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Post Match: Whitecaps Shutout the previously undefeated CF Montreal

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MLS: CF Montreal at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t the most beautiful or engaging of matches for stretches at a time, but a second-half resurgence behind two set piece goals from Cristian Dajome saw the Vancouver Whitecaps get back to their winning ways, with a 2-0 dispatching of the CF Montreal.

The first half was fraught with antsy uncertainty as some of the bigger chances for either team were either stifled or simply never came to be. That all changed twelve minutes into the second half when Cristian Dajome slotted the penalty kick he himself earned to open the scoring.

The Colombian striker would make it a brace only fourteen minutes later, powering home a header off a corner kick from Deiber Caicedo to double the lead.

A late effort from Lassi Lappalainen to draw Montreal back into the match was waved off thanks to our friends at the VAR monitor, and the Whitecaps were able to see off the victory, 2-0.

Ahhhh, it’s always beautiful when losing streaks are limited to a single match.

Major Takeaways

We Pressed Until We Didn’t, Then We Did Again (Sort Of)

It was encouraging to see the Whitecaps press early and often to start out the match, as Montreal’s backline did not appear to be getting a lot of time on the ball, quickly playing it to the wings in any attempt to get the ball up the field. As the first half wore on, the visiting side were afforded more and more time on the ball. Thankfully, they didn’t make much of it.

Then again, if the game plan was to lull Montreal into a false sense of ball-possessing security before starting the second half. it certainly worked. The Whitecaps began to sit back more often as the match progressed, pressing second passes rather than the first ones, and Montreal’s accuracy started to fail them somewhat when navigating narrower passing lanes.

Kick It Around, But Get Everyone Involved

This certainly did not happen with every sequence of possession, particularly in the second half, but the Whitecaps looked positive at times with their ability to cycle the ball. I wouldn’t call it tika-taka by any means, but at some points there were even some deft one-touch, outside-foot touches that were getting players out of trouble.

A lot of this can and should be owed to how the off-the-ball players were responding to the situation. Your teammate is being closed down on? Move to space. You’ve just made a pass, now what? Move to space. It basically boils down to making sure whomever it is that has the ball is given the opportunity to play it somewhere safe. To the Whitecaps credit today, this wasn’t solely encompassed by regressive passes to the backline and keeper, either.

Despite those positive passing sequences, they didn’t involve Vancouver’s front four nearly enough in the early going as the attacking ‘Caps were sitting far too high, creating a huge chasm between themselves and the center mids & defenders. Most balls up the pitch would result in passes to feet that would get closed down quickly or over the top and into a limited amount of space behind Montreal’s defensive line.

When the gaps were shortened, Vancouver was far more progressive, with their through balls actually getting through and their long balls landing in enough space to be corralled and controlled.

You Want Wings? Fine, You Get Wings

Vancouver trying to keep the Montreal attack to the sidelines was a great look. Early on, it only ever led to long crosses flying to nobody. You’ll hardly ever see one club limit their opponent to sideline channels from which to attack over the course of an entire match, and by no means did the Whitecaps do so on Saturday, but it was great to see their efforts to do so, to try to minimalize the Montreal attack and have it primarily originate on the wings.

Stands to reason that attacking teams will do less damage when they’re not occupying the center of the park or the goalmouth itself, so long as the defenders are actively not giving it up. To that point, there was only one severe case of backpost shenanigans for the Whitecaps this week, on a dead ball to Bjørn Johnsen.

The manmarking of Johnsen on the play was atrocious, but Cristian Gutierrez (who, it should be said, was not the one marking Johnsen) did well to give the striker little room to operate, despite not having a play at the ball. Instead, the cross was headed down and well wide of the net.

The most significant threats from Montreal came from when they were allowed that space in the middle, whether it was off turnovers, like the pocket-picking of Jake Nerwinski by Romell Quioto in the 29th minute that led to an open shot from Johnsen in the middle of the penalty area, or the runs up the center that would came a bit more frequently as the Whitecaps were protecting their lead towards the end.

Case in point: rewatch the buildup to Lassi Lappalainen’s called-off goal in the 89th minute. No one touches Joaquin Torres as he carries the ball up the middle from the center circle, before he finds an overlapping Mathieu Choinière to cross it in.

Everyone was in “drop defensively” mode by this point, which is fine if everyone is in formation. But in this scenario, they weren’t. The club is in transition and no one is attacking the guy with the ball, whether he’s carrying it or about to cross it, and instead the momentum of the play carries the ball to the middle and results in a scramble that has Lappalainen slotting the ball home. Thank goodness for small favors and the beefy biceps of Erik Hurtado.

All things considered, the Whitecaps defensive formation was fairly solid throughout, even when they were protecting their lead, but the season will be a long one if they cannot assert themselves in transition.

Let Us In, I Swear We’re On The Guest List

Are we officially getting to the point where using the phrase “broken record” is in and of itself now a broken record? For the sake of the universe collapsing in on itself I hope not, but it’s getting harder to find creative ways to describe how we repeatedly describe Vancouver’s inability to break into the penalty area.

Going in through the front is not working, so what else can be done? Start with the simple stuff, I suppose. The kinds of things only slightly more complicated than the direct path.

Keep encouraging the movement of players into space; as they do, have other players move into space previously occupied, the newly created vaccum that’s become available. In doing so, avoid the pitfall of holding the ball for too long. Cycle, cycle, cycle. Move, move, move.

The only similarity between “Whitecaps” and “sedentary” should be that they’re both nine-letter words.

Caio Alexandre has been great at this in his short time with the club, moving to space in order to receive a pass, whether he’s just made a pass himself or is finding a way to incorporate himself into the build up.

