Vancouver in the CCL is something not many people expected last season, but in a world full of surprises, the usual odd team out in both Cascadia and Canada managed to qualify for a competition they’d not played in since 2017. In the opening round, they backed up their qualification by besting Honduras’ Real Espana 7-3 over the course of two legs.
The lineup coming into this matchup in Honduras, was a bit of a surprise, especially with how many key names were left home. However, given the team was up by five goals coming into the match, there wasn’t a need to put out the ideal starting XI on the pitch.
Our vs @rcdespana in @TheChampions— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) March 15, 2023
Kickoff is set for 3:06pm PT on @onesoccer ⏱
#VWFC | #ESPvVAN | #SCCL23 pic.twitter.com/qzWlKDXszk
Right off the bat, Thomas Hasal was forced to stretch and make a save as Real España gave him a warm welcome to the world of continental soccer, but the Canadian keeper was up to the occasion. It must be refreshing for the young Canadian to be able to play in this competition as the signing of Takaoka could have spelled the end of Hasal’s chances in Vancouver, but he proved to be strong in a country where the national team has lost 8-1 before. Hasal made a statement on why he should be considered for more playing time this season, making a few key saves in the first half. (Starting to notice a trend that the Saskatchewan native plays his best soccer when he has something to prove and keepers to replace.)
That being said, the last quarter of his game seemed to launch him back to a traditional Whitecaps performance as he conceded three, but in between them he made some impressive saves. The goals conceded were concerning, but one has to keep in mind that the defense was incredibly rotated when all of the subs came in. The glitter of the first half may have dulled by the end of the 90, but it will be good to know that Hasal has some dynamite to count on in a pinch.
Speaking of the aforementioned defense, they were solid within the majority of the game, but once the Whitecaps had scored, things began to fall apart. In particular, the inability to stop crosses and set pieces remains dumbfounding. Although this may be due to Vanni giving players from the academy a chance, it speaks volumes to the Whitecaps not being able to handle the mental and physical pressure Real España was exerting. Two quick goals fell in between the Whitecaps’ sticks, and a third in the final ten minutes assured that Real España would take all three points home.
In terms of attacking play, overall things seemed to be clicking, even with Ryan Gauld’s absence. Cordova looked a little more dangerous in the warmer climates of Central America, while Dajome was able to weave past defenders effectively and Vite was often joined by Ali Ahmed who was marauding forward in attack.
After a goalless first half, Sartini did something he rarely does and made some relatively early offensive substitutions. Credit where credit is due though, as the inclusions of Javain Brown and Brian White proved to be even more of an attacking threat than before. White is beginning to look like he is living up to his price tag, and scored his second goal in CCL play in as many games. Hopefully this is a form he can transition to league play, as having 2021 White would be a solid get for a team with constantly inconsistent attacking options.
Great first time finish by @_BrianWhite42! Set up pass by Brown. #VWFC | #SCCL23 | @onesoccer pic.twitter.com/Rj6t47Nyfb https://t.co/PDH0lZEFbY— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) March 15, 2023
Speaking of which, Simon Becher may have turned some heads with his guile and finesse as he scored his second goal for the Whitecaps. While the draft pick is unlikely to push for a starting spot, he could be making a campaign for more consistent showings off the bench.
Berhalter launches the ball to @simon_becher101, who puts in a solo effort to beat the defender and slot it near post! #VWFC | #SCCL23 | @onesoccer pic.twitter.com/WAgQwpAfDN https://t.co/Tis5yTrQtM— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) March 15, 2023
Overall, this game showed that the Whitecaps’ B team is still able to keep up with the pace of continental play, albeit dropping a tight contest in hostile conditions. It is a testament to the depth of this team and should be reassuring (for the most part) to the Whitecaps faithful as the looming mountain of the quarterfinals against LAFC remains.
What are your thoughts on the match that was? Can the Whitecaps surprise in the next round? Sound off in the comments below.