Well, it had to happen eventually.
After two strong performances, which earned the Caps four points against likely trophy contenders Portland Timbers and Toronto FC, Vancouver fell back to earth in a 1-0 loss to Colorado Rapids Sunday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
A disjointed attacking performance from the Caps, combined with a disorganized first half at the back, were enough to do Vancouver in, although they put in a credible enough performance, which saw three chances cleared off the line and a heaping dose of energy and entertainment.
- After the first couple of matches, where Cristian Gutierrez was quite good defensively, he had a good number of lapses in this one, just failing to track Andre Shinyashiki on several occasions (the reverse Nerwinski, I suppose?). He started to settle back in as one of the team’s better offensive threats but still seemed to struggle to get wide enough to neutralize the Rapids’ threats on the wings.
- The entire backline looked rocky, as Jake Nerwinski had a shaky start to the second half. Andy Rose also had his struggles but had a vital intervention to keep the Caps in the match. I thought Ranko had a solid match, however.
- Of course, after the absurdly high xG chances the Caps concede, they go 1-0 down off of an absolute banger.
- Let’s all collectively try and forget the initial midfield setup ever happened and hope it is never tried again.
- You wonder if the Caps are getting spoiled by the wide play of Deibar Caicedo and Cristian Dajome — there was a bit too much dump and chase for my liking at times, although it certainly worked out from time to time, in large part thanks to some individual skill from the C and C pairing. This was certainly a part of the match where Michael Baldisimo was missing for the first 65 minutes or so.
- Lucas Cavallini was dropping much too deep to get as involved as you would like — this is where the initial 4-4-2 formation the team went with didn’t quite work. Most of Caio Alexandre’s distribution seemed to go out wide and either they weren't able to get it into Cava or he wasn’t putting himself in positions to become involved. The fact that his total touches were half that of Alexandre underscores this point. A fit Baldi should help get Cava the service he needs.
- Was a strange match for VAR but thought that both times it was called upon the correct decision was made. The penalty reversal was a tough pill to swallow but Alexandre seemed to be pulling on Kellyn Acosta as much as the Rapids’ midfielder was pulling on him so I don’t really have a huge issue with the ultimate decision.
- Kamron Habibullah making his MLS debut is a silver lining to this one for a few reasons. Firstly, what a moment for the teenager. Second, he looked quite comfortable and can say he deserves more than a cameo role going forward. But moreover, it underscores that Marc Dos Santos and Co. really do have a belief in Habibullah and appear willing to use him rather than, say, Tos Ricketts. After the ongoing Theo Bair saga, it is good to see MDS reinforce his commitment to using worthy young talent.
While the Caps were frustrating in this one, at least they were frustrating in more encouraging ways than the last couple of seasons?
The team just lacked a cohesive attacking strategy, which will perhaps come down to the absence of Baldisimo in the starting lineup. Still, this was not the dire, listless performances from last season — the team had three chances cleared off the line, after all, including one where Deibar Caicedo really, truly should have scored after rounding the keeper.
Set piece quality was again where most of the chances came from, however, further underscoring the challenges the Caps are going to need to confront. As I mentioned above, too much of the play was either drab possession and passing in midfield or hopeful balls over the top for Caicedo and Dajome on the wings.
No Baldisimo seemed to send the team into a tailspin and while his introduction didn’t get the team a goal, it did relieve the pressure of having to build out from the back with a backline that is just not built for that type of play.
But there were some positives as well. I thought Caicedo and Dajome looked promising, as did Caio Alexandre on his full debut. The Brazillian had loads of ideas, not all of which came off, but he provided a real spark as the Caps settled into the match at the beginning.
He looked comfortable dropping deep and will probably be asked to continue to do that to help relieve the pressure on a team that is simply not geared towards building out of the back. I don’t mean to sugarcoat what was a rough offensive performance, but I still think it comes down to the Caps not playing to the sum of their parts just yet.
Janio Bikel put in a strong performance again and could make the argument that he should be the first name on the teamsheet after an effective start to the season. The Rapids had a real lethality that would have been even more potent without him (and Max Crepeau) on the field.
A quick word in praise of MDS’ game management. Yes, his changes were not enough to turn things around. But man, it was good to see a game where there were tweaks to the original game plan. Flipping around the 4-4-2 gave the team a boost in the early part of the first half and the subs gave the Caps a fighting chance, although all but Habibullah wound up disappointing.
All in all, this was a weird match. I said Friday that this would be a real test for the Caps — a measuring stick against a team with whom they will likely be doing battle in the race for a playoff spot. The Caps failed that test but have signs of life for the next exam — the team’s performance should not cause despair.
Man of the Match
Max Crepeau is an obvious choice here; after missing Mad Max for most of a season, it was easy to forget how easy he makes things look. While he only made five saves (it felt like far more), they were all vital stops on more-or-less point-blank chances. On a night where the Rapids were so effective in breaking forward, Crepeau kept the Caps in this one.
Also think Janio Bikel is worth a shout here — four tackles, 97% pass completion and a physical, committed presence in midfield allowed for Caio Alexandre to have more freedom to roam. If he keeps putting in performances like this, the Caps will not suffer defensively with a Baldi-Bikel central midfield pairing.