With another massive victory over Minnesota United at BC Place on Wednesday night by a score of 2-1, the Vancouver Whitecaps surged to 5th in the Western Conference standings with just two matches left in the regular season.
The way the Whitecaps have been able to turn around what, at many times, looked like a lost season is remarkable. In addition to three wins in their last four matches, the Whitecaps have lost just two of their last twenty outings. I almost feel as though that’s worth repeating for effect: just two in their last twenty!
Yes, some of those matches were under Marc Dos Santos, and yes, he deserves at least some credit for the foundation which has led to this mid-season renaissance. But there are also many things that seemed impossible under Dos Santos which have happened since the coaching switch.
Successful squad rotation is one of them. Throughout their run, the Whitecaps have found it almost impossible to run out the same back three match in match out, and yet this hasn’t seemed to knock them off their stride. Jake Nerwinski, who to many may have seemed like a lost cause or at the very least relegated to backup duty at the fullback position, has had a renaissance of sorts under Vanni Sartini, and once again performed admirably in the place of Erik Godoy wednesday night. Equally, after his worst showing of the year against San Jose, Javain Brown was given the nod of confidence from Sartini and rewarded his manager with a standout showing from the wingback spot.
Being on the right side of crucial moments has been another key change. Some of this feels out of one’s control, and yet, the ball seems to be bouncing the right way for the Sartini-led Whitecaps. After two and a half years of consistently conceding goals right around halftime, the Whitecaps were able to play the Uno “Reverse” card on Wednesday, scoring a dirty goal that helped make a success out of what was an average first half performance. Credit to Russell Teibert for the terrific ball as well.
Michael Boxall opens his account for the 'Caps after 10 years!#VWFC #VANvMIN pic.twitter.com/PMUJ3gjkjb— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) October 28, 2021
The Whitecaps caught another break just after the 60th minute mark, when Adrien Hunou beat Max Crepeau at the near post, but was denied by the woodwork. In many ways, even though the Loons would score in the 90th minute, this was their most clear cut chance of the match. Really, Honou should have scored.
While I can’t credit the Whitecaps for getting lucky, I can credit their response. So many times, the Whitecaps have been on the other end of this dynamic, missing a key chance before conceding moments later. Instead, the Whitecaps took this miss by Minnesota as their opportunity to be clinical.
It goes without saying, but the Gauld to White dynamic has been electrifying since Sartini was introduced late in the summer, and even though White is substantially outperforming expectations from an analytics perspective, I don’t think there’s any reason to slow down the hype train. It may have started out in jest, but Gregg Berhalter should be having a serious look at White for USMNT duty.
Brian White cannot be stopped.— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 28, 2021
His 11th goal in 14 matches make it a 2-0 @WhitecapsFC lead. pic.twitter.com/pkpGpQuTsP
This Whitecaps match was emblematic of a broader theme that has developed as of late under Sartini, performing in crucial moments and having a clear identity that everyone seems to understand. This is something that has eluded the Whitecaps for basically their entire existence as an MLS team, but most certainly something that has eluded them for the last couple years.
At this point, it looks as though Vanni Sartini has coached himself into a position where it would be shocking if anyone else were to take the job or if he declined to continue in the role. The job is not done yet, as things are still tight for the final playoff spots in the West, but for once, the Whitecaps don’t look like they’re going to be nervous. This Whitecaps team appears to relish the challenge rather than shy away from it.