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Moments of magic, gritty defense seal three points for Whitecaps over Sporting Kansas City

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

A gritty performance from the Caps earned them a 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City Sunday night, with some individual moments of brilliance from Ryan Gaud and Russell Teibert putting the exclamation point on a well-drilled team effort.

The Caps mercifully were able to roll with a normal backline, with Erik Godoy and Ranko Veselinovic returning to the lineup alongside Florian Jungwirth. The midfield and wingback situations were largely unchanged but Brian White was joined by Cristian Dajome in a more natural attacking role, booting Lucas Cavallini and Deiber Caicedo to the bench, with Ryan Gauld in his usual position. The in-form Max Crepeau returned to the net after his call-up to the Canadian National Team.

The first 45 minutes brought the rarest of commodities: a first half goal for the Caps, courtesy of Ryan Gauld. An anemic first half didn’t give Gauld many chances on the ball but his individual brilliance shone through, polishing off a headed lay off from Brian White. He nearly added a second just moments later, forcing Tim Melia to full stretch.

The second goal came from a more unlikely source. A lovely Caps break seamed to have been halted after Brian White was forced to drift wide. His square ball for Russell Teibert, however, perfectly set Rusty up to have a go from distance and it rocketed perfectly past Melia, off the upright and into the back of the net.

Sporting KC pulled one back, with Johnny Russell seemingly sick of players named “Russell” or Scots converting chances. His lovely curling shot ended Crepeau’s shutout streak (right after they flashed the graphic on TSN I might add). That sent things into the half 2-1.

The Caps had more fluid play in the second half but never created any real clear cut chances — but neither did SKC, who largely had to nibble around the edges with some long range shots. The curtains closed on a 2-1 win, a massive result for Vancouver after their rivals for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference all won this weekend.

Major Takeaways

  • Sporting KC is really good at moving the ball side-to-side and they really used Graham Zusi as the vehicle to move the ball around. They really had success moving the ball up the pitch up until the rough area around the Caps penalty box, when things often ground to a halt. Credit the backline for their steady performance — another CB is a long term need but this team looks a lot better when they have players where they’re supposed to be in defense.
  • Thought Javain Brown was quite good — his long ball in for Brian White made that first goal and he seemed to hold his own going forward. Will be great getting him back to his natural position on the right. His role — where he was clearly asked to push forward — meant he was not as effective defensively, but he worked well in concert with Florian Jungwirth.
  • Teibert had a very topsy turvy night. He was caught in possession on multiple occasions, which was out of character after a hot couple of months. But that goal was marvelous — I guess Russell Teibert only scores screamers. And he was a pretty effective defensive force in midfield as well, chipping in seven tackles, interceptions and clearances. It was much of the same from Leo Owusu, before he came off.
  • The subs were excellent in this one. Janio Bikel sopped up midfield pressure and was nice in distribution to boot, looking to move the ball forward along the left hand flank and rarely putting a step wrong. Marcus Godinho has officially shaken off his rough first match and has become a solid option at right back, keeping a level head and not getting sucked into letting SKC find space in behind the backline.

Personal Thoughts

It is cliche at this point to say “The Caps wouldn’t have won/drawn/done x under Marc Dos Santos” but this result would have been different earlier this season. The net result wasn’t pretty but the simply fact is the team was clinical and quickly and effectively pivoted to forcing one of the best teams in the Western Conference to take a bunch of half chances.

Despite the 2 goal first half, it wasn’t a particularly strong performance from the Caps early on. The press was quite good but there was basically no interplay between the midfield and attacking band, limiting the involvement of Ryan Gauld and Cristian Dajome. The goals came via moments of individual quality but, in general, when the break was on for the Caps, there was a bit of sloppiness or hesitation that brought things to a halt.

Things were more fluid in the second half, with some really lovely build up play at times but the final product wasn’t quite there. It was one of Cristian Dajome’s quietest performances in a Whitecaps shirt and Brian White didn’t have a whole lot in the way of shots himself, though he was largely excellent.

But it is in midfield and defense where the Caps shined. The first 15 minutes, Vancouver was being overrun and they still struggled for much of the match with SKC’s ability to move the ball around at will. But when the ball entered the Caps’ defensive third, the away side was forced to play the ball out wide and try and pick out players in the box — usually Khiry Shelton, who is not built for that type of offense. Credit has to go to the three centerbacks for locking things down and to Bruno Gaspar and Javain Brown for largely tracking the SKC wide players, though Johnny Russell still looked dangerous at times.

This was a match the Caps had to win and they rose to the occasion. The formula may not be replicable in the future and Vancouver was a bit fortunate in some aspects, but they were, by and large, good value for the win.

Man of the Match

Brian White’s goalscroing streak ended but he was generally influential. His assist on the first goal was indicative of his ability to influence things, even when he is focused more on setting up his teammates, rather than banging in goals himself. His four key passes paced the team, with Ryan Gauld not super sharp (he had a few more wayward passes than usual).

Honorable mention: Teibert recovered from a shaky start to put in another good shift (the winning goal was the icing on the cake) and credit to Janio Bikel for making a positive impact from the second he stepped onto the pitch as a sub. The Caps will need him to play major minutes given fixture congestion and it is good to see the run of matches on the bench hasn’t taken a toll.