It was quite the weekend for Vancouver Whitecaps sides. Two big 4-3 victories against two very tough opponents. In both games, the ‘Caps shot out to early leads, only to see their opponents gradually claw things back, before Vancouver survived some defensive pressure to come away with all the points.
Fantastic entertainment if a little nerve wracking for fans, players and coaches alike.
“Those were great games for the neutrals I think,” WFC2 head coach Koch quipped after his side’s excellent win over LA at Thunderbird Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
“Last night, obviously an exciting game with the first team and an exciting game for us. I actually texted Carl last night and said ‘how’s your heart’, cos mine’s not very good after this 90 minutes and I’m sure his wasn’t good after last night! We’re ecstatic.”
WFC2 took the game to Los Dos from the get-go and were 3-0 up by the 21st minute, after a Kyle Greig brace and Alphonso Davies’ first goal as a professional. They could have been up more, in what was a blistering first half hour for the young ‘Caps.
Facing an LA defence that had given up 11 goals in their first nine games, including two against Vancouver in their first meeting in April, there was always the possibility for the ‘Caps attack to do some real damage against a Galaxy defence that had shown leakage. So was such a quickfire start, and taking the match to the visitors from kick off, what Koch had targeted?
“I wouldn’t say it was part of the gameplan”, Koch told us. “We wanted to play and we wanted to take it to them and we wanted to possess and we wanted to play in their half as much as possible. I thought we were very, very good for the first 30 minutes.
“We did a great job of moving the ball around and we scored some great goals. Then I think we took the foot off the pedal a little bit and there’s two sides to that. There’s one, we slow down a little bit, but LA, give them credit, they picked up their game, started to believe in themselves a little bit.
“Second half was a little sloppy. It was back and forth. We had chances, they had chances, and thankfully we hung on in the end.”
Vancouver certainly looked a different side intensity-wise for the last hour of the match and LA pushed hard to get back into the game. The ‘Caps defence was under a lot of pressure at times, facing 16 shots in the match. There were lapses, but they held firm for most of the game and showed great resolve under pressure.
While a lot of focus has been on Vancouver’s electric attack this season, credit also has to go to the massive improvements in the Whitecaps defence. That may seem strange to say after letting in three goals at home, but you can see a vast difference from last year after WFC2’s first seven games.
Last season WFC2 had the second worst defensive record in all of the USL, averaging 1.77 goals against per game and managing only three clean sheets in their 30 matches. This season they had two clean sheets in their first three games, and were averaging a goal a game heading into the LA match.
It’s definitely been a turnaround, helped in part with a fairly regular back four of Kadin Chung, Sem De Wit, Cole Seiler and Brett Levis building up some great understanding. But there are concerns.
They’ve shipped eight goals in their last four matches. Not ideal, but they’ve scored three wins and a draw from those games thanks to their firepower up front. That’s not a pace that is likely sustainable if they want the wins to keep coming.
“We’re a much better team defensively,” Koch noted before adding, “Having said that, it’s kind of ironic saying that when we conceded three goals today. We had a chat with the guys this week. I don’t think we’ve been as good in the last few weeks defensively as we were to start the season. We’d like to get back to that. But if we can go forward and score four goals…
“We want to play attacking football, which were are doing. Sometimes you’re going to give something up at the back when you look to go forward as much as we do. We’d like to score goals but we obviously want to minimize the number of goals we’re conceding. We conceded a few today. We’ll go address that next week.”
LA’s first goal came from some quick-thinking by Jose Villareal on a free-kick that caught out ‘Caps ‘keeper Sean Melvin. It was the Residency alumni’s only real mistake of the game and he came up with five big saves to keep the Whitecaps’ lead intact.
Melvin has been excellent for Vancouver in his rookie USL season. The LA match was his third start of the year, having kept two clean sheets in his first two games, and Koch has been impressed what he’s seen of the former UNC Wilmington Seahawk.
“Sean’s been fantastic for us,” Koch said of his rookie keeper. “In his first two games he didn’t concede a goal. So for a young kid, to start as a pro and not concede in his first two games is brilliant. He made probably one or two mistakes today, but he made some fantastic saves too to keep it tight.
“We’re very happy with Sean. He continues to progress. That’s only his third pro game and he’s going to get better and better the more games he plays.”
The team is certainly still very much a work in progress, which makes their unbeaten, table-topping start all the more impressive. With a Cascadian derby next up for the ‘Caps in Portland on Friday night, was this LA win a good indication to the rest of the league as to just what kind of side WFC2 are this year?
“To be honest, I don’t think so,” Koch told us. “We believe in ourselves. We know we’re ready that every game we play we’re going to play and we’re going to fight and we’re going to do everything we can to get the three points. I don’t think we’ll take anything more from this game. LA are a very good team but we’ve played against other very good teams in this league and we’ve beaten them.
“We go game by game. That was a big game. The next game at Portland next week will be a very big game too. We’ll grow and we’ll keep getting better. We’ll hopefully put in a good performance on the road and the desired outcome will hopefully be another three points.”