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Report Card: Coaching and Defensive Miscues Sink Whitecaps in Home Opener

With the first match of the season in the books, the grades are in from an up and down performance.

Real Salt Lake v Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Saturday night at BC Place, the Vancouver Whitecaps fell victim to a second-half comeback from Real Salt Lake losing by a final score of 2-1.

It was truly a tale of two halves for Vancouver as they played some impressive possession football inside the opening 40 minutes, but failed to make any significant adjustments as the match evolved. Ultimately, the Whitecaps were exposed by some poorly timed defensive miscues and paid the price for this by walking away with zero points from their home opener. Notably, this was the first time the Whitecaps had lost a match they were leading at halftime since 2021.

Alright, on to the reason we are here: It’s time to hand out some grades!

Yohei Takaoka - 7.0

The Japanese keeper made a number of key saves at the beginning of the second half and it’s hard not to fall in love with his confidence with the ball at his feet. Takaoka’s ability in this area can really help the Whitecaps retain more possession and when they were at their best in this match, his impact was evident. While there was little Takaoka could do about either of the goals, one can’t help but wonder if defensive organization is something it might take a bit of time for him to settle into. A veteran MLS keeper might have been able to call out the ball watching which occurred on RSL’s first goal and get his defenders in shape.

Luis Martins - 3.0

Simply put, I don’t know how Martins stayed on the pitch for so long in the second half. Martins does have a really good left foot when it comes to service, but the former SKC man was completely overrun defensively throughout most of this contest, including a miscue which conceded the corner leading to RSL’s opening goal. Overall, there was just way too much space for RSL to roam down his side of the pitch and his offensive upside is not big enough to make up for his defensive liability.

Ranko Veselinovic - 6.5

Ranko was sharp with his passing and composed defensively despite being left on an island by his fullbacks at times. Obviously, as the leader of the back-line, some questions need to be asked of the first RSL goal, but I think that falls largely on coaching.

Tristan Blackmon - 6.5

My thoughts about Blackmon are similar to Ranko. He showed off nice passing range with some long balls and was a menace in the air as well. I think tactics let this team down defensively far more than the CB pairing.

Javain Brown - 5.5

This was a classic Javain Brown match. He looked shot out of a cannon in the first 25 minutes, but as the match went on, some cracks began to show. While not as susceptible as Martins, Brown was challenged defensively in the second half and looked like he lost his legs prior to being subbed.

Andres Cubas - 8.0

Despite the loss, Cubas was immense in this match and looked like an elite MLS defensive mid. He had a number of standout moments where he won the ball back and immediately sparked the counterattack with a nice line-breaking pass. If he plays like this all season it will be a joy to watch.

Alessandro Schopf - 6.5

The Austrian was much much better than we saw last season so that’s encouraging. That being said, every time I watch him run I can’t help but shake the feeling that he has some cement in his boots, everything still looks a little bit forced and unnatural for him. Nonetheless, it was a step in the right direction. As a general comment about the midfield, the current three allow almost nothing to pass through them defensively which is amazing to see after years upon years of the polar opposite.

Julian Gressel - 7.0

The USMNT midfielder was positive and had a number of chances that just didn’t quite materialize as he would have hoped. Equally though, his delivery from the corner on the Whitecaps’ goal was sublime. As noted by many, it was a shame to see him come off when Cordova was introduced as they could have used his crossing in the final stages.

Cristian Dajome - 5.0

After some preseason hype, Dajome was rewarded with an opening day start over Pedro Vite alongside Ryan Gauld. Was this the right choice? Probably not. While Dajome was energetic and had some good moments, he doesn't combine with Gauld and the midfield in a way that maximizes Vancouver’s attack. Dajome tends to get tunnel vision with the ball at his feet and there was no better example of this than his poor first touch on what should have been an easy goal to put the Whitecaps up 2-0 just moments after they opened the scoring.

Ryan Gauld - 7.5

The Scotsman had a couple of missed shots and chances in this one that he would probably want back, yet he was still an absolute menace to RSL’s defence with 7 key passes. Equally, he showed off some of his trademark grit defensively winning back a number of balls in the midfield. Overall, it’s very encouraging to see Gauld picking up where he left off.

Brian White - 4.5

The American’s hold up play was notable on a few occasions, but his touch and instincts in the final third were really lacking in this one. The Whitecaps desperately need someone who can put opposing defenders under pressure vertically and White just doesn’t have that in his locker. I would expect Cordova to start the next match.

Vanni Sartini - 3.0

I’ve said this on my podcast and I'll say it again here: One of Vanni Sartini’s biggest challenges this season is staying out of his own way and just letting his players do their thing. In a way, this is a compliment to Sartini. His knowledge of the game is immense but sometimes this knowledge leads to over-complicating the game plan. It’s a bit like my golf game, sometimes knowing too much about the swing actually makes you a danger to yourself.

I think we saw this on Saturday with his omission of Laborda from the starting XI. Laborda played a massive role for the Whitecaps in the preseason and had developed great chemistry with Veselinovic and Blackmon, so why change a good thing? I understand that Sartini liked the specific matchups he thought he could create by playing Brown and Martins at fullback, but sometimes, I think you just have to play your best players and worry a little less about micromanaging every aspect. Laborda is one of your best 11 players, so he should be out there.

The same can be said of starting Cristian Dajome over Pedro Vite. I understand that Dajome had a great preseason and that Sartini is probably looking to give him a spark after a tough 2022, but there really isn’t much room for feel-good stories and rewarding preseason performance at this level. If the Whitecaps are going to have a big year, Pedro Vite needs to be a important part of it. Therefore, building on his chemistry with Ryan Gauld is crucial. Again, I think it’s as simple as just playing your best players.

Overall, it will be important for Sartini to show he’s the right man to lead this team over the next couple of weeks. They have the roster talent to be a good team, but they need a manager that will enable them to play at their best as opposed to getting in the way.

Alright, that’s all from me. What did you think of my rankings and how are you reflecting on the home opener? Let me know in the comments!