In what would become their second slow start/frenetic finish of the week, the Vancouver Whitecaps fought back from a goal scored just inside halftime, only to concede the winner moments later in their Wednesday night loss to the visiting Los Angeles Galaxy, 2-1.
The opening forty-five minutes were a dud, in that the Vancouver offense could not find its footing, though they were completely content to derail any Galaxy efforts on the ball.
If anything, the match hinged on the 47th minute opening goal from Javier Hernandez, where an errant pass was all too easily picked off, deep in Whitecaps territory. As Vancouver scrambled to get back in position, the backline was crisscrossed off passes from Sacha Kljestan and Sebastian Lletget, the latter of whom found an all-alone Chicharito at the back post for the tap in. An opportune goal benefitting from Vancouver’s sluggish start to the half.
As one would hope, that goal was a wake-up call for the Whitecaps’ offense, as they registered their first shot of the match a minute later. They’d go on to record eight more in the second half, though not until the final shot of the night deep into stoppage time.
A high-sitting Janio Bikel, who moved to right back earlier in the match, fought off Cameron Dunbar to control a ball kept in play by Cristian Dajome, before getting to the corner of the six and firing a far post strike under Jonathan Bond.
After four games of misery, the Whitecaps were ready to collect some points!
I mean, saying they were ready shouldn’t imply that they did, as minutes later, a shallow clearance off a Galaxy free kick fell to the fee of Efrain Alvarez, who blasted his own far post goal past Max Crepeau.
Though the Whitecaps put forward an even more-last minute effort, they ultimately ran out of time and could not find a second equalized.
If The Best Defense is a Good Offense, What’s a Bad Offense?
Trepidation was the order of the day in the first half as the Whitecaps did little disprove the many, many mentions during the broadcast remarking on how Vancouver has yet to score a first half goal this season. I’m only harping on the repetitiveness of it’s reference (come on, TSN: sing us a different song), but it’s a valid talking point emblematic of a “Start Slow, Stay Slow, Figure It Out Later” game plan.
I mean, what is this exactly?
I always thought zeroes across the board were reserved for really, really bad dives at the Olympics.
Thankfully, there were ninety minutes to play (well, ninety-five, all told) and once substitutions were made, the Whitecaps were able to challenge Los Angeles on the wings. Things started to get better and better, right up until they got worse.
But that first forty-five? Oof. Extra stagnant.
Lineup Rotation Has Got Me Dizzy
I will admit, I thought the initial lineup looked fine. For the first five minutes.
Russell Teibert will always play it safe on the wing; the pairing of Michael Baldisimo and Janio Bikel, while not the most offensively ambitious, can spray passes when needed; and a strike duo of Lucas Cavallini and Brian White should be able to bully their way into the penalty area, if and when the right pass is made.
For parts of the first half, Vancouver had the Galaxy looking ultra-faint (just some astrophysics humor for you). Los Angeles stayed a little more narrow until they could play balls deep into the Vancouver corners, while their shots were primarily kept to the outside of the penalty area, as the Whitecaps continuously clogged their passing play. Unlike Sporting Kansas City, this was the team to run a 4-4-2 against. Except maybe not with this exact lineup.
Because, suddenly, nothing happened.
And nothing continue to happen, right up until half time.
Supposedly, Marc Dos Santos had something in mind when his starting eleven had two stylistically similar strikers, but I don’t think I’m galaxy brained enough to sort it out.
"We knew that if we were able to use Cava and Brain behind their fullbacks... their fullbacks bite and I thought we could expose pockets."— Joshua Griffith (@JoshuaGriffith0) June 24, 2021
MDS on a formation change back to a 4-4-2 formation for #VWFC
Caleb is right on the money here (he’s not just a player scouting, xG diagnostic machine!).
The idea on its face makes sense, to draw the fullbacks out of position and open gaps in the center of the park, but Cavallini and White don’t expose pockets; they bully and scrap for the ball, overpowering and out-positioning defenders. It’s not often we see like-with-like to head an attack, particularly when its two slow-building, possession guys, who apparently were intended to expose pockets.
Once the first of the Whitecaps’ substitutions were made, Caio Alexandre for the wounded Javain Brown at 53’, Deiber Caicedo on the wing for the defense-first Teibert at 58’, and the double-swap of Ryan Raposo and Leonard Owusu at 71’ for White and Baldisimo, Vancouver had a much more forceful lineup with which to chase a lead.
