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No manager, no problem: Caps smash Real Salt Lake 4-1

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MLS: Real Salt Lake at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Caps got the post-Marc Dos Santos era underway Sunday night with a bang, battering RSL 4-1 at BC Place and securing their third straight win to maintain a nine-match unbeaten run.

Vinni Sartini made his mark quickly as interim manager, electing to change formations and reverting to the good ole’ Christmas tree style, a 4-3-2-1 with a makeshift backline involving Florian Jungwirth, who made his first Whitecaps’ start, and Bruno Gaspar (who made his first start in awhile). Ryan Gauld also made his full league debut.

It was clear early on that the Caps were up for it and they just absolutely poured it on against RSL.

And on.

And on some more.

Major Takeaways

  • You couldn’t help but think that the Caps were finally seeing out MDS’ tactical ideal: an effective high press, with effective quick passing and even a healthy dose of building out of the back (successfully). It put a lot of pressure on a middling backline for RSL and the Caps feasted.
  • An underrated positive for Gauld’s introduction to the Caps is the sense of purpose in possession. No longer do we see (as many) aimless stretches of passing the ball backwards, but rather Gauld’s impetus spurs on more probing runs and a much more attacking mindset.
  • It was quickly clear that the introduction of Florian Jungwirth wasn’t just because of Andy Rose’s rough spell, it was also with the intent of adding a tactical wrinkle in and help the Caps bypass the midfield. Midway through the first half, Jungwirth had the most long balls of any outfield player and while he slipped off that pace as the second 45 minutes wore on, it was another way the Caps added pressure to RSL early on. His contribution on set piece was a nice bonus.
  • Would you believe that Cristian Dajome had more key passes than Ryan Gauld? Both had excellent nights but Dajome deserves a shoutout for being everywhere and a real conduit from the opening whistle.
  • Brown had a lot of energy and was really liking the extra space that the 4-3-2-1 afforded him out wide — his relationship and understanding with the Caps’ wide players is an underrated part of his game and is part of why it is so easy to forget he is a rookie. His presence caused the own goal and his inch perfect delivery to Ryan Gauld for the Caps’ third goal was a perfect metaphor for an excellent evening for the Jamaican.
  • Gaspar was a lot more active than I expected, perhaps as a way to bypass Russell Teibert on the left hand side. I was unsure what we would see out of him, playing out of position after a long layoff but he did pretty well for himself.
  • The save from Max Crepeau on Noah Powder was first rate stuff but I think the ensuing corner/goal kick debate might still be going on ...
  • That third goal was another sign of the Caps’ improving mentality. After RSL was beginning to grow back into the match, they churned out a true team goal, marked by the hold up play and fancy footwork of Leo Owusu and the cross of Javain Brown as much as the header from Ryan Gauld.

Personal Thoughts

It has been a long time since I’ve seen the Caps so thoroughly rinse an opposing team as they did against RSL (the Quakes playoff match a few years back comes to mind) and while their opposition is certainly struggling, it was great to see a real statement of intent that the Caps were going to continue marching on and push for a playoff spot.

The fact that they did it looking like prime Xaviesta Barcleona was just a nice bonus. The pressing looked excellent right from the get-go and was the catalyst for no shortage of chances in the first half as the Caps found their feet. It leads one to wonder what might have been if MDS never once uttered the words “low block” while in charge.

After Thursday’s loss to Pacific FC raised no shortage of questions about the backline, it was great to see them largely recover on Sunday. While RSL got a couple good licks in, one was off a rebound from a powerful long range shot and the others were mainly nibbling around the edges. Jungwirth should have hopped Andy Rose in the pecking order and while Bruno Gaspar wasn’t superlative, he should be solid enough cover until Cristian Gutierrez is fit again. This was perhaps proof that the best defense is a good offense (they probably still need another starting-XI-caliber CB in the offseason) but their lone goal conceded was total bad luck and a makeshift backline on the pitch. Don’t let the defensive performance get lost in all this.

While it is easy to wonder where this Whitecaps team was all season, it is probably best to focus on the fact that they have showed up now. They currently sit right on the line for a playoff spot and with a run of home matches to come the Caps will have a real shot to continue their run of form.

Man of the Match

This is the kind of match where you want to get everyone a MoTM award, it was that comprehensive a win.

Ryan Gauld is the obvious choice here with a goal and an assist, as well as no shortage of chances created and a pair of key passes, one of which resulted in an own goal.

But spotlighting the Gauld-digger is almost getting boring, even after a handful of matches in Vancouver. Javain Brown is my choice. While he didn’t nab a goal, his assist was inch perfect to set up Gauld’s goal and he was a constant menace on the right hand side, both offensively and defensively. He seemed to thrive in the space afforded him via the new formation and his link up with the attacking band players is as brilliant as ever.

Have to also give Florian Jungwirth a shoutout for a goal on his full Caps debut, as well as helping considerably to lock things down at the back after Thursday’s calamity.