It will be two draws in a row for the Caps, as they played LA Galaxy to a 1-1 stalemate Saturday night on the road at Dignity Health Sports Park.
For the second week in a row, it was a pair of first half goals that brought about the end result. A well-worked set piece goal from Tristan Blackmon put the Caps ahead but a goalkeeper error in first half stoppage time allowed Kelvin Leerdam to equalize.
As expected, the Caps made a bevy of changes to return to something approximating their starting lineup. It was the now-standard back four and midfield three, with Cristian Dajome, Brian White and Sergio Cordova filling out the tip of the Christmas tree 4-3-2-1.
Our vs @LAGalaxy— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) March 19, 2023
Kickoff is set for 7:39pm PT ⏱
Watch free on #MLSSeasonPass on the @appletv app https://t.co/CHuvFzzLZT #VWFC | #LAvVAN pic.twitter.com/5BR19TsCPf
The Caps started on the front foot, pushing forward and, minus a couple inopportune turnovers, you got the sense that they were building towards something.
That something came via a set piece. Brilliant delivery from Julian Gressel, who pinged in the free kick from just outside the box to find Tristan Blackmon, who was narrowly onside and contorted himself into the crucial header. Ryan Gauld gets a quasi-assist for freezing the Galaxy defense by faking a pause to tie his boots.
Ryan Gauld faking out the LA Galaxy's backline with this set piece routine before Julian Gressel hits a laser into the box for Tristan Blackmon...— Joseph Lowery (@joeclowery) March 19, 2023
What a set piece goal. pic.twitter.com/jtz8hzIrWW
LA quickly fought back into the game and called Yohei Takaoka into action with a brilliant double save to deny Dejan Joveljic, with the second save barely clearing the ball off the line.
The Caps were bailed out by video review, after Joveljic had a lovely cut back for an inexplicably wide-open Riqui Puig in the box. The saving grace was the Serbian was judged to have strayed offsides in the build up to see the goal chalked off by a too-slim margin.
The momentum for Vancouver quickly seemed to fade, as Puig’s influence on the match continued to grow. The Caps effectively neutralized the Spaniard early with some physical, tight marking but seemed to stray from that as the half went on.
The Caps’ frustrations were compounded when Cordova appeared to sustain a groin injury after 40 minutes, forcing Pedro Vite to enter. Moments later, Gressel was forced to clean a header (off a set piece ... ) off the line to maintain the lead; things were looking dicey for Vancouver.
The question became whether Vancouver could hang on for the 10 minutes of stoppage time and the answer was no. A joint error between Takaoka, who spilled a Raheem Edwards cross, and Javain Brown, who was overly lax with Kelvin Leerdam, allowed the Galaxy a deserved equalizer.
Kelvin Leerdam taps it home, and the @lagalaxy have their equalizer! pic.twitter.com/GBiHIoQeqp— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 19, 2023
Raheem Edwards was really the Caps bugaboo all night and a nice run from the Canadian nearly opened the first half with a second goal, though Takaoka recovered well to push Jovelijic’s shot away.
The Caps’ started to regain some semblance of momentum, finding a few well—worked exchanges. One of those saw Vite, Raposo and White link up well but White’s ball found a shockingly wide open Gauld but his free header could not be directed on target.
The striker himself should have given the Caps the lead back but, despite a brilliant through ball from Gauld, could not steady himself to chip Jonathan Klinsmann from 30 yards out.
At about this time, Sartini went with a pair of defensive subs and, right on cue, the Galaxy seemed to have their go-ahead goal. But for the second time in the match, the goal was ruled out for a handball on Jovelijic. The Caps’ fortune remained intact.
The away side actually looked the more likely the find a late winner, with a Brown cross (seemingly unintentionally) ringing the upright.
- Credit to Raheem Edwards, who was very dangerous all match and gave Javain Brown a lot of trouble. This prompted Sartini to switch Raposo and Brown, a move that didn’t do anything to neutralize the left back. One wonders what he might look like on the Caps ...
- The goal was frustrating, not because the Galaxy didn’t deserve it but because it is another example of Takaoka struggling either with crosses or bad communication with defenders (in this case both). I’m not worried long term (and think he was fantastic tonight otherwise) but for a team that desperately needs to avoid dumb goals to remain relevant it was irksome.
- Andres Cubas had another impressive match and, quite frankly, without his semblance of control in midfield, it is a little daunting at how this team would be organized. His passing was much welcomed on a night where sloppy ball movement was a hallmark.
- I actually thought Brian White had a pretty good match but the role is he being asked to fulfill continues to kind of baffle me. Initially he was either a creator, attacking midfield type or a shadow striker in the 4-4-2 the Caps kind of formed when not in possession. Then, once Cordova came off, he was isolated and would drop quite deep to pick the ball up and have little space to do anything. He missed a couple of big chances and seems to be in dire need of a first goal to loosen him up.
- No offense to Christian Dajome but he isn’t it. I thought the offense looked better once he was replaced by Alessandro Schopf and Vite continues to show enough flashes to underscore why he should be starting. With Deiber Caicedo likely to get back on the pitch imminently, his days as a viable option might be numbered.
- Credit to the Caps defense for tightening up in the second half. There were some sloppy plays from the Galaxy to be sure, but the pockets of space were fewer and further between. Sartini seemed to urge a more forceful approach to Puig at halftime, as he was closed down much better by at least one or two Caps players every time he touched the ball in the second 45. Mathias Laborda, whose introduction I initially questioned, actually looked pretty good as a makeshift left back.
- At the beginning of the match, I would have probably been OK with a 1-1 draw and seeing two Galaxy goals ruled out means you certainly won’t hear complaints. But two points in four matches is going to feel hollow when you look at a team like St. Louis City, purportedly a rival for the final playoff spot, with 12 points and playing much more open, fluid football while doing so.
Man of the Match
Any of the midfield trio of Gressel, Gauld (with four key passes and a better, more defined role once he played a bit further up the pitch) and Cubas really could go here. Tristan Blackmon had a nice defensive performance to accompany his goal and is a good shout. I’ll pick Cubas because his ball movement was sorely needed and because he was the guy who most effectively hassled Puig.