It may have been a battle of the worst in the West, but a victory is a victory as the Vancouver Whitecaps completed their long tour of America with a 2-1 victory over Austin FC Wednesday night.
With the win, Vancouver jumps to 11th with a game in hand on the teams surrounding presently them on the table. And, if the current unbeaten streak continues (yes, it’s one win and a pile of draws), that rank on the table could see single digits for the first time in months.
Of course, Wednesday night’s win wasn’t always a given, even with Vancouver controlling a majority if the game. Nevertheless, the gritty goals needed to overturn the first half deficit is hopefully a sample of the effort and capability they can put in to grind out results and, ideally, climb the table to the cup playoffs.
For now, let’s break down the player evals from last night. As always, ‘5’ is the most average of scores, like the numerical representation of hearing the same quality Dread Pirate Roberts quote every night for three years: “Goodnight, Westley. Good work, sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.” You’re still a valet for the most feared pirate of all the seas, but at least he didn’t kill you in the morning.
Max Crepeau - 5
Didn’t really have much of a night, did he? Looked strong in the air and his distribution was decent. Crepeau only faced two shots on net all night, the first being right at him from distance and the second being the headed goal from Alexander Ring, which I can’t pin on Creapeau if I’m being honest (I blame Zonal Marking and those who believe in it). Maybe he shaded too close to the already-covered near post? Bah, no, remove that thought from your head. I’m not some kind of goalkeeping stickler.
Jake Nerwinski - 7.5
Admittedly, the first five minutes had me thinking Jake’s touch would be off, but that was the exception not the rule, as Nerwinski grew out of it early and was solid overall.
And sure, the goal was a “right place, right time” moment, but he still had to score it!
The second half was really when Nerwinski truly shined. He was strong stepping to the ball and disrupting Austin on the wing, making recoveries up and down the pitch, and was confident when joining the attack without it ever negatively impacting his defensive responsibilities.
It’s also worth mentioning how fluidly Nerwinski and Javain Brown switched to the opposite cornerback positions when necessary, usually when defending corners without being able to immediately return to their respective starting spots. In fact, the pairings of both Nerwinski & Brown and Deiber & Dajome were very adept at switching sides when needed. It’s nice to have a single player that can effectively play both sides of the pitch, but four of them? That was a luxury I wasn’t expecting.
Andy Rose - 3.5
He was there! I saw him, I swear! Of course, the first thing that caught my attention from Rose was a mistimed leap on a cross that Jon Gallagher nearly put in the net.
To be fair, Rose did disrupt a lot of what was played on the ground in front of him, finishing the night with a game-high five clearances, so you can’t say he didn’t make an impact. It just felt like the moments he did were few and far between.
Ranko Veselinovic - 3.5
Was it me, or did Ranko get beat in the air, a lot? He finished with four clearances after all, but the ones that stood out were those he didn’t get. Like when he also was beat by Gallagher later on, or when he lost track/reacted nowhere near fast enough to get to Ring on the goal. Even if Zonal Marking is to blame, he can still track the path of the ball to its destination. Otherwise, his ball possession was OK and his passing was occasionally wonky. We may need to get the guy some Dramamine for his time spent in the air.
Javain Brown - 6
Generally unbothered on Austin’s switched long balls. If they went too wide, he’d let ‘em go; if the cross hung in the air, he’d knock ‘em down. His second half was quieter than the first, but Brown was solid when he got stuck deep in his own half.
Russell Teibert - 5
If there was anyone who’d benefit from Austin overcomplicating things for themselves, it was Russell Teibert. Perfect time for a “keep it simple” mentality, as Austin’s mistakes were often of their own making.
Teibert at times got much further up the pitch than usual, cycling with Dajome to help pressure the Austin backline. Of course, that’s against his usual, as it was still rather infrequent. Defensively, he was pretty solid: three tackles, two interceptions, two clearances, and nine recoveries. And, according to WhoScored, he had more forward passes than backwards!
But THAT GIVEAWAY in the 65’ nearly gave me a heart attack. Thank goodness Tomas Pochettino has no finish, but now I’m worried the play will induce some kind of ball-carrying PTSD for Teibert throughout the remainder of the season.
Janio Bikel - 5.5
So stout on defense, we might have to start calling him Guiness. Passing was meh, however. A little too bland at times and, like Teibert, any of his successful passes were either sideways or backwards. Got his body in the way of as much as he could, as often as he could.
