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Report Card: Honeymoon Over for Sartini’s Whitecaps

Last season’s momentum is gone, so how do the Whitecaps find a much needed spark?

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Houston Dynamo FC Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Here we are again.

It’s only three games into the season, but the 2022 Vancouver Whitecaps campaign is already starting to feel like a greatest hits tribute band, one that leaves you wondering why you bothered showing up at the concert.

The lack of midfield presence, the struggle to find offensive consistency, the absence of defensive organization: these are all songs we have heard before.

The Vanni Sartini era was supposed to be different, and it felt like it was at the end of 2021.

The problem is, the Whitecaps got caught drinking their own cool-aid this off-season. Simply running it back is not good enough to get things done in this rapidly evolving league, especially when you only found success by the thinnest of margins. Boasting that Caio Alexandre, who’s already played 15 matches for the Whitecaps, would be “like a new signing” this winter is the kind of complacency that finds you win-less through your first three games with just three shots on target.

I truly do believe that the Whitecaps are only a couple of players away from figuring things out, and a few of those guys are injured at the moment, so it’s not as dire as it could be. That being said, the Whitecaps also have to adjust their mentality. A playoff spot is not going to serve itself up on a silver platter for them. Especially with this current host of players, they are going to have to scrap for every point they can find.

All that being said, let’s break down what went wrong in Houston:

Thomas Hasal: The biggest off-season loss for the Whitecaps has been the least of their problems. If anything, I think Hasal provides similar shot-stopping abilities with better distribution than Crepeau. (6.0)

Tristan Blackmon: The American has settled in nicely to the back three, especially after a bit of a rough season opener. He’s a great passer of the ball and made a few darting runs up the pitch as well, showing off his progressive abilities that come from his history as a fullback. (6.0)

Ranko Veselinovic: Honestly not a lot to report. Ranko was efficient with his passing and was positive defensively. He made a nice tackle in the lead-up to Houston’s second goal but no one was there to follow it up. (6.0)

Florian Jungwirth: Flo and Gutierrez seemed to get their wires crossed several times and to be honest, I’m just not sure that what Vanni is asking of his wing-backs is working defensively right now. The failed off-side trap on the first Houston goal is something you have to be prepared to live with in this system, but it was far more worrying how often Houston attackers found themselves 1v1 in space on the right-hand side. Flo’s passing was also less than stellar. (3.0)

Cristian Gutierrez: Most of what I said above applies here. The Whitecaps might want to try Gutierrez as an eight, especially the longer Caio remains out. He provides a lot going forward but defensively he has his deficiencies. I remain very nervous when Guti is asked to defend 1v1 in space or cover cross-field balls with defenders running behind him. (4.0)

Cristian Dajome: Dajo offered up a great ball on the ‘Caps lone goal, but the wing-back experiment remains spotty and constantly shifting his positioning can’t be doing much for his consistency. The Colombian has great defensive attributes for a winger, but he’s still a natural winger, and therefore does get overrun sometimes defensively. This is especially true when he tucks in centrally. It’s a small thing, but if you look back on the first Houston goal, the lack of pressure Dajome applies to Carrasquilla allows him to play in the incisive ball which leads to the goal. (6.0)

Leonard Owusu: This is where things get really tough. Leo was okay with the ball at his feet in Houston, even though he didn’t offer much of a progressive nature, but he was a disaster defensively. The last two games alongside Teibert there has been a lot of this:

Leo’s offensive play is slowly growing, but not enough to justify his defensive lapses and the ‘Caps can’t afford to be patient with the midfield right now. (1.5)

Russell Teibert: How Teibert manages to stay on the pitch for a full 90+ minutes continues to mystify me. There’s really no underlying payoff here, and both he and Owusu were caught napping on the second goal slowly trotting back towards their own box. There were plenty of bad defensive clips I could have made for Teibert this game, but I didn’t want to completely ruin my day. (1.0)

Pedro Vite: A bright first start for the youngster was cut short by concussion protocols. Hopefully, he is feeling alright. In what brief moments we saw, it looked like the ‘Caps really could’ve used more of him on the night. Unfortunate. (7.0 - but very small sample size)

Ryan Gauld: This was a really curious night from Gauld. At every point, he just looked a half-second off the mark, or not quite on the same page with those around him. I don’t think Lucas Cavallini plays particularity well with others so that probably didn’t help either. The ‘Caps can’t afford too many mediocre outings from Gauld, especially how they are playing right now. (3.0)

Lucas Cavallini: It was great to see Cava find the back of the net, but half a season of Brian White serves as a stark reminder of how frustrating Cava can be off the ball. He often inexplicably drops deep or takes on players via the dribble, neither of which are his strengths, nor do they fit this system. (5.0)

Substitutes: I thought Javain Brown was decent when he came on, although again, I think Sartini needs to have a serious look at how he’s using his fullbacks. Godinho, who looked alright as well, provides some different attributes at that spot, so that could be an option worth looking at. Both Caicedo and Raposo brought a bit of spark when they appeared, but not enough to find a second goal. (5.0)

Let me know your thoughts on the match and how you think the Whitecaps can stop themselves from falling into old habits!