The Vancouver Whitecaps dropped a 3-1 decision to Minnesota United. The game was certainly not without its positives. Pedro Vite played very well, the team had some good passing plays, and until Andres Cubas went off with an injury things were looking quite solid defensively. But pretty much all of the team’s weaknesses were also exposed. The drop-off in quality between Cubas and Owusu was immense and insurmountable. Cody Cropper conceded three, each of which was defensible on its own but taken together formed an unsettling pattern. And, almost poetically, the game-winning goal was a result of Jake Nerwinski and Russell Teibert getting their wires crossed.
Vite’s assist to Cavallini was the only clear-cut chance of the game. An interesting wrinkle of recent Whitecaps matches is that they have been a lot better at working the ball into the final 3rd but have had a very hard time turning those moments where they’re buzzing around the edge of the penalty area into actual chances. I haven’t done a deep analysis on this or anything but I have a working theory that this problem comes down to three points. Firstly, they are a bit slow to move the ball to the forwards in transition. Russell Teibert’s passing struggles are very well documented at this point and Cubas’ passing is fine but it’s not what he hangs his hat on. Those extra seconds it takes for them to move the ball forward allow the opposition to get into their defensive shape quicker. Secondly, the wingbacks are all pretty decent at getting the ball up the pitch but none is that big of a danger to directly assist a teammate, except maybe Dájome. Someone like Ali Adnan who was a threat to dribble past defenders, set up teammates, and maybe even have a crack himself would make the team a bit more dynamic. Thirdly, their strikers are very slow. The Whitecaps have had a pretty good thing going where they sit in a block and dare you to get past Cubas and Veselinovic. But every time an opposing team misplaces a pass and there is a chance for a break things get a bit awkward. Often the fastest player in a forward position is Ryan Gauld but he’s the guy who’s supposed to be playing the ball in behind. It always takes him a bit of time to try and figure out how to navigate this situation and it’s enough for their opponents to get back into position.
Other than that, I don’t think we learned that much new stuff from this game. They have some good things going for them but their weaknesses are plain to see. I’m planning an article on the goalkeeper situation soon so watch out for more discussion of that. Other than that I think a lot of this loss comes down to something I’ve been beating the drum about forever- Not enough cheap domestic players you can stick into the team without worrying about a drop in quality. Fortunately, Godinho and Raposo have turned into that sort of player this season but in the centre of the pitch, that profile is sorely missing. Vanni Sartini gets some stick for his tinkering. But given the choice between that and MDS running the same team into the ground every week, I think I’ll take the tinkering. But that does mean that when constructing the squad you have to plan for every player to get used. Will Axel Schuster be brave enough to take Sartini’s toys away? We shall see.
Next up is Cincinnati away. Cincinnati was the laughing stock of MLS for three years but they’re actually pretty good now so it will be a tough away trip.