The Caps got their first points of the year Saturday, trading first half goals with FC Dallas to nab a 1-1 draw at BC Place.
The match was a hard fought one, with few obvious chances for the taking for either side. After losing control of the match early, Vancouver regained it to grab an equalizer and frustrate Dallas. Both sides will likely be frustrated not to have found a winner in the second half.
The Caps rolled into Saturday’s match with a less rotated squad than you would have expected given the midweek test, a benefit of the blowout scoreline. Brian White and Javain Brown returned after being cycled out and Alessandro Schopf was fully fit, slotting back into the starting XI. Cristian Dajome also maintained his place in the lineup, at Pedro Vite’s expense.
A disappointing start saw the Caps go behind very early, inside five minutes. Both of FC Dallas’ centerbacks hung around the box after a set piece and they connected well. Nkosi Tafari had a great ball in for Sebastian Ibeagha, who was completely unmarked in the box.
THE DRIP OR DROWN COMBO— FC Dallas (@FCDallas) March 11, 2023
Nkosi with the perfect pass, and Ibeagha with the perfect finish for his first career MLS goal. pic.twitter.com/LPDhI1terZ
Initially the Caps were shellshocked, with Yohei Takaoka called upon to make a key save and deny Paul Arriola a quickfire second goal.
But the home side settled down and began to rack up a couple nice chances. Brian White, after a pair of anonymous starts, seemed to build on a strong midweek sub appearance. Two good chances, however, fell victim to the side netting and a big stop from Maarten Paes.
FC Dallas still maintained the upper hand and the Caps really struggled to handle the long balls from both of their central defenders and were still too lose defensively. A free header from a corner for the away side smacked the post.
That’s why the Caps managing to equalize shortly after the half hour mark represented a real let off for Dallas. A well-placed long throw from Brown was flicked on nicely by Ranko Veselinovic and Arriola got his feet wrong trying to clear under pressure from Ryan Gauld, creating an own goal.
'CAPS EQUALIZE!!!— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) March 11, 2023
Veselinović flicks it on to @RyanGauld, who puts on the pressure which leads to an OG https://t.co/ObJQeNtjo0 pic.twitter.com/RC0xtthIkQ
A change at halftime saw the largely quiet Dajome make way for Sergio Cordova, with Pedro Vite eventually also coming on for Brian White to give the Caps a fresh look.
This gave the Caps a bit more license to roll out some of the fluid build up play that they had at times in the first two matches, with Gauld having a bit more flexibility to roam.
Clear cut chances, however, remained difficult to come by for both sides. When Vancouver had possession, they looked like perhaps the slightly more dangerous team but weren’t quite crisp enough in the final third to test Paes.
The best chance to take the lead was in the last moments of the match. A bit of a broken play left Ranko to ping in a probing cross that was inches away from connecting with the boot of Sergio Cordova. But the Venezuelan couldn’t connect on the winner, a metaphor for a second half that seemed tantalizingly close, yet so far away.
- This was as hard-fought a match as they come and it was good to see both teams try and grab win, even though neither side created much to get a breakthrough. Ali Ahmed and Andres Cubas made big interventions late for the Caps and they were as tough and stuck in as they’ve been in recent memory.
- Creating clear cut chances remains tough, however. You can see the groundwork of a dangerous attack but things just aren’t coming together in the final third. Credit to FC Dallas, who generally did well to put several players around attacking players as they got the ball in the box and challenged headers well. Not a ton of space to work with here.
- The Caps have been pretty miserable at aerial duels this year but the FC Dallas opener was frustrating because no one even contested Ibeagha, who it seemed like Tristan Blackmon just forgot was still in the box.
But the problem continues to persist on set pieces and long balls over the top, both of which caused real problems for Vancouver in the first 25 minutes or so, when FC Dallas had the clearer upper hand.
- The combined expected goals in the first half was .11, which might be the lowest I’ve ever seen in a half where both sides scored. Vancouver absolutely would have taken that, given the potency of the Dallas front three and I thought Ranko was quite good in shutting down their fluid counters. That defensive solidity generally carried through to the second half as well.
- Julian Gressel dropped deeper and wider as the match wore on to try and allow Javain Brown to push forward and get more crosses into the box. It was an interesting wrinkle, though I’m not sure Brown ever did enough going forward to make up for Gressel, the team’s most impactful passer this season, becoming less of a factor.
- Ali Ahmed is clearly in the Caps’ plans, which is nice to see. He made a great challenge to win the ball back and cut out a dangerous counter. Youthful mistakes will happen but Sartini is clearly a believer, alongside the fans. That doesn’t always happen.
Man of the Match
Andres Cubas or Ranko Veselinovic are my two choices here, with both upping their game after a rocky start to the match. Cubas was impressive, not putting a foot wrong after an early yellow card and his intensity was certainly matched by the rest of the squad.