Road trips to Houston historically do not come easy for any MLS side, particularly for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Given the club’s recent record, registering just a single loss in their last fourteen matches, was it that unreasonable to think the Vancouver Whitecaps could have somehow grabbed all three points from the Houston Dynamo Wednesday night? As it turns out, it was, but without the ‘Caps leaving emptyhanded altogether.
If anything, Wednesday night once again suggested that there’s a third inevitability beyond death and taxes: at one time or another, your side will drop points at BBVA Stadium.
A team can go to Houston, play well, and leave with nothing. It’s the bizarre nature of play in the MLS, just as it’s equally bizarre for the Whitecaps to play “just well enough” and still escape BBVA with a point. But points are points, and in this run for the playoff every one of them is crucial.
All that’s left is to throw a quick critique at the players. As usual, a score of 5 is as average as average gets. Like a security guard that’s simply asked to “observe and report,” but not like the security guard in the movie Observe and Report. That guy was just awkward and cringey.
Max Crepeau - 8.5
Well, Crepeau did it again, but rather than a single clutch save to bookend a narrow victory, it was four big saves, each more difficult than the last, spread out to salvage a draw. He did benefit from a forgiving bounce off the post, a reactive clearance from Florian Jungwirth on a spilled rebound, and Houston’s lackluster finishing, but Crepeau kept the Whitecaps in this one to earn a tough point on the road.
Jake Nerwinski - 5.5
The best of the starting back three on Wednesday. His positioning looked good, he was strong in the tackle, and, thankfully, did not follow Fafa Picault on a run that could have netted a winner, but instead was an obvious offside.
Keep in mind the next sentence comes largely from my Spidey-Sense™️, but it also felt like Nerwinski was doing a good job of communicating with the wingback in front of him, whether it was Patrick Metcalfe, or Javain Brown on the occasions where they switched sides. Whoever ended up in front of Nerwinski was often in a better defending position than their counterpart on the other flank. My defender guts tell me it had to do with constant communication from Nerwinski to the players in front of him.
Michael Baldisimo - 3
Before Wednesday, I kept seeing murmurs online alluding to the brief experience Baldisimo had at center back. In retrospect, I wish I had the wherewithal to check those sources. Though I absolutely admire his willingness to pitch in when the defending core was spread so thin, his time spent on the backline was a mess.
I imagine the goal for Baldi was to spray passes out of the back as though he were still in the center of the park, but he never really had the chance, did he? Playing out of the back with precision is an earned luxury.
Instead, Baldisimo found himself in situations where, for example, a crossed ball unexpectedly bounced over his head or a missed bicycle kick clearance from just inside center would nearly turn into a clear breakaway. The ball was never “his” to play with.
Once the half time substitutions were made and Baldisimo could move to the center midfield, he looked calmer, despite his passes made looking a little too sideways.
Andy Rose - 4
In contrast to Nerwinski, I didn’t get that same sense of “wingback communication” from Rose. In fairness, Brown was far more adventurous going up the pitch, but it was the bunker moments when things became problematic.
Whether it was Brown or Metcalfe collapsing as they should, it appeared as though neither were getting the notice to close down an attacker until it was a step too late. Normally, it would make sense to call out the winger for reacting poorly, but those poor reactions were primarily occurring on the right side, in front of Rose. That’s all speculative, of course, but it felt consistent.
Otherwise, as usual an Andy Rose by any other name would still block everything in front of him, have no issue punting a ball when under pressure, and become indecisive with time on the ball.
Patrick Metcalfe - 3.5
To be perfectly honest, I was happy to see Metcalfe get the start, if for nothing other than the demonstration of faith Vanni Sartini has in the young winger. Under any number of previous Whitecap regimes, the foul he committed at the end of the Dallas match would have buried a young player deep into the bowels of WFC 2, or possibly under the turf at UBC. So to see Metcalfe move into the starting eleven on Wednesday was heartening.
That said, I don’t think he played like he knew the skipper had confidence in him. He had one of the highest passing success rates on the night, but everything was safe and backwards. He was tentative both on and off the ball. If only you could bottle the edge that Janio Bikel plays on, filter out the fouls, and sell it to hesitant players like Metcalfe.
