The Whitecaps were an interesting figure coming into tonight’s match. Making substantial roster additions to greatly improve their starting XI, one would not be wrong least glance in the Vancouver Whitecaps’ direction. Unfortunately, due to a variety of circumstances, this potential new look was limited to one new signing when matchday came. Coming against a Portland team that had just thrashed Honduras’ Marathón 5-0 earlier in the week, the weakened lineup seemed to spell bad news. Luckily, this would play in the Whitecaps’ advantage, as no team who had played in the CCL won a game prior to this one, and fatigue could be to blame for this. Considering Portland rolled out the exact same XI that played earlier that week, this could be a source of hope for the Canadian team. As the game went on, one could see the the tiredness begin to show on the Cascadian rival, while the Whitecaps continued to push. Eventually, Cavallini broke the deadlock with a header slotted past Steve Clark, and the 1-0 scoreline was what the game ended with.
- Any worries that Cavallini could have replicated his goal scoring drought from early last season have been quelled with this 2021 season opening goal. It seems that international duty and preseason form have boosted El Tanque’s confidence to the levels that he, and everyone else, knows he can reach.
- Guti, Guti, Guti. The Canadian-Chilean left back continues to show his aptitude to play at the MLS level by putting in a very good performance down the wing, linking up with veteran Russel Teibert very well on a couple of occasions. While it is certainly sad to be missing the Whitecaps’ 2020 player of the year, Gutierrez has shown that he will be able to fill the role were Adnan to be moved in the near or far future. Not only that, but maybe some experiments with him playing on the wing could be in order, considering some of his inspired runs reminiscent of an inverted winger. Unsung hero of the match.
- Speaking of the veteran: Teibert was very lively this match. At this point everyone is aware of what type of player he is, and know where his limitations lie. Returning to his original position on the wing allows him to carry the ball up the field and pass it off to a more skilled player if he runs into unmanageable trouble. Another player on the wing is still the ideal scenario, but his work ethic and solid performance today shows that he can be a valuable sub to bring the tempo up on the team.
- Maxime Crépeau. Its really good to see him back on the field after the unfortunate 2020 that he suffered. Luckily, it doesn’t seem like the keeper missed a beat. Making solid saves throughout the match, his performance was as important to the team as Cavallini’s was on the opposite end. Whitecaps fans will hope that Maxime Crépeau can continue on his promising trajectory as a top level keeper and that he can continue to set records- this time without negative results to sour the celebrations.
- Portland overall looked tired. Savarese’s men will have to be a little disappointed they couldn’t take more from this game, even with players not being fully rested. A massive match against Club America looms, and they’d want to be on their best form for that. Adding insult to injury (Pun completely intended) Steve Clark’s substitution doesn’t bode well for the near future of a team with a true test of might up ahead. They’ll have to put in some work in training over the next week in order to iron out all of their kinks before the big match.
- Tactically, the Whitecaps look slightly improved from last season. Defending looks to be marginally tighter, and the team seems to have a better flow going forwards. Whitecaps faithful will have to wait and see whether this is the new identity of the team or whether it is a fluke due to an overexerted team. Unfortunately it will probably be until May for that question to be answered, as Toronto will more than likely be playing a safe lineup come next weekend due to their CCL match against Liga MX table toppers Cruz Azul.
I have to say, after the disappointing opening matches in the Marc Dos Santos era over the past two years, my expectations were low. Even more so taking into account the aforementioned CCL performance of the Timbers, and that they are many people’s favorites for the western conference this season. I’m pleasantly surprised at the result, although I do still think there is a lot that needs to be improved across the board for this team to think about challenging for playoffs, let alone an MLS Cup. I don’t think that we’re there yet, but in a couple of years, with a proper playmaker and more shrewd signings like the ones this offseason appear to be, another Voyageurs’ Cup triumph wouldn’t be out of the question. I know it’s not as glamorous as the MLS Cup or Supporters’ Shield, but this trophy is our way into playing in the CONCACAF Champions League, and the repeated exposure (With hopefully good performances) that being in that competition brings, players from Liga MX could see Vancouver as the potential destination for the next step in their career.
Considering literally all of our direct rivals have found some sort of success over the years (Seattle, Portland, Toronto with their MLS Cups, Montreal with their player acquisition and run to the CCL Final) there really is no excuse for the Whitecaps not to push to be greater than they are, they are in the centre of a Venn diagram of success. Personally, I think that much like Teibert, Marc Dos Santos has a definitive ceiling, and it is far below what an ambitious side should be aiming for. That’s not a knock to his abilities or himself, as the coach has found success at multiple places before, rather it is just a reflection of the rapidly increasing level of the MLS and the ever present possibility that the Whitecaps could be left behind if not addressed. For now, the team should be taking the season one game at a time, but if it comes to another season of disappointment, then some thoughtful change could be in order.
What did you think about today’s match? Is it a good omen? Was it a fluke? Sound off in the comments below.