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First half hole proves too much, as Caps fall to Houston

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Houston Dynamo FC Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The good news? The Caps scored from open play.

The bad news? A pair of defensive woes from Vancouver dug them in a first half hole against the Houston Dynamo which they were unable to climb out from, despite a late burst of energy. The 2-1 lost is their third on the bounce and will leave plenty of familiar questions for Marc dos Santos and Co. as the Caps head into a prolonged layoff.

Major Takeaways

  • Probably the first time all season Max Crepeau was punished for an (admittedly rare) error. The game’s opening goal had a healthy dose of bad luck involved — it was good service from Fafa Picault but caught a tricky deflection and the centerbacks didn’t do much to pick up Memo Rodriguez.
  • The Caps defense and leaving men totally unmarked at the back post, name a more iconic duo.
  • On a night where a slick surface brought a lot of loose touches and misplaced passes, Bruno Gaspar was a bright spot in trying to create something offensively. The problem is this left the backline stretched thin and Houston did well playing over the top to Picault to punish this.
  • Javain Brown looks to be a find. He did a job out of position and was plenty physical, getting stuck in and not backing down against a veteran Dynamo team. He didn’t offer a ton in the way of attacking help, which, combined with Russell Teibert’s presence, made the left side less effective offensively. But I think Brown will be a bit more dynamic when he returns to his favored right back position. I also would be open to seeing him as a CB in a back three, a role he has previously played.
  • I guess Ryan Raposo should only be a sub because he looked good in the role a week after getting yanked against Sporting Kansas City. The forced turnover that led to the goal was one of many sharp moments — he was unlucky not to have a second assist after Theo Bair just couldn’t quite latch onto his cross.
  • Revisionist history and it could be a question of match fitness, but I would not have brought Leonard Owusu on for Caio Alexandre. Taking off the most progressive, positive player in the lineup for a guy who turned the ball over multiple times and is clearly not in peak form? Well, that’s a move, I guess.
  • A tough night at the office for Cristian Dajome, who just looked off all night and was too quick to go for individual skill at inopportune times. One has to wonder how much a return to the right midfield role factored into the slump, after a promising run of matches. You also have to wonder how much Dajome’s skillset (and to a lesser extent Caicedo’s) clashes with the struggles the Caps are having right now. A guy who likes taking defenders on isn’t a great fit for a team which struggles to possess and effectively use the ball.
  • Not a great return to the lineup for Erik Godoy. He was beat a fair few times over the top and looked a bit unsettled — not surprising for a guy who is working his way back for injury. A layoff to get back on the same page as his teammates is probably a good thing.

Personal Thoughts

I think going 2-0 down in the first half was a bit harsh. The Dynamo certainly stretched the Caps at times but they didn’t create a ton of clear cut chances and the first goal had a bet of chance (a deflection) and the second a good bit of individual skill.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the supporting cast was virtually non-existent and Lucas Cavallini again was forced to spend most of his time hovering around the halfway line or, at least, dropping back to collect the ball before launching something approximating a foray into the opposing penalty area.

There was one sequence in the second half where Cava brought the ball down halfway into the Dynamo zone, took on two or three defenders, who successfully pushed him towards the corner flag, at which point Cava dribbles it out of play. There was perhaps no better metaphor for this game and the Caps’ shortcomings this season.

I mean ...

I suppose the question then becomes how much credit the team should get for the last ten minutes, when they looked much sharper (whether out of desperation or actually hitting on some attacking mojo, who knows). I’ve long been of the belief that when the team breaks its open goal duck, the subsequent goals will flow a bit more easily.

The fundamental truths still remain: this is a team that can’t score in the first half, a team which gets few shots on target and a team which gets few touches in the opponent’s penalty area.

But the building blocks also remain: positive fullback play, a motivated, if misguided at times, Lucas Cavallini, good second half performances from Ryan Raposo and Michael Baldisimo. A lot for the Caps to chew over and sort out in the next three weeks — their season will likely depend on what tactical tweaks Marc dos Santos settles on in the weeks to come. Whether that will involve a 4-3-3 or not (it probably should) remains to be seen but something has to give.

Man of the Match

Deibar Caicedo did well to break his duck and he had some positive ball movement and flashes of individual skill to merit the award. But I think both fullbacks are worth a shout here as well — Bruno Gaspar was the steady offensive outlet when the team was having trouble getting anything going. And Javain Brown hardly put a foot wrong playing out-of-position and had led the team in successful tackles, including one to deny Houston a very dangerous break late.