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Report Card: Recapping the ‘Caps Brief Playoff Run

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“It’s not the fall that kills you; it’s the sudden stop at the end.”

MLS: Playoffs- Round One-Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Sporting Kansas City Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Before today’s match I told myself, win or lose, this report card would be a light one, either in celebration of another unexpected win or by dwelling on a loss without losing site of how ridiculous an undertaking it was for the Vancouver Whitecaps to even make it into the MLS Cup playoffs.

Clearly, we frustratingly ended up with the latter, with the ‘Caps falling 3-1 to Sporting Kansas City Saturday afternoon, so let’s only spend enough time to considering how everyone played and how the game ended so we can build on it in the future, OK? OK.

As usual, a score of 5 is as average as a player can possibly perform. Like a ham and cheese sandwich you didn’t have to make. A grilled cheese, if you prefer, because you’ll eat it and it’ll still nourish, but the cheese isn’t Swiss or anything; it’s just a Kraft single.

Max Crepeau - 4.5

There’s definitely something halting in trying to explain a goalie’s performance when his team has conceded three, but here we are. Maybe Max could have done better to punch away the corner that eventually led to the second goal, but poor marking and an awkwardly accurate touch doomed him on the opener, while only something herculean could have stopped Graham Zusi’s blast on the third. Crepeau made solid saves on the two shots he could get behind and his distribution was passable.

Jake Nerwinski - 3.5

Maybe not the most nervy of the Vancouver back three, but not the most sturdy either, as Nerwinski looked a little lost on each of Sporting’s three goals. Yes, I know Zusi scored an unstoppable rocket inside the far post, but perhaps Nerwinski could have released Bruno Gaspar sooner while keeping an eye on the wide Johnny Russell? If it were me, I would have considered starting Cristian Dajome in front of Nerwinski instead of Gaspar, to elevate the passing quality of balls both given and received to the defenders, but hindsight is what it is.

Andy Rose - 4

Once again shined when it came to blocking crosses and shots, but was the fallible nadir of a Vancouver backline that sat far too deep all game. Case in point: between him and Nerwinski, someone should have been covering Khiry Shelton on the opening goal. His balls out of the back ran the gamut from fantastic to frustrating, and Rose even had an occasional chance at the SKC end, with each inevitably gobbled up by Tim “The Rock Bottom” Melia, but it all pales in comparison to the goals allowed.

Florian Jungwirth - 3

As chagrined as I am to say it, particularly with how amazing Jungwirth has been since joining the club, this may have been his shakiest Whitecaps performance. Without question he had some solid tackles, but Jungwirth looked a little too restrained, understated, and even apprehensive Saturday afternoon, particularly on the corner kick clusterjam that led to SKC’s second goal.

And that pass that led to Shelton’s opener (at the 3:06 mark here)? I’m fairly certain he’d like that one back. Nevertheless, it was admirable to see how vociferous Jungwirth was after being subbed, continuing to stand and support his teammates from the sideline.

Bruno Gaspar - 3.5

Gaspar gets credit for his ability to mark players, but once the ball was in the air, all bets were off. Part of me thinks Gaspar would lose track of his mark due to a deference towards collapsing into the center of the pitch when back-checking, before getting turned inside-out when trying to find his man. It was too much of a scrambly transition when getting back to help on defense. His offensive contributions were encouraging, however, such as the run he made in the 86th, even if it resulted in an offside call that angered Gaspar enough to pull a Jimmy Nielsen and punt the ball into the stands (real ones from Empire Field in 2011 know what I’m talking about).

Leonard Owusu - 4

Before his substitution, I thought Owusu was OK. A straightforward, uncomplicated approach to the match that was so straightforward and so uncomplicated that Owusu became more passenger than pilot.

Russell Teibert - 3.5

Repped the usual hallmarks of his proper defensive positioning and timely reactions, until he didn’t. And by that, I mean when those hallmarks were absent, his performance was glaring. One way to put it is to say that Teibert kinda needed to stay closer to Kinda.