Leonard Owusu - 3.5
Owusu was decent at breaking up plays in the middle, but offered little in moving the ball up the pitch. I don’t care if you’re a CM or DCM, 22 touches and 17 passes attempted are not enough when you’re in the center of the park. Find ways to get involved!
Janio Bikel - 4
As mentioned, Bikel played with the kind of edge Metcalfe needs, but it nearly bit him in the ass.
I naturally held my VAR-loathing breath as the first half was ending, certain Bikel needlessly clipped the heel of (I think) Darwin Quintero as the attacker was entering the penalty area. Nothing came of it thankfully, but yikes.
Moments of elevated heart rates aside, like Owusu, Bikel helped out defensively but offered very little when advancing up the pitch. I think I counted maybe three progressive passes from Bikel into the Dynamo half. And like Owusu, 24 touches and 16 passes is just not enough, particularly when you’re unable to link up with your attackers.
Javain Brown - 5.5
Javain had himself a better-than-OK night. Statistically speaking, he was the most active defender, notching a game-high three tackles, two interceptions, and two clearances, while having won seven duels, in addition to bagging one of only three Whitecap key passes on the night.
He was maybe just a little too aggressive in trying to get up the pitch offensively, but would always cover himself and get back quickly. Suffered through some classic Whitecap Wingback Narcolepsy on the back post at one moment, but thankfully it amounted to nothing.
Ryan Raposo - 3
Raposo was appropriately aggressive on the press, but his offense contribution was generally absent. He was supposed to be the “1” in the 3-4-1-2, but never truly found a way to integrate himself in the attack.
Raposo had the fewest touches of any player across the first forty-five and, were you to look at the league’s passing network for the match, he’s the only one with no actual passing channel. Is that a case of not reading the play and getting open? Being bypassed for other options by those holding the ball?
The appearance of Deiber Caicedo in the second half made for some good link up play between the two for the thirteen minutes before Raposo’s substitution.
Lucas Cavallini - 3
Knowing that Cavallini came out at half time due to an injured knee could be the caveat that explains a subdued performance, but it was subdued nonetheless. On balls played to his feet, his distribution was creative, but anything played to him in the air on Wednesday was lost.
Cristian Dajome - 4.5
Dajome was a weird one for me on Wednesday. You could tell he wanted to put in a strong effort by how well he helped out defensively, making two tackles, two clearances, two interceptions, two recoveries, a blocked shot, and having won nine duels.
This was all in spite of the yellow card he picked up, however, which very easily could have been paired on more than one occasion. Despite what the stats say, it felt as though Dajome was arguably a borderline liability, which is not something you’d expect from your leading scorer.
To that last point, I really hope he can find his offensive footing over this last stretch of games.
Florian Jungwirth - 6
Coming on for Owusu at half time as part of a three-player switcheroo, Jungwirth immediately got to work.
The guy had 11 clearances and he only played one half! To be fair, that high number probably had more to do with Vancouver never retaining stretches of possession before Houston would overly force their counterattack, but he made them! Brought a bit of stability to the center of the pitch, even as Houston were ramping up an effort to bag a winner.
Deiber Caicedo - 5
On for Metcalfe at the half, Caicedo was dynamic when getting the ball up the pitch. The only problem: it rarely happened, as Vancouver continued its inability on the night to meaningfully work their way up the pitch.
Brian White - 5
In for Cavallini at half time, White did well to show for the ball when he could. But with the Whtiecaps’ inability to consistently threaten the Houston penalty area, it was as though White showed up to work when the office was closed.
Ryan Gauld - 6.5
Coming in for Raposo in the 58th minute, Gauld was quick to make up for the spatial play lacking in the Whitecaps’ offense.
Sure, his appearance alone wasn’t enough to sway the sense that this match was more a missed opportunity for the Dynamo than it was for Vancouver, but Gauld’s ability to move to and play the ball into space provided moments of optimism. Heck, he even registered the Whitecaps’ lone shot on net, even if his looping volley from 35-yards out felt comfortably into the hands of Michael Nelson.
Russell Teibert - 5
On for Bikel in the 75th minute, Teibert put in his usual, dogged defensive work, with smart positioning and pressure, though, as is usually the case, his best efforts offensively came from disrupting things defensively. He nevertheless helped put the finishing touches on a hard earned point.
I think it’s clear that Max Crepeau was Man of the Match in this one, but who else had their strong moments? What changes need to be made ahead of the weekend visit from San Jose?