The Vancouver Whitecaps, for the second time in as many games, got off to an incredibly bright start and then got pummelled in the second half, dropping a 2-1 decision to the San Jose Earthquakes.
Vancouver’s first 30 minutes were fantastic. We once again saw how the Christmas tree formation, which puts a lot of players in the centre of the park, made it very hard for the opposition to build out of the back. Interestingly, Andres Cubas was stepping out of the midfield three to press Gruezo. This scheme lead directly to Vancouver’s goal with Cubas forcing a bad pass and a quick combination between Schopf and Gressel resulting in an easy goal.
But once again, Vancouver struggled a little bit to turn positive positions into scoring chances. A motif that is emerging this season is incredibly dangerous chances that, nevertheless, have an xG of 0 because nobody actually shot the damned thing. This time it was Ryan Gauld who couldn’t pull the trigger from close range. But in addition to that, there were definitely times when they missed opportunities to work a better shot or didn’t pick a pass that would have put someone through on goal.
Also once again, the elements that would eventually lead to Vancouver’s demise started to become apparent at around the half-hour mark. The Christmas tree formation does do a good job of chocking the middle of the field but it does leave the fullbacks a bit exposed. These guys have to get up the field to provide the width and also frequently have to deal with being isolated against dribblers frequently. It’s a very demanding role. Javain Brown has been able to perform this role adequately because he has the speed to get up and down the wings. He does bring a certain chaotic energy that makes me nervous but he hasn’t been a liability so far. Luis Martins, on the other hand, is really drowning out there. He does not have the pace or the stamina to get up and down the wing the whole game and he was never a great 1-v-1 defender even in a more sheltered role. So once San Jose figured out they could just hit diagonal balls behind the fullbacks over and over again that was pretty much it for the Whitecaps. Add in the fact that crosses are not a strength for Yohei Takaoka (even if he is a massive upgrade overall) and you have a recipe for disaster. If anyone from Vancouver’s coaching staff is reading this, I am begging you to start one of Ali Ahmed or Ryan Raposo in the next match. They may not be perfect but they are way faster and it is not possible for them to get cooked any harder than Luis Martins is.
Now, this is not the worst weakness to have. Crosses are a pretty low-percentage way of scoring goals, even against teams that suck at defending them. But when the Whitecaps stopped offering an attacking threat of their own and San Jose could just lump a million crosses into the box, eventually, something bad was going to happen.
Vancouver’s inability to manage a lead is kind of perplexing. On paper, they look like a team that is defensively sound and strong in transitions. So being up 1-0 with the other team pushing for an equalizer should be a situation they can knock out of the park. But that has not been true so far. This surely warrants further study over the coming weeks.
Next up is Real España in the CONCACAF champions league. The Honduran side is struggling domestically and, in my view was pretty lucky to get as far in CONCACAF league as they did. But they are very good at turning every game into a slog and playing in Honduras is never easy for anyone. So it is going to be important for the Whitecaps to win by as much as possible at BC Place.