It was a step in the right direction.
Scoreless draws are rarely fully satisfying outcomes, but in the Vancouver Whitecaps’ home opener vs NYCFC at BC Place on Saturday afternoon, there were certainly some positive takeaways, especially after the struggles in Ohio last weekend.
To start things off, moving back to the double pivot in the centre of the midfield just makes more sense for this team. Most importantly, it allows your best player to be in a prime position to do his thing. Particularly in the first half, Ryan Gauld was buzzing in the final third, and helped create some of the Whitecaps’ best opportunities.
Lucas Cavallini also really stood out in the first half. Sure, he earned himself an obligatory yellow card. But he put in a lot of work with his movement, as well as his holdup play and passing. Cava is an underrated creator with his back to goal and in the right scenarios this is a tool the Whitecaps should use more often this season. A goal or an assist wasn’t there for him today, but he did record two key passes. Overall, I took this as a good sign of what’s to come for someone who’s been out of form for the better part of a year.
Against a talented NYCFC attacking group, the Whitecaps’ back line held up much better in this match. Given that Erik Godoy is unlikely to stay fit for long stretches, this is VWFC’s best back three and they looked the part in this match. I thought that Blackmon looked far more decisive than he did in the season opener, and obviously, Florian Jungwirth made a big impact with his leadership and combative nature. I still wonder why Flo didn’t start last time out.
Leonard Owusu had a decent showing in his 2022 debut, but it’s clear that Caio Alexandre can’t come back to this team soon enough. Russell Teibert completed just 18 passes over the course of a full 90 minutes in this one, and four or five of those came in the closing stages where the passes were less than five yards and either backward or flat. While Teibert won’t explicitly hurt you on most days, he doesn't provide much either.
The Dajome fullback experiment continues to be a curious one from Vanni Sartini and I can’t help but feel like he’s overlooking the obvious change which would be to play Dajome full-time up front as a false nine where he excelled near the end of last season. Gutierrez and Brown are your best fullbacks, and there’s no sense in looking away from that, other than the fact that depth is very thin at the position...it’s still a bit curious they failed to address that in the off season.
Finally, I was incredibly pleased to see a confidence building performance from Thomas Hasal. He dealt well with the pressures of the home crowd, and parried away a couple of good NYCFC chances in the opening stages. After that, he looked really settled throughout. Obviously, the young Canadian was also able to come up big when the team needed him inside the final five minutes, so that’s always something he and the team can carry into the coming matches. Overall, I think there’s every reason to be optimistic Hasal can handle the responsibility he’s been given.
The Whitecaps are certainly going to have to add some complexity to their game long-term if they want to be a contender in the West this season. But it was nice to see Vanni Sartini’s team bounce back in this one and rekindle some of the energetic and direct football that helped them go on a miraculous run at the end of last season. Starting off against the past two MLS Cup champions was never going to be easy, so it’s encouraging for the Whitecaps to have opened their account for 2022 at home, even if I don’t really like 0-0 draws.