Specifically, I thought Alexandre did well to go box to box in his time on the pitch and Bikel filled in admirably for Brown when the young defender was removed due to injury, which was a shame as I thought he impressed out of the back once again.
In any case, perhaps the right summation to detail that the correct lineup was not on the pitch until late is in noting how three of the Whitecaps’ eight Key Passes came from their bench players, while six of the eight occurred after the final substitution was made.
We’ll Always Have Dead Balls
I don’t know if I’m alone on this, but I thought the dead balls were sharp tonight and, more specifically, were well-designed and thought out, both for the set piece takers and the movements made by the target men.
Heck, we nearly had one of those “dead ball goals” the Whitecaps are so renowned for:
I’m not going so far as to say we should live and die on a solitary strength like this one, particularly when you know other teams know what to look out for, and they know that you know that they know. Naturally, things start to get complicated when you know that they know that you know that they know. There’s levels to this.
But if that’s how the club gets a majority of its goals, so be it. It just can’t be all of them.
The Lights Are On But Nobody’s Home
I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but it’s a topic that’s crucial to mention as the match pivoted twice on such occurrences, and to a lesser extent it absolutely grinds my gears.
You absolutely cannot restart play as flat as the Whitecaps did Wednesday night.
Not to open the match, not when coming back from half time, and definitely not when you’ve finally secured that game-tying goal deep into stoppage time, lest you make a soft pass into the middle of the park that results in a mad scramble to defend or you’re forced to clear a ball to the foot of an attacking player that should have been covered by the forwards sauntering back to “help out.”
Seriously, watch for the two Whitecaps trotting back as the free kick is being taken at the start of this clip:
I felt awful for Bikel, who moments earlier drew the game level, only for the unmarked Alvarez to place a well struck ball inside the far post to take back all three points. I’d collapse to the turf, too.
Even when they’re scarce, all the expected goals in the world won’t get you a result when you switch off at critical moments.
- Rusty was fired up in the pre-game huddle. For those who can’t read lips, I’m pretty sure he said, “I don’t want to live through another five game losing streak!” Personally, I don’t think he yelled loud enough.
- Can’t say I needed the constant reminder from the broadcast team as to how the Whitecaps have not yet scored a goal in the first half of a game this season. Of course, what’s worse was watching it unfold again in real time.
- If those were in fact citizens of Salt Lake City in the stands, bless you all. Not enough niceties can be said when you’re willing to watch the team your club just beat lose for the second time in a few days. I promise to buy myself a fitted RSL cap one of these days as a thank you.
- Then again, if those fans came specifically to watch the Whitecaps lose... well, I’m still buying the hat, but the niceties will be in shorter supply.
- Javain Brown going down early was a blow as he once again looked to be a solid inclusion. The collision with Cava was one thing, but watching his head bounce off the ground was unnerving. To see him try to gut it out with a mouth packed with gauze was inspiring, but probably for the best that his night ended early.
- With all the knocks Sega Coulibally was taking throughout the night, I can only assume the ‘Caps are old-school Nintendo fans who still get riled up by this travesty.
- Vancouver getting called for an offside in the first half was priceless. I didn’t realize they had got that far up the pitch.
- Open play goals in the first half really are our chrome-colored, flying unicorns, aren’t they?
- Jonathan Dos Santos: you can have those 55-yard shots all day, every day.
- When playing right back, Bikel seems willing to invite trouble only to get out of it like nothing happened. He’s got a little Anderson Silva in him.
- That said, who’d have thought putting Bikel on the backline would get him further up the pitch, let alone to bag an equalizer?
- So... when does the Gold Cup start?
- And finally, I absolutely appreciate the Whitecaps wearing of orange armbands on the evening in observance of National Indigenous Peoples Day, while also in acknowledgement of the remains of school children found at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops.
Man of the Match
Happy to debate this one, but I think it’s got to be Cristian Dajome. For long stretches, it felt like he was running harder than anyone else, which makes it all the more impressive that he went the full 90. That, and keeping Erik Godoy’s long ball in play to set up Janio Bikel’s run on the goal was slick.
Bikel obviously gets a shout, not just for the slaloming run he made to level the score, but for filling in on the backline when Brown went down.
Deiber Caicedo should get a mention as well, as he did a great job in stretching the Galaxy backline once he was subbed in. Maybe the real game plan from MDS was to limit Caicedo’s sprints from center to a timeframe of thirty minutes.
Am I wrong about the MOTM? We can’t just always default to the goal scorer, can we? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!