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Good as Gauld: First half lifts Whitecaps past Colorado Rapids

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

A rare pair of first-half goals from Ryan Gauld lifted the Caps past the Colorado Rapids 2-1 at BC Place Wednesday, a key win that lift Vancouver into a playoff spot, albeit temporarily.

An energized and focused first hour was enough to power the Caps, who used the excellence of Gauld and some great organization and pressing to force the Rapids into turnover after turnover. Despite letting their foot off the gas defensively late, the home side was good value for the win.

Vanni Sartini’s also side benefited greatly from the return of several players and something approximating a first choice starting XI.

Thomas Hasal returned to the keeper role for the first time after his hand injury and Sebastian Berhalter slotted into the central midfield alongside Andres Cubas. Alessandro Schopf made his full debut as well as an attacking midfielder with Lucas Cavallini back as striker following a suspension. Change in the backline saw Tristan Blackmon return to the lineup alongside Javain Brown and Ranko Veselinovic and Marcos Godinho playing at left wingback.

With a rare change of pace, the Caps started on the front foot, with a couple incisive forays into the final third but no end product. That changed in a hurry, however, with the Caps expertly pressing and forcing a Rapids turnover deep in the opponent’s third.

Julian Gressel latched onto the misplaced pass, headed straight for the endline and found a perfectly timed run from Ryan Gauld, who poked it past William Yarborough. A goal that will surely please Vanni Sartini, both in its timing (early) and how it was created.

The Rapids first chance was one shrouded in defensive hijinks, with a defender trying to keep a seemingly innocuous block from going out for a corner kick — but only cleared it to the top of the box and Jonathan Lewis. After pinging around, with the Caps still unable to clear their lines, Lewis curled a shot that smacked the bar but did no more damage.

The first choice defense lasted all of a half hour. Javain Brown appeared to sustain an ankle after he got it caught in the turf while attempting to block a Lewis shot. While he attempted to soldier on, Jake Nerwinski was called upon as a reinforcement.

It was not, truth be told, the cleanest half of football. A few misplayed passes marred promising attacks on both sides, particularly for the Rapids. After a brief dip in concentration, the Caps seemed to keep control of the match well, maintaining most of the possession and taking advantage of a hesitant Rapids side who didn’t look fully comfortable.

Ryan Gauld again pounced on a miscue, latching onto a hospital ball from Danny Wilson that was in no-man’s land between the Rapids centerbacks. Gauld streaked past them and had an absolutely clinical finish past a sprawling Yarborough.

Both sides started the second half with some energy. Lewis saw another curler saved by Hasal and, on the other end, Gauld nearly had a hat trick, with former Whitecaps man Steven Beitashour clearing his shot off the line.

Ryan Raposo made some positive contributions as he came on for Schopf at the half and Gressel got some minutes in a midfield role, an intriguing tactical move that kept the German looking dangerous.

At some point, however, the Caps transitioned into a more defensive posture, however, content to sop up pressure and hit on the counter — their normal tactical strategy.

Letting the foot off the gas let the Rapids back in the game. Lewis continued to be dangerous and the Caps didn’t do a great job of countering his threat. His shot was parried but only as far as Gyasi Zardes, who tapped it into an open net.

Lewis and Zardes continued to create danger up until the final whistle. Lewis worked a free header that he scuffed wide and Zardes should have had an equalizer after latching onto a perfect Ralph Priso cross but his header went off the bar.

Match Thoughts

  • Ryan Gauld is good at soccer.

In truth, not more needs to be said but I have to earn my keep somehow, right? Surrounding him with a group of players with a bit more of a killer instinct helped elevate Gauld from a guy trying to drag a bad team along kicking and screaming to a playmaker on a competent looking side. Gauld’s instincts are superb and that helped really put the Rapids to the sword.

  • The chemistry between Julian Gressel and the attacking band — particularly Ryan Gauld — was also quite good. Sartini noticed this too, swapping Gressel and Godinho in part, one imagines, to get him on the same side as Gauld and this almost instantly resulted in a 1v1 for Gressel.
  • It would be easy to say that it was an off night for Cavaliini in terms of tangible offensive contributions but he set the tone in pressing and ball winning in a way that the hodge podge of strikers that have rotated through the starting XI have not. He helped open up space for Gauld to surge forward.
  • Really liked what Sebastian Berhalter brought to the team in his return. Unlike some of the other central midfield options, he is really adept at playing the quick fire, one touch passes that help spring attacks.
  • It was about as good of a return to action as Thomas Hasal could have asked for. He looked a bit hesitant early but had a couple saves that put him at ease. His catching was expert as well. I’m not convinced he is the answer either at keeper — he didn’t necessarily add much more than Cody Cropper would have on this night — but it was good to see him back and looking comfortable.
  • The Caps really backed in the last 20 minutes or so, with some loose defending, particularly on Jonathan Lewis, who was the one Rapids player that consistently looked dangerous offensively. While the substitute Luis Martins was off the pace, several players had some real lapses that gave the Rapids some time and space to work chances.
  • To that end, this was a match that reminded me a little bit of the Houston win. Make no mistake, the Caps were good value for the three points here (versus the smash and grab against the Dynamo). But against a better team, you have to think some of the careless errors would not have happened and they would have been able to punish the Caps’ defensive disorganization late.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t positives to take from this. The turnovers from Colorado were in part due to the press, which was as good as it has been this year. And for the first hour, the Caps really did look like a team playing with confidence and verve and some of the players (Gauld/Berhalter, Gauld/Gressel) were really linking up in a way we haven’t seen for some time.

Man of the Match

This is one of the easiest choices all year. In addition to his goals, Gauld, on another night, could have had an assist or two as well — he had a couple of final balls narrowly cleared or just escape an attackers’ grasp.

Credit should also go, however, to Andres Cubas, who, true to form, was a thorn in the Rapids’ side in winning the ball back and blocking shots. Ranko Veselinovic bravely did the same, despite sustaining a nasty looking cut on a clash of heads in the second half.