Prior to decision day, just about everything possible had gone right for Vancouver to make the playoffs — to the point where one wondered if a second improbably playoff berth was fated.
Someone forgot to tell Minnesota United.
As if awakening from a slumber, the out-of-form Loons side roared back to negate the red-hot Caps, pulling away 2-0 at Allianz Field to claim the final playoff spot at Vancouver’s expense.
The Caps’ away struggles once again were on full display. After a run of matches where the attacking band had their run of the match, Minnesota largely negated the threat and grabbed goals from Franco Fragapane and Jonathan Gonzalez to advance to the postseason.
There were few surprises from Vanni Sartini for the do-or-die match, as he went back to the 4-2-2-2 well with the same personnel as we’ve seen in recent matches. The logic, one imagines, is if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
The Caps got a lick in early on Dayne St. Clair, with a double saved forced out of the Canadian in the first few moments of the match. It wound up being Vancouver’s most dangerous moment of the first half.
There were signs of some defensive cracks early but the Caps were largely content to nod away some non-threatening Minnesota crosses, with the Loons generally focusing on playing through the flanks.
The first real chance for Minnesota, however, wound up in the back of the net. A rare moment for Andres Cubas where he got caught in possession, spurring a Loons transition. Franco Fragapane, after a couple ill-fated shots from distance, had the time and space to pick out the far corner and beat Thomas Hasal.
The Caps struggled for the rest of the first half to create much separation for their attacking players and really generate any meaningful chances. But in fairness, they also did well to prevent Minnesota from grabbing control of the match and were denied what looked a penalty when Will Trapp, already on a booking, wiped out White in the box.
The second half began with a bit more possession for the Caps and, slowly, a few more looks at goal. Pedro Vite had perhaps the best look, latching onto a nice flick from Brian White off a Hasal clearance and the route one play led to a firm first time shot that St. Clair pushed away.
Vanni Sartini elected to bring on Lucas Cavallini and Russell Teibert with a half hour remaining, the first roll of the dice after a largely quiet first hour for White and the first attempt to chase the two goals that were so desperately needed.
It was nearly an instant impact, with Cava heading on a cross for Brian White, who crashed in and had his shot go off the upright. It turned out Cava was narrowly offsides but it was the finest of margins that separated Vancouver from a goal, a pretty good metaphor for the match as a whole.
But it was Jonathan Gonzalez who perfectly timed the first goal of his MLS career. A deflected cross cruelly caught the backline off guard but Gonzalez didn’t care, rifling one past Hasal and grabbing a second goal that was always in the cards once the Caps began unsuccessfully throwing men forward.
To Vancouver’s credit, they kept pressing to get back into the match. A beautiful strike by Ryan Gauld from a free kick was worthy of a goal but St. Clair coolly tipped it over the bar, a sign things weren’t to be for Vancouver.
The Loons could have had a third late after Hasal couldn’t control a Reynoso shot but by then the damage was done and Vancouver could only watch as the home team celebrated a playoff berth.
- Minnesota clearly did their homework on what was needed to beat the Caps, making it hard for Ryan Gauld and Brian White to find really any space in the attacking third and forcing a lot of hopeful crosses to find an attacker in the box who was generally pretty well man-marked.
- The eye test tells you most everything you need to know but only three Caps players — Ryan Gauld, Julian Gressel and Luis Martins — had an accurate cross in this one. Minnesota forced things out wide and effectively prevented the very players who had been so dangerous from having any imprint on things.
- Any time you go on the road on decision day and need a result, you leave yourself open to little refereeing decisions not going your way. That was certainly true today because friends, Alan Chapman was not very good. Both Chapman and VAR took a holiday to miss a foul on Brian White in the box that quite obviously should have been a penalty. It is imprudent to complain about the refereeing when your team doesn’t grab control of a match and merit a win but this will add to the frustration from this final day.
- If you foresaw an Andres Cubas blunder in the cards to lead to a goal, well, you’re lying. Despite that difficult moment, Cubas responded brilliantly and was one of Vancouver’s better players. His physical presence was perfect for a match of this importance — hopefully he will have a similar chance to rise to the occasion next year.
- This was a pretty limp performance in a vital match and a lot of this flowed from the fact that this is a team that is simply not built to chase games. Once Minnesota got that early goal, you could easily see how the rest of the match would play out. The fact that this was all on the road, when the Caps struggled away from BC Place all year, made it perhaps all the more predictable.
But while this match will leave an off-putting taste in the mouths of fans everywhere, the result will leave everyone involved with a clear blueprint of where to go next season. This will now be a team with something to prove — and Vanni Sartini has shown he can get something out of the Caps when they are in that headspace.
Man of the Match
Despite largely being locked down, Gauld was still the Caps’ most dangerous player. And while Cubas’ mistake was disheartening, he recovered well to turn in a solid performance, including nine (!) tackles. Not a perfect night for either one but both still stood out — hallmarks of great DPs.