passing out of the back, which I still want to address in some way.
Yes, Hasal had a 92 PA% on the night, but my initial focus was on his weird, lofty right footed cross-body outlets to Cristian Gutierrez, passes that were barely going a quarter of the way up the pitch and seemingly hung in the air forever. It was as if BC Place was filled with helium rather than wildfire smoke.
I kept questioning the logic of these “clearances,” mostly because the height of the passes usually gave a player like Samuel Piette plenty of time to close down on Guti. Technically they were accurate, but it felt as though they’d cause more harm than good.
But then, this is precisely the kind of pass Hasal made to initiate the build-up on Montero’s second goal (watch from 5:40):
I suppose the moral of the story is, “Don’t not stop doing what isn’t working until it works. Or doesn’t.” I’m pretty sure that was the working title for an Andy Samberg movie, until the executive producers cut it down to make it make sense.
Cristian Gutierrez - 7.5
Gutierrez returned the favor to the Impact all the trouble Zachary Brault-Guillard caused Ali Adnan Sunday night. He made his tackles, he made smart passes, he was a constant threat along the wing. The left back of tomorrrow... today!
More than anything, Gutierrez looked conscientious to me: never forgetting that defense was fundamental, but was very aware of the ifs and whens he could advance up the pitch. At one point, Guti was flat on his back just outside the Impact six-yard box before getting on his bike and back into position, but because of his timing the Whitecaps were never made to suffer for it.
It was the right chance at the right time; he just got up-ended for his efforts.
Nevertheless, Gutierrez does need to be mindful of moments where the ball he’s played is immediately lost while he’s busy making his run up the pitch. One such instance came in the 22nd minute, where a soft pass made to Montero was easily picked off and could have turned into a big counterattack, due to the gaping void Guti left behind. Thankfully, the outlet pass from Taider went to absolutely no one but the end line.
Derek Cornelius - 6
Cornelius did my favorite thing for a centerback to do: he kept his name out of the commentator’s mouth. Strong in the air, in the tackle, and on the ball whenever Corny was threatened by Montreal’s high press.
In fact, it’s really only a matter of time before Cornelius has turned his headband into a team-wide phenomenon, much like how man-buns were in fashion three years ago (except this time we’ll know why and, if he keeps playing like he did Wednesday, it’ll be fully justified).
Suffice to say, Cornelius looked good Wednesday night.
Ranko Veselinovic - 4
Ranko also look sturdy in the center, and did a great job of stepping up to the play and forcing turnovers, either through poaching passes or preventing attackers from creating space for themselves.
Well, until Quioto scored that is, but I digress. Ranko’s defending was solid.
However, there were times when his passing looked off to me, perhaps feeling a bit too much pressure from the Impact when trying to make an outlet pass to the wing. His clearances were at their best when he kept them simple.
Jake Nerwinski - 6
Like Gutierrez, I thought Nerwinski also timed his runs well, going for quality over quantity. His passing was OK, but I wasn’t a fan of the amount of space he gave Luis Binks on a header that went just wide of the net, so Nerwinski may need to focus a bit on tracking balls in the air during training.
But on the ground, Nerwinski did great to force players wide as often as possible, without giving up passing lanes across the middle. Even with what appeared to be tired legs towards the end of the match, the nudge Nerwinski gave Quioto at 84’ to throw the striker off his run without fouling him, thereby allowing the ball to roll harmlessly off the endline was **chef’s kiss**.
Russell Teibert - 5.5
Rusty had this bizarre penchant for shoving Piette whenever he could. No idea why. A bit of #CANMNT shenanigans, maybe? It didn’t factor into Teibert’s rating, mind you; I just thought it was funny. Pretty sure Piette didn’t.
Nevertheless, Teibert did his regular thing of reading & reacting to the play in front of him by doing a lot of off the ball work, cycling into supporting positions whenever his defenders needed help, though he was certainly sharper than usual.
Overall, his passing was crisp and accurate, and it wasn’t all just backwards, either! In fact, he looked more eager than usual to get up the pitch, though I get the feeling that had more to do with there being only ten Montreal players on the pitch for half the game.