Naturally, all of this easy said than done, particularly from the pulpit that is the Internet, but why not also do the anti-online thing and encourage players to do what they do well?

Take Lucas Cavallini for example. The dude bodies players like nobody’s business and as much as he disdains showing for the ball and holding it, I can’t imagine it being easy to strip him of the ball when he’s stationary. That’s the perfect time to lay off to an overlapping run or, like he had done in the first half with Russell Teibert, set yourself up with a give-and-go.

It may not be the best analogy, but if the Whitecaps want to have their shots in the club, they’ve got to find a way in that isn’t the front door, because they sure as hell aren’t on anyone’s guest list.

If You Gotta Listen To The Same Song Over and Over, Find Yourself Some Remixes

I get it, the Whitecaps can’t score in open play. I’m sure they will at some point, but it won’t happen on May 8th, 2021.

But you know what? Vancouver still won anyway.

Admittedly, that kind of deferent argument will wear thin over the course of the season. As it should. Teams need to be able to score without having play come to a dead stop.

Nevertheless, it was encouraging to watch the Whitecaps set up varying formations during each deadball situation.

Vancouver offered up a variety of set piece takers as well as formations on corner kicks. The latter would switch between spaced out zonal placements to swaths of bodies moving from the top of the penalty area to the goal mouth.

The time will come when Vancouver is ably handled by a club that’s generally decent against set pieces, but the breadth of attacking formations on display by the Whitecaps today will require future opponents to do their homework. This doesn’t solve their inability to score in open play, but at least they’re offering up multiple ways to do the same old thing differently.

As long as they don’t go full Ted Lasso with it, either:

Omaha! Omaha!

Personal Thoughts

  • It was weird to hear Blake Price’s asynchronous voice calling the match on TV rather than the radio, but I thought he and Paul Dolan were a good listen, particularly with the latter continuously referring to Montreal as the “Impact.” Nevertheless, godspeed Peter Schaad.
  • Completely OK with Caio Alexandre starting deeper than last week, as a true center mid rather than as the #10. But I was particularly enthused in how it pushed Russell Teibert out to the wing. If starting Alexandre as a CM keeps him from having to drop to help out a pair of already defensive-leaning CMs, then we’re making a bit of progress in the center of the park.
  • To that end, Janio Bikel and Leonard Owusu may be the center pairing of the future, but Caio can absolutely fill in when needed. In any case, the middle of the park was fairly solid overall.
  • Whatever Cristian Gutierrez lost last week, he’s found it again. Maybe it disappeared with his luggage on the way back from Orlando (aside from that straight-out-of-bounds corner kick, because woof). Hot Take: Was it because Teibert was in front of him again? Rusty is unquestionably a defense-first midfielder, whereas Guti is a defender who can and will get up the pitch whenever possible. That kind of concurrent fluidity, identifying when someone is going on a run so you need to cover for him, is a boon when players are feeling each other.
  • That doesn’t mean Teibert wasn’t on the offensive, either, because guys, RUSSELL TEIBERT WAS OFFSIDE. When does that ever happen??!
  • CF Montreal: punting it into the penalty area from distance isn’t a gameplan.
  • Ranko Veselinovic is welcome to slide tackle whenever he wants, but don’t let him perform a spinal tap on you and especially watch out for his chicken wing elbows.
  • Lucas Cavallini: keep bodying people and throwing that butt into people. I could tell Amar Sejdic did not enjoy having to deal with that badonkadonkdonk.
  • Quioto was quite the nuisance even without scoring, whether he was relieving possession of unassuming ball carriers or inducing gentle pushes to the ground. Definitely will not be on Nerwinski’s Christmas Card list this year.
  • Speaking of said nuisance, Nerwinski owes Max Crepeau at least one beer.
  • If there’s one thing Cristian Dajome can do for Deiber Caicedo this season to fully welcome him to the club is show him around the city and help him feel at home. If there’s a second thing he can do, it’s show him how to draw penalties off Kamal Miller.
  • Win, lose, or draw, you know Marc Dos Santos is not making a sub until after the 70th minute.
  • Price’s mention of the Hurtado Pizza at Red Card Sports Bar in Vancouver reminded me of a universal truth: there is such a thing as too much gorgonzola.
  • All that talk about keeping Montreal to the wings becomes a bit more significant when you realize they were held to only 3 corner kicks today, particularly when compared to the 7 they earned against Nashville last week.
  • Very happy to see Owusu and Derek Cornelius back on the pitch.
  • Who knew Cava could make a monster slide tackle without drawing a yellow? I mean, he still ended up with a card anyway and feasibly ran the risk of getting another, but turning that tackle into a breakaway from center was something else. Get you a man who can do both.

Man of the Match

After watching the first half, I was ready to call it for Max Crepeau. He wasn’t exemplary, but was absolutely ready to roll when Montreal sprung chances off Whitecap errors.

There’s something to be said when you can thwart an attack during unexpected panic. A blasted shot off the boot of Lappalainen from in close? Get yourself in position and snatch it out of the air. Throughball played to the speedy Hurtado? No big deal, just slide into it like a DM. He was ready for just about anything.

However, and that’s one of the biggest HOWEVERS I can muster, the MOTM has got to Cristian Dajome. Lining up beside Cavallini in the 4-4-2 this week, his first half was bland as heck. But the second half? He draws a PK off Miller, scores the ensuing spot kick by putting his shot beyond the reach of the correct-guessing Clement Diop. Dajome then beats Miller again, this time in the air as the diminutive striker heads home a second goal, off a well-taken corner from Caicedo. After last match, I’m fairly certain the entire squad was practicing heading crosses at training this week and it’s paid off amazingly.

What say you people? Who was your MOTM? We got the win after all, but what could have been done better? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!