Saturday night in Utah, the Vancouver Whitecaps scored another late second-half goal to earn themselves a 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake.
Unlike many of Vancouver’s late comebacks this season, Julian Gressel’s glancing header only emphasized what was a very good road performance for Vancouver, especially considering it was their third match over a seven day stretch. Oftentimes this year Vancouver has earned a late result against the run of play, but this did not feel like the case in Utah.
The Whitecaps entered the match with a clear identity and their high line and diligent pressing was particularly notable throughout the first half. This proactive nature was a real breath of fresh air and led to some very entertaining football from both sides.
Vancouver’s mentality did lead to some long balls from Salt Lake which put the Whitecaps’ defence under pressure, Tristan Blackmon in particular. Yet, the Whitecaps almost always appeared to have the right intervention in critical moments. As a result, they prevented RSL from having many high quality chances.
At the other end of the pitch, three points may have been on the table for Vancouver if Lucas Cavallini had been a bit more clinical in the final third. El Tanque had three tremendous opportunities in front of goal and on each occasion, either the timing of his run or his shooting touch let him down.
In many ways, this is a credit to Cava. He did a lot of the right things to be on the end of those chances. Yet, at the same time, the Whitecaps need their star striker to be ruthless in front of goal coming down the stretch towards the playoffs. In an alternate universe, Cava scores a brace in this one and the ‘Caps win 3-1.
In terms of the flow of the match, the only real let-off for Vancouver came around the 55th minute mark. This was when Gressel entered the match and the Whitecaps changed tactics. As a result, Vancouver was not as decisive and energetic with their press and Salt Lake took advantage of this.
Although it did not lead directly to the RSL goal, which occurred on the counter-attack, that critical five minute stretch from Vancouver provided Salt Lake with the window of opportunity they needed to make their mark on the match. One can’t help but wonder if the tactical changes could have been more explicit from the sideline for Vancouver, or if Sartini should have left things as is considering how well they were playing up to that moment.
In terms of the goal against itself, I would chalk it up to a bit of bad luck really. The Whitecaps were out of structure after a flurry of good chances of their own, and a perfectly weighted ball just happened to wrong foot Veselinovic by a couple of inches in transition. In comparison to some of the catastrophic defensive breakdowns the Whitecaps have been giving up, it was absolutely a goal against you can live with.
Ok, as I am on solo duty for your post match coverage this weekend, we’re going to dive into the report card portion of this debrief now with some player grades:
Thomas Hasal: The young Canadian made two exceptional saves and looked confident commanding his area. There’s still some rust to shake off but encouraging signs. I have to imagine this is his net to lose now. (7.0)
Jake Nerwinski: I thought Jake was tremendous in this match. He allowed very little down his side of the pitch and looked to have a lot of confidence with the ball at his feet. For whatever reason, there was a confidence and swagger in his game I haven’t always seen. Hopefully, he can continue to harness it. (7.0)
Ranko Veselinovic: A mixed showing from Ranko even if you discount the goal against. He did have some critical 1v1 interventions but it was always on a knife edge - the perils of playing a high line I guess. (6.0)
Tristan Blackmon: The American struggled to play the high-line effectively at times and Maikel Chang gave him some fits getting on the end of long balls. At the same time though, Blackmon recovered well most of the time and was decisive in going to ground when he needed to. (6.0)
Cristian Dajome: For whatever reason, no one has suffered more since the coaching change midway through last season than Dajome. He’s gone from a potential team MVP to someone you don’t really want to see in starting XI. For a player whose trademark has been his consistency, this might have been the worst match I’ve seen from him in a Whitecaps shirt. Whether it was dribbling, passing, positioning, or defensive work, it just didn’t come off for the Colombian on Saturday night. I do wonder if he’s a fit here under Sartini long term, despite the contract extension earlier this year. (3.0)
Russel Teibert: It was an adequate showing from Rusty, who does look more lively with a defensive stalwart like Cubas beside him. That being said, I think Berhalter is leaps and bounds ahead of the veteran already in terms of what he offers. (5.5)
Andres Cubas: I don’t know how much I noticed Cubas in this match but that seemed like a good thing. He broke up a lot of play in the centre of the park and was in large part responsible for keeping his team engaged off the ball. His long passing was also sharp. (7.0)
Ryan Raposo: He looked dangerous on the ball as he always does, but this was not one of his better defensive games. Again, I really liked the way Vancouver pressed higher up the pitch but it did lead to some precarious defending, especially when Blackmon and Raposo were on the same side of the pitch. (6.0)
Alessandro Schopf: His quality is evident but Schopf does look like a guy that is still finding his match fitness amongst a league of players who are at the peak of their season. (5.5)
Ryan Gauld: Although the final product wasn’t there for the Scotsman until his late assist, he was very involved in the Whitecaps’ attacking play and also put in a massive shift when his team was out of possession, constantly harassing RSL’s defenders and midfielders. Gauld is in tremendous form at the moment. (8.0)
Lucas Cavallini: As I mentioned above, if the finishing had been there for Cava, this could have been a different match. That being said, his industry and physical play helped keep RSL on the back foot. (6.0)
Julian Gressel: The German was asked to do a little bit of everything when he entered the match and instead of creating a goal, he found himself on the end of a Ryan Gauld cross for his first goal of the year. Overall, I feel like we’re still only scratching the surface of what Gressel can do for this team. (7.0)
Sebastian Berhalter: The young American has just turned 21 but he looks wise beyond his years. Seba has a little bit of everything and showed it off in this match. Whether it’s his shooting technique, defensive guile or passing instincts, I am excited to see how he could grow alongside Cubas long-term. (7.0)
Brian White: Not too much to say here but very encouraging to see him return from injury and look pretty sharp and engaged. (N/A)
Marcus Godinho, Tosiant Ricketts: Godinho was lively in his brief showing and attempted a number of decent crosses. Tos was less involved but provided some late-match energy as he always does. (N/A)
Alright, those are the player ratings, as always, let me know what you thought of the player performances in the comments.
On the whole, this was a very encouraging match from Vancouver. It appears to me as though the Whitecaps now have the players and the tactics to be a playoff team, it is simply a matter of whether or not they can execute at a high enough level down the stretch to produce the results they will need to book their ticket.