While this team has come a long way since the dismissal of Marc Dos Santos earlier this year, some things about life for the Vancouver Whitecaps appear to remain inevitable. Losing to Seattle, especially in Seattle, seems to be one of them.
As the Vancouver Whitecaps recover from a 4-1 defeat, there will be a good amount to reflect on from both sides of the coin.
It was encouraging to see the chances the Whitecaps were able to create inside the last twenty minutes. It served as a reminder that this is a far more dynamic attacking team than the one we witnessed at the beginning of the season. Yet obviously, seeing those chances squandered and conceding at the death is frustrating, turning what could have been a respectable 3-2 (or even 3-3) result into a 4-1 romp for the home side.
What really doomed the Whitecaps, though, was not their late-game push or really anything they did for the last 65+ minutes of the match, it was their start. This has been one trait that Vanni Sartini, despite his considerable wisdom, has struggled to eviscerate from the remanence of the Marc Dos Santos era.
The slow starts might be something a team like the Whitecaps can get away with against a Houston, or an Austin or an FC Dallas, but against Seattle, it’s a different matter. Even with five starters out for international duty, the Sounders are both deep and well-drilled enough to capitalize on such weakness, and they demonstrated their prowess inside the opening 20 minutes.
From then on, the Whitecaps were always facing an uphill battle, and to be honest, I thought they played the Sounders about as well as they could have (minus perhaps the finishing aspect) for the remainder of the match. The problem is, you can’t spot the Western Conference leaders a 2-0 lead on the road and expect to get away with it, not even the magic of a diminutive Scotsman can help you overcome such odds.
All that being said, I want to turn our focus now to a couple of the key talking points from this match:
The Hasal Divide
Whenever you concede four goals, there’s going to be discussions about the quality of your play. When you’re a young keeper thrust into a big spot, those discussions are only going to get magnified.
While by no means was this a standout perfomance for Thomas Hasal, I don’t think it’s worth pressing the panic button either. As my intrepid colleague, Caleb Wilkins, defended on twitter, Hasal has been at worst (to steal a baseball term) replacement level in his role as a 1B/Backup keeper in MLS this season.
One of the reasons, I think, why Hasal’s play has looked worse than it has actually been this season is because he’s given up a number of goals early in matches, and those always seem to stand out when watching a match. Added to that, Hasal’s had some pretty bad luck in terms of playing in front of weakened backlines, or simply suffering from defensive miscommunications.
All that being said, I’m not 100% against the idea of Hasal receiving some “seasoning” in the CPL, in fact I advocated for this prior to the season. But if you think that a veteran MLS backup keeper is going to come in and give you substantially better results, you’re probably kidding yourself. As always, the question remains if it is better to allow young players to thrive at a lower level, or gain experience at the top level even if they struggle.
I’m not worried about Hasal. He deserves to be at this level, but it does make the decision of what the Whitecaps should do at keeper next year a bit more complicated.
The Problem with the “Academy”
This brings us to the Patrick Metcalfe discussion. For whatever reason, most conversations around Metcalfe this season have seemed to centre on the idea that he simply lacks “MLS Quality” and will never be able to hack it at this level. I can think of one twitter account in particular that’s probably responsible for starting this narrative.
Years from now, when we look back on Metcalfe’s Whitecaps career, that might be true. Importantly though, it could also be mistaken. Tajon Buchanan, after all, had to pay to attend a Syracuse University ID camp, so things can change pretty quickly in the soccer world, and it often depends on opportunity.
Because the Whitecaps have lacked a U-23 side for the time Metcalfe has been part of the organization, he has rarely seen consistent minutes. And because he’s both versatile and not necessarily viewed as a top prospect, the Whitecaps have refused to send him out on loan, instead opting to keep him on the roster as a sort of human insurance policy for their depth needs.
Given this, I’m not going to jump on him for lacking MLS quality when he’s thrust into a start out of position against one of the best teams in the league. Instead of pointing the blame at Patrick, I think it’s worth questioning why Derek Cornelius is currently in Greece, when it would have made a lot more sense to send Metcalfe to the CPL this year (or last year, or heck even the year before that). If that was the case, you might not have run into this problem.
I’ve seen enough of Patrick Metcalfe at training over the last couple years to know that at the very least he could be an MLS quality player. What I don’t know, is if the Vancouver Whitecaps are going to do enough to help him get there. Frankly, that sucks.
Because of the way the Whitecaps were able to capitalize on the recent matches against teams lower down the pecking order, this loss to Seattle really hasn’t hurt their playoff chances that much.
Looking at the remaining six matches, the middle four of those are against possible playoff rivals, and are probably going to determine whether or not these Whitecaps can earn a playoff spot. Added to that, being able to pick up at least a point at home against Sporting Kansas City this upcoming weekend would do a lot to help them keep pace and improve their overall chances.
What the loss to Seattle underlines is that there’s still a noticeable gulf between the top couple teams in the West and everyone else. Hopefully for the Whitecaps, they’ll have more healthy bodies on the backline for their next matchup against Kansas City and beyond.
At their best, this Whitecaps team has had a competitive advantage on the likes of Portland and LAFC defensively. It’ll be crucial that they’re able to maintain this edge, playing at a higher level than they did against Seattle, and they’ll also need impact play from the likes of Gutierrez and Brown if they’re going to mount a serious playoff push.
Let me know your thoughts on my analysis, and how you’re feeling about the Whitecaps’ playoff chances in the comments below!