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Report Card: Whitecaps Get Boiled in the Blue Cauldron

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Breaking down the player ratings of a 3-0 loss that’s ruined everybody’s weekend

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Sporting Kansas City William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

We all knew the turnaround would be tight, having to play three matches in the span of eight days, but it doesn’t make the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-0 defeat at the hands of Sporting Kansas City any less disheartening.

Sure, it was a midweek travel game against a foe the Whitecaps have drawn one point against in three years, so expectations should have been measured. But given the club’s decent start to the 2021, was it so wrong to believe that a result was feasible? As it turns out, yes it was.

And here we sit, broken hearted, hoping for more in the season started. Maybe some day they’ll take a chance, but that Caps formation is a load in your pants.

Max Crepeau - 7

Max really needs to get “It Could Have Been Worse” tattooed across his knuckles. He made some big stops (with the help of an offside Alan Pulido one one shot) to only keep it at 3-0. My only gripes with Crepeau today are how he looked uneasy whenever he needed to step to someone outside six-yard box and how badly he bit on the PK. Penalties are never easy to save, but Pulido really sold it to him.

Cristian Gutierrez - 3.5

Guti did not look comfortable today with the ball at his feet. Whether it was soft passes, heavy touches, or awkward dribbles, he gave it away far too often. The rare overlap runs were fine when he could make them, but they were exactly that: rare. Gutierrez did notch two Key Passes, most for the Whitecaps on the day, but there was definitely room for improvement.

Derek Cornelius - 3.5

Would drift back and forth between closing players down quickly and giving them too much space, and it was the latter that afforded Pulido to make plays on both the first and third goals (though after watching the replay, Caio Alexandre maybe should have received credit for the opening assist). I don’t think Cornelius necessarily played poorly; I just wish he’d play with a bit of ego.

Ranko Veselinovic - 4

Helped out his wingbacks whenever possible, but Ranko’s precursors to each goal felt so glaring. He stopped running on the first goal, looked super gawky and ineffective in the build-up to the penalty, and gifted too much space to Pulido behind the midfielders on the third.

His passing was decent, particularly on some long balls, and he made a number of clearances and blocked shots, but between Ranko and Cornelius I would’ve loved to seen either player eschew passivity and take this match by the throat.

Jake Nerwinski - 2.5

Nerwinski had some quality slide tackles, but otherwise his Sunday looked a mess. His touch was fair and his passing was blasé, but it was Nerwinski’s positioning that drove me bonkers.

I won’t get into the usual “back post” discussions for the moment, because I’m fairly certain both he and Gutierrez have been instructed to collapse to the middle if the ball is on the opposite flank. That’s fine, do what your coach asks of you. But there was so much aimless drifting up the pitch! Rarely would he provide a proper outlet when his centerbacks had the ball and rarely was he ever a threat on the attack or a worry for Daniel Salloi, who was seemingly unbothered throughout the match.

Suffice to say, sunday was a rough outing for Nerwinski, before being subbed for Javain Brown in the 61st minute.

Deiber Caicedo - 4

Decent going forward and decent getting back. For the most part, that is: for example, Graham Zusi should not have been getting around him, particularly after the Whitecaps had switched to playing five across the middle. His shot from distance in the 40th minute was a bit of hilarity, though probably not for the people of Topeka.

I’m still high on Caicedo, though he needs to be more impactful in the next match.

Caio Alexandre - 4.5

So smooth when he’s able to turn to place long passes out to the wings and through the middle, but needed a greater sense of defensive urgency in this 4-4-2 setup.

Subbed for Kam Habibullah in the 61st minute.

Janio Bikel - 4

Passing wasn’t the best when he was deeper, but once Bikel positioned himself further up the pitch, he looked far more comfortable. Reasonably solid when going in for tackles, but was part of the aforementioned issue of allowing players into the space between the center mids and centerbacks. Looked tired as heck towards the end, so here’s to hoping Leonard Owusu is ready to go next Saturday.

Ryan Raposo - 3

First and foremost, Raposo was the wrong player in the wrong formation to start against a Sporting side that seemingly torches the Whitecaps every time they meet. That’s not on Raposo so much, which I’ll get into later on, but his early substitution was necessary.

Initially, Raposo was giving up a lot of space defensively and appeared to improve as the match progressed. Until the penalty, that is. Sure, he was the one to concede it, coming from behind to get Salloi’s foot as opposed to the ball, but I owe that whole sequence more to the hearty meal Ranko & Jake were making of the cross and clearances.

Nevertheless, it was an example of Raposo being well behind the play, sitting too high and and too central, even if the ball was on the opposite wing. He was never going to help Nerwinski if and when a cross was placed. What made it that much more cringey was having the camera pan to reveal a hilariously unmarked Salloi on the far side of the box.