Janio Bikel - 5
For someone who hadn’t played since March and was only making his second MLS appearance, Bikel was quality. His footballing IQ was really showing throughout, as he made smart decisions under duress , while doing his best to keep riskier plays to low-threat places on the field.
And know this: the Vancouver Whitecaps have never lost when Janio Bikel has seen the pitch. 2-for-2, baby!
With Bikel still returning to full fitness, he was replaced by Michael Baldisimo (4.5) at the half. Baldi, who introduced himself with a couple of nervy passes, settled into the match and for the most part mirrored Teibert’s effort: sat back, read the play, acted accordingly, and made smart passes whenever possible, though they often stayed lateral and never seemed to advance the play.
Cristian Dajome - 7.5
I want to keep this simple: he didn’t always make the correct play or pass, but Cristian Dajome was pretty damn solid Wednesday night.
He initially had a hard time going up against Victor Wanyama, but he kept at it with many smart runs, winning corners and drawing fouls against Montreal, and capping it off four Key Passes and a goal from roughly twenty yards out. It’s no wonder he was looking a bit gassed by the three-quarter mark, which unfortunately resulted in him letting up on his defensive responsibilities.
Dajome made way for Yordy Reyna (Inc.) in the 89th minute, who ultimately gets an Incomplete score in this one, just because there was little for him to do other than make sure the clock ran out cleanly. To that end, he seemed a bit more interested in running down the clock at the goal mouth rather than a corner flag, but what can you do?
David Milinkovic - 7
Looking more and more like the big bodied attacker the Whitecaps have always needed in the center, Milinkovic again was sharp in the #10 role, this time in behind Montero’s false-9.
Once or twice Milinkovic suffered from a heavy touch; otherwise, he had a great night, by using his size to shield players from the ball or force them off it, or his speed when moving to space off the ball before making crisp decisions on it.
For example, look at what Milinkovic does in the build up to Dajome’s goal just before half:
He makes the long run into space as Montero corrals a clearance from Teibert, then cuts inside and shimmies on Binks to force the defender into committing to an awkward step, before finding the onrushing Dajome at the top of the penalty area.
He moved to the wing once Leonard Owusu was brought in, where his crosses were a little hit or miss, but overall, you can’t argue with his great runs, unselfish play, 3 Key Passes, and an Assist, can you?
Milinkovic came out in the 73rd minute, replaced by Ali Adnan (5.5) who played in front Gutierrez on the left flank rather than outright replacing the young defender.
Without having the regular defensive responsibility of a left back, Adnan was actually pretty responsible defensively. Did well to force the Impact players off the ball before making barging runs up the pitch.
Theo Bair - 3.5
Man, was he quiet in the first half, though that could have had more to do with Montreal preferring an attack on Dajome’s side of the field in the early going.
Nevertheless, Bair’s few touches of the ball resulted in some not-so-well struck passes, and his runs up the pitch were never fully in sync with his teammates. He just looked a bit tired in this one.
Leonard Owusu (4.5) came on for Bair in the 61st minute, moving into the #10 spot and sitting further up the pitch than normal. Though the timing on his runs was off, Owusu still found a way to make them work.
Going back to that second Montero goal, I’m still not entirely certain if Owusu’s scooped pass to Fredy before the backheel hold-up was all intentional or not, but hey, we got a goal out of it!
Otherwise, Owusu’s passing was decent enough and he was always getting stuck in on his tackles, so I’m satisified.
Fredy Montero - 9.5
Montero had himself a night! It wasn’t just the two goals he bagged, one off the PK he earned himself, but he was consistently showing for balls, holding up play in possession with his positioning, and consistently finding his wingers on overlapping runs
And yes, his fall to the turf on the red card was dramatic, but dude got punch-slapped in the knee. That’s a red card 24/7/365 and once every four years on the conveniently titled Leap Day.
His PK was well struck (that stutter step would send any keeper the direction Clement Diop fell), as was the one-timed far post shot for his second goal. It’s any wonder how he didn’t net a third, when his 81st minute scoop shot/possibly a pass bounced harmlessly wide of the net.
Tosaint Ricketts (Inc.) came on for Montero at 89’ at the same time as Reyna and gets the same Incomplete, without ever getting a touch on the ball.