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Post Match: Another solid road performance for the Whitecaps

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Nashville SC Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Whitecaps earned themselves another hard-fought road point on Saturday night in Nashville with a 1-1 draw. With the result, Vancouver continues to tread water in the Western Conference standings, which places even more pressure on upcoming matches to close the gap with the playoff bar.

Ultimately, the point against Nashville SC was a solid and deserving result for Vancouver. The road form for the Whitecaps in the second half of this season has been good enough to get the job done. Averaging about a point per match on the road will get you into the playoffs so long as you take care of your home fixtures. Unfortunately for the Vancouver, their home form has taken a dip at in inopportune time of the year, and if they fail to make the playoffs, they’ll likely look back at the two most recent home losses and wonder “what if”.

In terms of the match itself, Vancouver did enough to create some significant pressure on a disciplined and talented Nashville SC back-line. However, something that is becoming a bit of a recent trend for Vancouver is that they don’t always take advantage of the pressure they create. Whether this is speculative shots around the box or failed crosses, it feels like Vancouver is getting less value than they should from the service of Gauld, Gressel, Raposo etc. Because Vancouver typically does not hold much of the ball, with this match being somewhat of an exception to the rule, it only heightens the importance of creating high quality looks (and converting on those looks) when the opportunity presents itself. Obviously this is easier said than done, but the Whitecaps should have the players now to do this more consistently.

Defensively, Vancouver has impressed over the last two matches. Once again, the back-line was asked to shutdown a dynamic play-maker and was largely up for the task, Mukhtar’s incessant diving notwithstanding. Other than the late flurry of chances Vancouver allowed after the match was level (classic score effect) the Whitecaps gave away very little on the night, and much the same could be said of their cup final performance against Toronto. Certainly, questions can be asked of the zonal marking on Nashville’s lone goal, but the reality is that on the whole Vancouver is defending well enough to be competitive. I’ve been as guilty as anyone of critiquing the defending, but statistically, Vancouver’s defending is league average, even with a couple of blowout losses and very poor goalkeeping overall.

In terms of individual players, I have to give a huge shout-out to Tosaint Ricketts. The amount of value he has brought to the squad in his limited minutes this season has been remarkable and earning the foul which led to the tying goal on a hustle play is exactly what you’ve come to expect from him. Equally, I wanted to give a shout-out to Leo Owusu who was notably positive after coming on in the second half. It’s been a tough year for the Ghanaian, but he was part of the Whitecaps late-game push in this one and hopefully he can build on that in the coming weeks.

Andres Cubas and Ryan Gauld, while not game-breaking on Saturday, continue to be the engine that makes this team run. Gauld, in particular, looks to have a growing confidence in his game we have not seen since the end of last year.

Conversely, Julian Gressel’s start in a Whitecaps kit has been a bit slow, but I think that is to be expected after having your whole life uprooted in a matter of days, and it also says something about just how good the former DC United man can be. In terms of chemistry, it doesn’t look like the Whitecaps attackers are always ready for his early crosses at the moment. The tough part about this is that the Whitecaps can’t necessarily be patient, as much as they’d like to be. They need goal contributions from the German as soon as possible. Another player the Whitecaps will be looking for more from is Pedro Vite, who after a couple of breakout showings was invisible in 45 minutes on Saturday.

Looking forward, Vancouver’s home fixture against the Houston Dynamo is about as do or die as it gets for the Whitecaps. Simply put, they have to take care of teams below them in the standings if they want to make the playoffs at this point. While the joyous tenor of Vancouver’s cup victory has provided some temporary respite, it is worth noting that Vancouver is now winless in their last five in MLS play, so they’ll have to find another gear with just eleven matches remaining in the regular season, all of which come against fellow Western Conference teams.