The ‘Caps came out with a heavily rotated squad and very makeshift backline. Injuries meant that Vanni Sartini’s options were limited but nevertheless it did not go well at all. Houston racked up almost 2.0 expected goals to Vancouver’s 0.1 in the first half but somehow the score remained tied at 0.
It’s easy to point to the backline as the source of the problems. But with Andy Rose being the only fully fit centre back, there were not really any good options. This would be a great game to have a centre back with some Canadian national team experience-maybe someone who starts regular in a European first division.
But an equally big problem was the play of Bikel and Owusu in the midfield. After a fabulous performance against Dallas, Owusu was back to his old ways. Lots of nice touches, very little of the ball actually moving in the direction of the other team’s goal. As for Bikel, well...
These two continue to baffle me. Both had sterling passing stats previously in their career, we’ve even seen Owusu do it in MLS (if only for one game). Yet in match after match they look terrified of making a mistake and prefer to play a safe backwards pass.
Of course part of this is down to poor off the ball movement. One of the reason’s Ryan Gauld is so effective is he actually makes runs off the ball to make himself available for a forwards pass. For some reason the other Whitecaps players have been unwilling or unable to do that.
The second half brought changes in personnel but not changes in outcome (though the Whitecaps did manage to get four shots in the second half as opposed to one in the first). It has become clear that depth is a big problem for this Whitecaps squad. They now have enough quality to field a pretty good starting XI but the drop off in quality after that is extremely steep.
The one positive which can be taken from this game is the play of Maxime Crepeau. The Canadian saw a dip in form in the middle of the season but he has come roaring back. Since August Crepeau has been one of the league’s top keepers in goals saved above expected. In my mind this is just as big of a factor as the arrival of Ryan Gauld in the Whitecaps turning their run of poor results around.
Next up the Whitecaps face the San Jose Earthquakes. The ‘Quakes, with their man marking based defensive system, represent an IQ test. Most teams in MLS pass this test regularly but the Whitecaps have always struggled with it. The game represents a big opportunity for Vanni Sartini and his team to prove that this is really a new era.