Fighting for their playoff lives, the Caps turned in a first half performance against LA Galaxy Wednesday that left most everyone thinking “more of the same.”
Then the second half started.
A trio of second half goals gave the Caps a deserved win at BC Place, putting a lackluster LA to the sword to keep their hopes of finishing seventh mathematically alive.
Returning to the lineup after a one -match ban was Ryan Gauld, though the lineup featured a number of other changes due to what one imagines to be a desire from Vanni Sartini to rotate. The 4-2-2-2 was trotted back out again after mixed results against Colorado.
Thomas Hasal and Jake Nerwinski returned, while second another choice fullback was deployed in Luis Martins
Leo Owusu was added into the midfield and Pedro Vite, buoyed by a run of good form, remained in the lineup alongside Ryan Raposo and more familiar faces in Gauld and Brian White.
Shots from distance were all the Caps could muster over the first 20 minutes, with Vancouver slowly ramping up the press to try and grow into the match. Both Nerwinski and Martins played rather conservatively, perhaps to try and bolster an in-form Galaxy attack — who should have scored after a horrendous failure to clear the lines but Chicharito’s header glanced wide.
A couple chances began to fall Vancouver’s way. A liquid counteract was only met with a whiff of a header from White and Tristan Blackmon got his foot around a long throw a few moments later but saw his effort dip over the bar. Most of the Caps counter attacks had verve — but the more conservative posture meant Gauld et al. were giving away an advantage in numbers most every time.
Despite ceding a lot of possession (70%!) to the Galaxy, the away side did not really have the knives out in the first half and couldn’t really get the final ball needed to get the opening goal. All-in-all, a pretty dull first 45 minutes.
Both teams opened the second half with a bit more energy — perhaps too much energy, leading to a couple sloppy giveaways. Blackmon could have given the Caps a lead if he just redirected his header after a nicely worked set piece but Vancouver started with more intent and much more possession.
The trend of well-worked set pieces continued. Ryan Raposo whipped in a dangerous corner which should have been finished by Blackmon. Jonathan Bond stopped that but it could only be hacked as far as Ryan Gauld, who polished it off for his seventh goal of the season. It was a reward for a much more engaged and energized Caps side.
Vancouver kept their foot on the gas and it was their most in-form player who finally got his first goal as a Whitecaps player. A great move from the Caps led to a great overlapping run and ball from Luis Martins. Overloading the box was Brian White, who dummied the cross and Pedro Vite, who expertly started the move, finished it off. One of the most aesthetically pleasing goals in some time.
The Galaxy kept throwing everything but the kitchen sink at this one and showed their teeth at time. They should have pulled one back after Julian Araujo found a completely unmarked Chicharito entering the box. Hitting it one-time, however, the shot went well high.
To really put the cherry on top, Tos Ricketts used his super sub speed to take advantage of a pressed Galaxy to grab his fourth goal of the year, latching onto a perfectly weighted ball over the top from Gressel. The veteran was composed and slots it by a helpless Bond.
- Basically every player I was concerned about heading into this match turned around and had a very good match.
Ryan Raposo was engaged at both ends of the pitch — and he had a lot to do on the defensive end — and had nice set piece delivery, should’ve had an assist on the Gauld goal. Owusu had a horrendous first 15 minutes but settled in with some positive progressive passes and dribbling, especially in the second half. Luis Martins looked decent as a two-way fullback and had a great assist on Vite’s goal. And Jake Nerwinski ... gulp ... was the best defender on the pitch.
- I spent most of the match thinking about how Brian White looked really out of sorts on his runs. There were multiple times where the Caps had a promising attack but White either didn’t make a run, didn’t time his well run or just kind of got in the way of the play. Fast forward to Vite’s goal and his guided-missile like run and dummy was immense.
- Pedro Vite’s ability to create attacks by picking out the right pass and keeping them alive by recovering the ball in the attacking third has made him invaluable and I have a hard time seeing how Sartini drops him at this point. Now that he’s scoring goals, you have to think he is starting to realize his full potential. Will be excited to see a full season next year with him firmly in Sartini’s plans.
- I didn’t think the attacking band would be particularly fluid on the counter attack but man was I wrong. None of the players are inordinately fast per se but they had a surprisingly good rapport and used the space they created very well. Gauld and Vite in particular seem to have a good understanding and similar ethos. The striker situation needs sorting but this was encouraging.
- I was reading pessimistic Galaxy fans bemoaning how bad their team is against bad opposition. That was a massive understatement — even when they were throwing everything they had at this match, the Caps cut through them like a hot knife through butter. Whatever tactics Greg Vanney entered this match with was simply toothless and both Riqui Puig and Chicharito were wasteful in a vital match.
- It is nice to have these matches continue to matter, particularly heading into a big Cascadia derby on Saturday. If Vancouver enters that game with the energy they showed in the second 45 minutes, maybe they can ensure their slim playoff odds continue to be non-zero a little bit longer.
Or maybe, just maybe ...
Man of the Match
What a relief to have several good options for man of the match. Gauld and Vite are the obvious ones — creators who helped spring some liquid moves and both grabbing a deserved goal. Nerwinski, Blackmon and Ranko were solid defensively and Cubas was typically excellent (five interceptions and five tackles won), helping to provide a good base for the attacks forward.