Good Monday morning folks, hope you all had a relaxing and restorative weekend. Similarly, we’re sending out positive vibes for a good week ahead.
Well, they say that all good things must end and that was the crux of Friday night’s 1-0 defeat to Portland. It has to be said that it wasn’t a bad performance from Vanni Sartini’s men — the Caps were certainly competitive and one could argue a draw was the fairest possible result. This was not like Cascadia matches of old, where an off match meant an absolute battering. Vancouver wasn’t at their best but it didn’t spell disaster quite as much as in the pre-Gauld era.
It was still a match that brought everybody back down to earth, which is probably good. Obviously this team wasn’t going unbeaten the rest of the way home and there is almost certainly going to be a run of poor form. If it resembles Friday night and not some of the most listless performances of the Marc dos Santos epoque, then a playoff spot is probably still attainable.
But some concerns exist all the same.
Sartini really seems to like a three-at-the-back system — not a bad thing, especially given that the Caps’ personnel kind of plays into it (at least as long as the Jungwirth/Godoy/Ranko trio remains as first choice and we don’t get into any Andy Rose business at all). And the main problem with the formation Friday will be solved fairly soon, which is to say Patrick Metcalfe and Russell Teibert are not and never will be wingbacks. I actually thought Rusty was fine but the comments on my match report lead me to believe I was in the minority on that.
Somewhat more alarming is the relative lack of chances created in the final third, painting the picture of a more dynamic version of what the Caps were trotting out earlier in the season. Part of this was down to an off night from Ryan Gauld (who still had four key passes despite looking a bit out-of-focus — pretty impressive) but it remains to be seen whether this is a feature — not a bug — of this formation.
The re-introduction of Lucas Cavallini into the lineup didn’t really do much to help things along. I know there was a lot of pent-up excitement to see Cava in the starting lineup with Gauld and Friday’s match is a big strange because El Tanque was returning from international duty.
But Cava’s most meaningful contribution was probably the bust-up he started in the penalty area before a corner — he was not as impactful as Brian White in holding up the ball and he didn’t really come up with any meaningful shots on target.
It plays into a potential longer-term issue with the big man, who doesn’t really fit what the Caps want to be. This isn’t to say that the team can’t make it work with Cava up top — after all, some better service from Ryan Gauld will likely boost his goal totals substantially. But Cava is not a player who is well suited to a free-flowing attack and the sustained mediocrity of the Caps appears to have robbed him of a bit of the fire in the belly that he had earlier in his Vancouver career.
Perhaps this is a bit unfair. After all, one half hour appearance isn’t really enough to make any kind of value judgements off of. But between international duty and injuries this is probably going to wind up being a bit of a lost year for Cava in Vancouver. That means his place in the national team pecking order will slip and perhaps will continue the existential questions about his future in MLS. And given the good run of form with Brian White up top, it will perhaps mean the club is OK with trying to chart a different course at striker. Theo Bair and David Egbo having good loan performances might further change the narrative.
For now, of course, fans will hope the conventional wisdom will come to pass: Gauld will deposit more balls on Cava’s forehead and he might begin to show glimpses of the striker we all expected when he signed. Heck, this could start Sunday against (an in-form) Colorado. It is hard to imagine the Caps making the playoffs with the Cava of Friday night at the helm.
Shameless Self Promotion
Best of the Rest
The international break seems like a fever dream but if you want something to be optimistic about, I don’t think anyone would blame you for thinking back to the Octo
The Caps have at least worked their way back into MLS playoff bubble watch stories (though the MDS take in this piece is ... weird)
A nice dive on the state of play of the Canadian Premier League (topped currently by none other than Pacific FC)