It wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly good enough to get the job done.
That was the tale of the tape for the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday afternoon at BC Place as they got the better of expansion side Austin FC by a score of 2-1.
For a team that has had a turbulent couple of weeks, the first half against Austin was a gut check. This Whitecaps team though, despite their flaws, has been a resilient group this year and really demonstrated that resilience in the second half scoring two unanswered goals and claiming all three points.
Ok, let’s get into the talking points.
Old Habits Die Hard
The first half was tough to watch, even from within the confines of the stadium.
You knew that Vancouver was going to have some growing pains on the backline, largely in part to the complete decimation of their depth at those positions, yet even for those expectations, the first half was disappointing.
Bruno Gaspar and Janio Bikel struggled to keep things organized on the flanks, and Gaspar especially looked like he didn’t want to be involved in the match.
It really served as a reminder how lucky the Whitecaps have been to find reliable options in Gutierrez and Brown on the cheap.
The lack of fullback presence hurt the midfield as well, especially as Michael Baldisimo likes to drop deep between lines, and this leaves a lot of space for others to cover.
The first half was punctuated by a well deserved goal for Austin, who scored much in the way they’d created for most of the half.
Fittingly, Gaspar was on the wrong side of an Austin overload at the back post.
Can You Play Fullback?
Vanni Sartini went galaxy brain to start the second half, and it was tough to keep up with his tactical switches as several players got a look at fullback, including Cristian Dajome.
Interesting. Not surprisingly, Deiber Caicedo is in for #VWFC now, but for Bruno Gaspar— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) September 5, 2021
Cristian Dajome is playing RB, and Janio Bikel is playing LB
While it was a bit of a puzzling move, Sartini demonstrated his willingness to turn the match on its head - whatever was going on in the first half - he wasn’t going to let it carry on. As it turned out, his boldness would pay off.
Dajome had a tough first forty-five, maybe some of the worst play I’ve seen from him as a Whitecap, but the move to fullback seemed to revitalize him, especially as Sartini’s system encouraged him to drive forwards.
Dajome repaid his manager’s confidence with a great run down the left wing in the 70th minute. His cross found Erik Godoy in the box, who finished it off with a powerful header.
The “other” Colombian winger also played his role as a critical second half spark.
Entering the match to start the second half, the youngster was buzzing on the ball, and created several chances and drew a number of fouls before he was eventually able to be johnny on the spot for Ryan Gauld’s rebound opportunity.
Deiber made no mistake, and preserved the time honoured tradition of a South American winger taking his shirt off in celebration (and earning himself a yellow card) in the process.
A New Wave?
It’s not just the coaching change, Florian Jungwirth has brought a new feel to the Whitecaps backline.
Even as the fullbacks struggled in the first half, I thought that Flo did a mighty job staying disciplined and helping push the Caps’ defensive lines forward. He has a very active style off the ball which inspires confidence and helps keep his teammates engaged.
He, in conjunction with Godoy, also bring a much improved passing ability to the backline, which was missing earlier in the year with Ranko and Rose as a pairing. Flo and Erik combined for 138 completed passes on the night, which is both good and bad.
On top of all of that, Flo can always be relied upon for a great quote after the match.
#VWFC defender Florian Jungwirth with an honest assessment on his team's slow start:— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) September 5, 2021
"We were like, hey guys, what the f*** are we doing?"
Florian Jungwirth is a walking quote machine:— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) September 5, 2021
"Call me Flo. Or you can call me young, good looking and sexy, too"#VWFC
The Whitecaps are now undefeated in their last 10 MLS matches and have won four straight. Oh how quickly the turntables (as they say).
That being said, they still sit a single point below the playoff line. This weekend of results has not been terribly kind to the Whitecaps, and realistically, they’ll have to continue a pretty impressive pace if they want to assure themselves of a playoff spot.
On the flip side of the equation, short of a home and home with Seattle, a visit from SKC, and a trip to Colorado, all of Vancouver’s matches going forward are immensely winnable. Even so, there’s no reason the Whitecaps couldn’t pick up some points in those fixtures as well.
Don’t be fooled though, the heavy lifting for the Whitecaps isn’t finished, it’s only just begun.