The Vancouver Whitecaps were, once again, defeated in their 2022 campaign. This time at the hands of LAFC. It was not the total humiliation that we have seen in this fixture in years past, but nevertheless, it was decisive.
The Whitecaps were without several key players, including Brian White, Ryan Gauld, Caio Alexandre, and Erik Godoy. So, naturally, they were very overmatched on paper when you compared the two lineups. But I think it is vital to understand this game that this was not because of some great disparity in the expense that went into assembling the two teams. The LAFC lineup featured 5 players acquired through various MLS mechanisms, 1 player signed from a private high school, and 1 player signed from the Ghanaian second division. LAFC fielded only two DPs. One of whom, Brian Rodriguez, is widely viewed as a disappointment. No, LAFC was not the clear favourites because their budget dwarfed Vancouver’s. They were clear favourites because they are a lot better than Vancouver (and indeed than most) at finding guys who can be difference-makers for relatively little money.
The Whitecaps came out looking alright. They were able to keep a hold of the ball (though with relatively little penetration) and briefly looked like they might pull off the upset. They snatched an early goal from a great Sebastian Berhalter free-kick that was eventually smuggled in by Tristan Blackmon. The Cristian Dajome was put through on goal by a Thomas Hasal punched clearance and probably should have squared the ball to Cavallini but instead opted to shoot. Defensively things were even looking a bit better. Ranko Veselinovic and Tristan Blackmon continued their strong starts to the season and Russell Teibert and Sebastian Berhalter were not totally disastrous when it came to interrupting opposing moves. But, as they so often do, things started to fall apart. Berhalter, after playing a key part in Vancouver’s goal, turned villain with a shambolic attempt to defend against Ryan Hollingshead from a corner. Hollingshead powered his header past Hasal to tie the game. Shortly thereafter former Attram De Visser Soccer academy man Kwado Opoku dribbled past about 5 Whitecaps before centering to Carlos Vela. Vela was initially stopped by Hasal but made no mistake on the follow-up.
In the second half LAFC more or less operated on cruise control. Vancouver was not able to mount any kind of offence. Youngster Pedro Vite did provide some spark, but mostly he was passing the ball to Lucas Cavallini who was inexplicably on the wing trying to cross to Cristian Dájome. I don’t want to talk about Cavallini’s refusal to hold his position as a centre-forward, it feels almost lazy to be talking about something so obvious. But he makes it impossible for me! Cavallini is not a totally useless player. He is very good in the air and has smart enough off-the-ball movement to receive it in dangerous areas. However, as has been pointed out countless times by countless people, he can’t really pass or dribble. Yet he insists on trying to be involved in the buildup and running out wide to receive the ball. Is he being told to do this? Surely not because Brian White, a player with similar strengths and weaknesses, does not pull this Harry Kane act when he plays. Does Cavallini think that he is good at this stuff? Does he feel the pressure to do it because of the DP tag? If so, somebody should probably disabuse him of those notions quickly. That or they should play someone who will do what they are told.
I also thought Sebastian Berhalter showed a lot of promise but he’s still very early in his career and can’t be asked to anchor a whole midfield by himself at this stage (it’s a bit damning that he had to).
LAFC scored another goal from a set-piece, but it was all academic at that point. I feel the current state of the Whitecaps is best summed in a Twitter thread up by U of T women’s assistant coach Kieran Doyle:
Vancouver have had a really tough opening schedule with like 3 of their 4 most important players not being available, their starting GK asking out 2 days before preseason, and their best players (so far) playing like butt. I'm not super worried (yet)— Kieran Doyle (@KierDoyle) March 21, 2022
I think the best way to phrase it is that I think every player in the whitecaps roster would make most MLS rosters, they don't have anyone whose truly trash, but how many guys start for how many MLS teams?— Kieran Doyle (@KierDoyle) March 21, 2022
The Whitecaps get an international break to figure things out. Then they get a home game against an SKC side who have won only once in their first four games.