Even if he was out of sorts on the build up to the penalty, I wouldn’t have rated him that much worse than the rest of the starting eleven, but again his sooner-than-expected sub was necessary. Someone had to make way for Michael Baldisimo, to get the formation that Marc Dos Santos should have started with, and Raposo was the fall guy.

Lucas Cavallini - 4

Cavallini did what he could in a defensive battle before falling into despondency. He had his grumpy gameface going when he wasn’t getting service, making himself available and showing for the ball when semblances of a buildup would appear, but Cava fell out of the match once the scoreline ballooned. To his credit, he able to get two shots on target, an early flicked header from in close and late low drive, but both went straight towards keeper Tim Melia.

Cristian Dajome - 4.5

Early on, I thought we’d see some Dajome magic after he drew a card off the out-of-position, Andy Rose-wannabe Ilie Sanchez. That breakout proved to be the exception rather than the rule, however, with the Whitecaps barely getting a sniff of possession. The few opportunities Dajome had were encouraging, albeit not the most threatening, resulting in a cleared cross, a skyed shot, and a footrace lost to Melia.

Substitutes

Sub 1 -

Michael Baldisimo - 6

Brought the missing stability in with him when he was subbed for Raposo in the 36th minute, sitting deeper behind Bikel and Alexandre as Dajome moved to the wing. His passing was sharp and his presence allowed the Whitecaps to pressure in a more effective manner, where they could spread wider rather than deeper.

Kam Habibullah - 5

Came in for Alexandre in the 61st minute after the score was already 3-0. Felt that both his touch and composure were sharp. Like Baldisimo, also could have changed the dynamic of the game had he started instead. Would have been a longshot to do so, but why not dream a little.

Javain Brown - 5

The second substitution at 61’, coming in for Nerwinski (who may have been hurt five minutes earlier during that wild goal mouth scramble). Got involved on offense early, putting a far-post header wide off a corner kick. Never looked out of place in his first MLS appearance and, for what it’s worth, was far more cognizant than others to the lurking of backside wingers.

Erik Godoy - 5

In for Veselinovic in the 80th minute, and damn it, it was great to see Godoy back on the pitch. Had no trouble locating and shutting down whatever SKC strikers were milling about.

Theo Bair - 4.5

Part of the second double sub at 80’, coming in for Dajome. Didn’t feature heavily in his ten minutes, though that’s not surprising given the difficulty the Whitecaps had in building from the back. Nevertheless, in his short time out there, would have loved to see Bair sit a bit higher and press a little harder.

Marc Dos Santos - 2

I always find the tactics breakdown that’s vis a vis with rating a coach after a match as difficult, as the best I can do is theorize what was intended as opposed to offering up an opinion on the performances just witnessed, but today I can’t help myself because trotting out that 4-4-2 was plain stupid.

Given that Peter Vermes has coached SKC for over ten years, there should be a fair bit of information available as to how to prep for a match against one of his rosters. But even if such scouting details are nonexistent, which they’re not (and makes me think we should question all aspects of “Whitecaps scouting,” not just those pertaining to signing players), looking solely at past results should be somewhat of a beacon on what to expect.

Prior to today the Whitecaps have been outscored by SKC 11-3 in their last five meetings. If we limit ourselves to looking only at regular season MLS matches by removing the 0-0 draw in the knockout round of last year’s MLS Is Back tournament, that deficit grows to 17-3! Be ready to defend (duh), but also to properly identify the means at which the other team likes to attack.

Per whoscored, in five matches this season SKC largely avoid attacking up the middle, with heatmaps demonstrative of a club that gets deep into corners on the wing.

Nevertheless, when you know SKC has your number time and again, what tactics should you avoid? The first thought that comes to mind is the same thing you do every time against Sporting Kansas City. Keep your formation rote, your attacking midfielders deep in your own end, and your wingers narrow. That’ll show ‘em.

In reality, that’s a horrible way to keep opponents who like to stay wide from staying wide, and is ultimately a true Pinky & The Brain commitment to the bit.

I can appreciate how Dos Santos moved to the 4-5-1 by bringing in Baldisimo, to clog up the middle and force SKC to literally go sideline to sideline, but there must have been enough evidence pre-match to conclude you should start with this formation, and not revert to it when you’re chasing a deficit.

Suppose Baldisimo wasn’t ready to run a full 90, what then? Well, you’re a club that’s known to give Andy Rose a go at centerback when necessary, so you already know how to “make do.” Why not pair Habibullah with Caio and Bikel?

By comparison, I caught a half time interview with Vermes who, when asked about what he had planned for the second half, replied with some variation of, “They switched formation, so we need to adjust.” To me, that’s how you formulate tactics: being able to adjust as preemptively as possible, not some as a kind of begrudging deference to which you inevitably yield. Get on it sooner, damn it!

I’ve got to let the anger subside and goosfraba it out, but what say you all? Who stood out today? Who should be getting more (or less) accolades? Let us know in the comments below!