Offensively, Teibert was a little more dynamic than usual, but not until the ‘Caps already gained the final third. He could help cycle the ball in the final third without question, but never would he be the one to initiate an attack.

Marcus Godinho - 3.5

In theory, I like how easily Godinho got up the pitch. In theory.

But in execution? Well, wingbacks can’t be the ones to lose the ball when on the attack; otherwise, not only is the attack is snuffed out, but then you’re also caught way the heck out of position. For Godinho, it simply happened far too often. That, combined with too many telegraphed crosses into the penalty area, and you end up with a few too many “What Could Have Been” moments.

Ryan Gauld - 5

Did his normal thing of always moving to space, so much so that I’m starting to think his favorite band is Reel 2 Real. Creative on the ball in his interaction with Dajome, but he just could not get the ball to his feet. Who here thinks Peter Vermes’ gameplan was to keep Gauld and Brian White under the tightest of wraps?

Despite the rarity for Gauld to receive the ball near the SKC penalty area, he still made the most of what he could, with solid passes that were usually just off the mark. Factor in a solid effort to get back and help out defensively and you can chalk up a hard-worked, but regrettably unsuccessful, effort.

Cristian Dajome - 6.5

The PK was clinical at a time the Whitecaps badly needed to stay in the match, but overall Dajome was quality. It often felt he was at his best when he’d turn away from the SKC backline and keep himself between the ball and the defenders before distributing. A move to wingback was inevitable once the ‘Caps were chasing a two-goal deficit, but Dajome would continue to make promising advances up the pitch while attempting to play the ball to his front three.

Brian White - 5

White was initially swallowed up by Andreu Fontas and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, but found his space as the match wore on. He was a dynamo when it came time to press and would have stole a goal back off a headed cross were it not for outstanding goal line save from Melia. White arguably did what he could against what again I’m assuming was a game plan intent on keeping both White and Gauld nullified.

Also: props for startling Luis Martins into as glaring a penalty shout as you’ll ever see.

Substiutions:

Erik Godoy - 6

Came in for Jungwirth at the half. His vision of the pitch was smooth and never reactionary, Godoy was a solid substitution to bring stability to the back of a team chasing a deficit.

Deiber Caicedo - 5.5

On for Godinho at 65’, moving Dajome to left wingback and Gaspar to the right. Great runs on and off the ball, but couldn’t generate that final third/penalty area penetration the Whitecaps so desperately needed.

Javain Brown - 5.5

Subbed in for Nerwinski at 73’. The spark the Vancouver wingbacks needed all match, it was a shame we only saw seventeen minutes of Brown on the pitch. I’m not saying we should have kept him from Jamaica’s WCQs, but we should have kept him from Jamaica’s WCQs.

Lucas Cavallini - 3.5

Came in for Owusu at 73’. Cava’s passes were the right kind of subtle, while his ball control was the wrong kind of heavy. Full credit for putting emotion into his play, but why can it only ever manifest into yellow cards?

Vanni Sartini - 4 for the match, 10 in our hearts.

The starting eleven was a surprise until you learned who was fit and who wasn’t (not to mention the one who was fit but simply didn’t start), but nonetheless attempted to execute a varied facsimile of the kind of performance to which we grew accustomed since late August. The subs were mostly right, but perhaps the wrong swaps and in the wrong order. I would have introduced Caicedo and Brown along with Godoy at half rather than twenty and twenty-eight minutes later, respectively, but in fairness I’m not interim of anything.

That said, Sartini is already a legend for building something from a pile of ash. Axel Schuster: just sign him already.

So that’s that for the 2021 Vancouver Whitecaps. It’s certainly disheartening, here and now, to see the club fall so soon into a cup run that barely began. But the effort to get here, the months of grinding out results, playing for and believing in one another, should not and cannot be so easily dismissed. These Whitecaps battled and scrapped and rallied for something no one would have predicted four months ago. That can’t be wiped away by a single loss on some random Saturday.

Today happened, but let’s start again tomorrow.