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Perfect PKs: Caps avoid deja vu, see off Cavalry FC in Canadian Championship

MLS: FC Dallas at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Caps held their nerve in a rare penalty shootout to see off a plucky Cavalry FC and move on to the semifinals of the Voyageurs Cup Wednesday night in Calgary.

It was the first time the Caps had a match go to PKs since the MLS Is Back Tournament but this one went quite well — the Caps perfectly finished off each of their spot kicks and Cody Cropper stepped up with a save when it mattered.

It was a roller coaster of a match previously — a Cavalry wonder goal canceled out what was an otherwise dominate performance from Vancouver and it looked like it might be a case of deja vu until Erik Godoy brought things level in the 81st minute.

The Caps woke up from their COVID-19 induced nightmare, at least in part. Cody Cropper returned to the net, while Lucas Cavallini and Erik Godoy returned from suspension and fitness-related rest. Cristian Gutierrez and Ryan Raposo, both in good form, also came back into the starting lineup for Vanni Sartini.

Cavalry looked up for it early but the Caps also created a couple chances they should have done a bit better on.

Lucas Cavallini whipped in a fine cross for Deiber Caicedo and his header kissed the bar and one wonders if the laws of physics could be suspended and Cava were crossing to himself if it would’ve been a goal.

When the home side attacked it was generally in a pretty direct manner but they were helped out by the Caps frequently being unable to clear their lines, helping them to win the momentum back.

Whether its the gap in play between the CPL and MLS or just good Caps pressing, their best chances usually came after forcing Cavalry errors and hitting on the break. Slower, more methodical buildup worked early but as the first half wore on they were unable to string the number of passes required to breakdown through the midfield.

Cavallini alone had two gilded chances brought about by good effort from Deiber Caicedo to win the ball in the attacking third and both times he hit his shot/header at a Cavalry player.

To complete the hat trick of big opportunities off forced errors, a loose pass in midfield was collected and the break saw Deiber Caicedo carrying the ball into the box. He prudently slowed and let Gutierrez find Ryan Gauld but the Scot couldn’t poke the ball past Marco Carducci.

Things continued in a similar vein in the second half: the Caps generally controlled play but like clockwork conceded chances that fell into the “playing with fire” category.

Things really heated up in the 70th minute but the goal from Cavalry came from basically nothing. Myer Bevan charged down the left-hand flanked, set himself up and smashed a shot into the top of the net from distance. It was a wonder goal, one that was largely against the run of play, but which was born out of the Caps being unable to convert prior chances.

If you needed proof it wasn’t the Caps’ night, a break for the Caps led to Cristian Dajome 1v1 with Carducci but his chip couldn’t find the head of Tos Ricketts and was instead cleared off the line. The resulting scramble in the box came to naught.

It was a warning sign for Cavalry, however. The Caps came charging back and won a corner. An excellent whipped ball from Caicedo was flicked on by Erik Godoy at the near post. It either caught a deflection or the Cavs didn’t track it in a crowd of players or both. Either way, the Caps grabbed a much-needed equalizer.

Vancouver had the momentum in the dying stages of the match but despite an aesthetically pleasing Dajome half-volley, things ended 1-1 and the match went straight into penalty kicks.

Things started promising, with Cavallini cooling chipping Carducci. Bevan followed up his worldie with an unstoppable penalty into the lefthand corner and Cropper could do nothing.

Caicedo followed up his strong performance by sending Carducci the wrong way. Jose Escalante duplicated Bevan’s effort to a tee and it was 2-2 in the shootout.

Dajome lived up to his status as the team’s penalty taker, perfectly slotting it into the right-hand corner. Elliott Simmons made no mistake to stick his penalty into the top corner to match things.

Leo Owusu kept his nerve to keep things going for Vancouver. Ali Musse was the first player to miss from the spot, however, telegraphing his penalty to the right and Cropper read it all the way.

That miss was all that was needed — Cristian Gutierrez stepped up and calmly won the match for the Caps, who made up for any shortcomings with a perfect run of penalties.

Match Thoughts

  • The first half was eminently frustrating, just because it was what the Caps have been lacking early in matches this season — minus a goal. They had a majority of possession, kept up the pressure and used it to create actual, honest-to-God chances. None fell and that was a big credit to Cavalry’s hulking centerbacks, specifically Mason Trafford, who either caught shots or forced more difficult shots than otherwise.
  • It was what made the Cavalry goal all the more predictable. The fact that it came out of a goal of the tournament contender was even more hilarious, because every Whitecaps fan knew what was coming.

The goal also came right when Vancouver was dipping and Cavalry had the confidence that came from creating a few half-chances in a row. They didn’t do much more over the course of the match but it was that sense of belief that you were worried about the second the Caps missed their first half chances.

  • Really liked Deiber Caicedo in this one — perhaps it was his pace being a cut above but I thought this was a match where he nailed the decision making and was creating in one form or another the Caps’ most dangerous chances. His assist was richly deserved.
  • The Caps wisely seemed to want to force the Cavalry backline to build out from the back, which was clearly not a strength. The problem is if they were able to get the ball through to the midfield they were able to break quite easily and this is where their most dangerous looks came from (along with set pieces). Thought Erik Godoy and Ranko Veselinovic were excellent at mopping things up at the last second.
  • A disappointing night for Cavallini. After a first half where he really should have bagged a brace, he largely disappeared in the second. Drifted out wide at times and wasn’t bad at it but these were the times when they really could have used him in the box.
  • Ultimately this was one where the outcome of the match would massively change fan opinion.

The fact the Caps won this one means we will all remember it is a match Vancouver largely dominated but were done in by what in hindsight are a humorous confluence of events. Had they lost ... well, let’s not think about it. The Caps must be more clinical and the fact that they couldn’t take their chances against a second division side is ominous. But this is one where there was a clearly better side and that was the one that wound up advancing.

Man of the Match

It is tough to look past Erik Godoy for this one. The goal is one thing, with the Argentine intelligently drifting to the near post and capitalizing on Caicedo’s perfectly whipped ball.

But it was his defense that really shone. Moments after the goal, he had an immense tackle at the other end 1v1 with a Cavalry attacker. It summed up the strength of his performance, where he was frequently called upon to make a vital last-ditch interception. He never put a foot wrong while doing so.

Caicedo is the other obvious candidate — he was everywhere in the first half and single handedly kept up the press at times, making the most of Cavalry fumbles and putting in some dangerous balls. Hopefully he builds off the cup match and uses it as a springboard to a good run of form.