Leonard Owusu - 4.5
Owusu was a strange one, because to me he looked good and was fairly active in his forty-five minutes, but the stat line read otherwise. He had the fewest touches of the three midfielders (16, to 18 and 19 of Teibert and Bikel) and was successful on only one of his four tackle attempts, though he was much more effective in the air than his midfield partners. I guess his off the ball activity was better than the others? Positioning as a means of creating an attacking deterrent is a thing, but being a deterrent instead of full-fledged discombobulator can only go so far.
That, and if he’s paired with Teibert and Bikel, I suppose technically he’s the offensive mid. That aspect wasn’t quite there on Wednesday, but he still had a decent forty-five.
Deiber Caicedo - 6.5
Great pressing, was quick on his feet all night, and was a constant nuisance for the Austin defenders. My only real complaint was that most of his dead balls were missing a bit of bend, a bit of oomph, or some combination of the two. It feels a little trifling to say so to be honest, but it did feel like Brad Stuver was having it too easy at times.
Brian White - 8
Crashed the net like crazy in this one and it was fantastic to see his hard work pay off.
We already knew that White is not the type of striker to go on long sprints, whether it’s on or to the ball. Unfortunately, those kind of attacking build-ups were the ones he primarily had to work with in the first forty-five, save for the in-close, tight-angle shot he nearly turned in towards the end of the half. A result of having high-flying wingers play balls from a deep-sitting midfield, I suppose.
Once the passes came a little bit sharper and quite a bit more dynamically, White was feasting. Despite the great save by Stuver, the header that led to Nerwinski’s goal was well-struck. And yes, his goal was a “tap-in,” but I’ll be damned if this isn’t the tightest of angles from where one is forced to tap:
It wasn’t the prettiest, but White worked hard, helped out defensively, was strong in the press, and was effective as hell overall. For what it’s worth, he 100% earned this headline:
Cristian Dajome - 7
Made a lot of smart passes, drew a lot of fouls, and, like Caicedo, was an amazing nuisance.
There were times where I thought he may have made the wrong decision, in taking a shot he shouldn’t have or holding the ball too long, but then he’d make up for it by doing exactly that where it would pay off.
The run he made on Ring in the 23rd minute was a perfect example: he holds up play after going on a long run into the Austin end, becomes isolated as a result of the received pass (if I remember correctly), maintains possession and fights off Ring when no new passing lanes were available, before finally drawing a foul in what really should have been a depossession of the one-man attack.
The guy is arguably an MLS All-Star and probably would be if the league marketing department knew there was a team in Vancouver.
Sub #1: Ryan Gauld - 9
I mean, what more do you want from a sub at half time?
Coming in for Leo Owusu at the half, Gauld brought stability to the Whitecaps attack and helped triple the club’s xG output, jumping it from 0.9 to 2.7. All credit to Owusu for a decent performance, but Gauld sitting higher up the pitch ahead of the defensive-minded CMs, while playing as well he did no less, bridged the gap to the Whitecaps’ attackers.
He got three clean shots on net and made three key passes in his forty-five minutes, the first on a well-taken CK that led to Nerwinski’s opener, and an assist on the winner, after having sprung Caicedo for a long run, catching up to him to take a return pass in the penalty area, and sliding it across the goal mouth for White to knock home.
I’m trying not to get ahead of myself here, but I’m really looking forward to seeing him go a full ninety. Let’s hope it’s on Saturday because I’ll be in the building!
Sub #2: Tosaint Ricketts - 4.5
In for Brian White at 78’. Had a bit more to do than the subs that came after him, so I think it’s fair to give him a score. Had two chances to extend the lead, the first on a header that could have been better met, and a through-ball disrupted by a well-timed tackle from Ring before he could get a shot off. Perhaps the execution could have been better, but to Ricketts’ credit he kept up the pressure on the Austin backline right through to the end.
Sub #3: Michael Baldisimo - n/a
In for Russell Teibert at 81’ to help see out the match. Had four touches of the ball and went 1 for 2 on his attempted passes.
Sub #4: Florian Jungwirth - n/a
In for Andy Rose at 89’. Like Baldisimo, saw this one out without much to do, though great to see him make his Whitecaps debut. And he won a header cleanly! May have been the same number as that of the other CBs!
The Crowd In Austin - 10
For raising their lights during the Canadian national anthem in solidarity with the Whitecaps and their academy players, who were assaulted this past week in what was, per the club statement, believed to be a racially motivated attack. Class act, Verde, the lot of you.
Marc Dos Santos - _______!
At first glance, it felt like Dos Santos was only biding his time before regrouping in the second half, willing to let Austin complicate itself into a loss. However, that really only resulted in a goal against the run of play before a cohesive attack came together in the second half.
But I want to leave this one to the comments section! What do you think of MDS’s strategy in this one? Let’s here about it, as well as how off my marks were!