The problem with bye weeks, or at least for Vancouver Whitecaps anyway, is that it kills momentum. Now we can argue whether momentum is actually a thing or not, but let’s save that for another day. What we can say is that the ‘Caps stunk out the place in their first match back after the World Cup break.
That was a break of a week, hardly a lengthy layoff to get the guys rusty, but they looked a shadow of the team we last saw two weeks ago as they were pummelled into a 4-0 defeat by a Philadelphia Union side that hasn’t looked that great shakes so far this season.
The Whitecaps lost their shape, threat, and discipline once again as Philadelphia’s DP Bořek Dočkal bagged a brace to have the Union coasting by the 71st minute. By the end of the match the ‘Caps had given up two penalties, converted by Ilsinho and Fafa Picault, and had two men sent off in a match for the second time this season.
It was shocking stuff.
Carl Robinson went with an unchanged starting line-up from the team that dismantled another Eastern Conference side, Orlando City, two weeks ago. The first time he’s done that this year, but the difference in performance between those two games was vast.
The dangerous attacking threat that was on show for much of the match against Orlando was missing for much of the match against Philadelphia, as Vancouver found themselves under pressure from the early going and never fully recovered.
The home side took the game to the Whitecaps from the start, forcing a number of set pieces and defensive scrambles from their visitors. Brian Rowe was handling more balls than a bingo caller, while Philadelphia were forcing more corners than a dodecahedron.
The best of the Union’s early chances came seven minutes in when Ilsinho pulled a shot wide of the left post.
The ‘Caps best chance came in the 22nd minute when Cristian Techera bore down on goal but couldn’t make an angle for a shot and the Union cleared the danger, going straight up the pitch to create a chance of their own, which C.J. Sapong fired straight at Rowe.
Philadelphia’s pressure finally got its reward two minutes later when Alphonso Davies was slow to close down a ball in the box, allowing Dočkal to take a touch and blast the opener past Rowe.
It was what the Union’s play deserved and it felt a long road back for the ‘Caps.
Both teams had half chances to add to the scoring before the break, but neither keeper were much troubled.
Robinson rang the changes at half time, swapping out both wingers, Techera and Davies, for Jordon Mutch and Nicolas Mezquida.
And it was one of those subs, Mezquida, that nearly brought the ‘Caps back on level terms in the 54th minute after a quick break and a nice one-two between the Uruguayan and Yordy Reyna, but the end result was deflected for a corner.
Rowe was forced into a save from Alejandro Bedoya just past the hour mark, as the Union were keen to let the visitors know that their threat hadn’t died with the break.
Vancouver didn’t take note, and Philly doubled their lead in the 71st minute and it was that man Dočkal again who did the damage, with an excellent finish after getting the ball on the edge of the box and showing nice footwork to leave first Brek Shea, and then Jose Aja for dead.
And things got even worse for the Whitecaps just over a minute later when Aja tugged back Cory Burke in the box and referee Allen Chapman pointed to the spot, sending off the Uruguayan in the process. Ilsinho stepped up to blast the spot kick past Rowe and it was well and truly game over for Vancouver.
The game naturally fizzled out, as Vancouver’s frustrations rose, and that was pretty much summed up when Reyna picked up a silly yellow card in the 82nd minute for petulantly kicking the ball away at the referee when a decision went against the ‘Caps.
It was one of those booking that if you were watching Match of the Day on the BBC and the highlights showed that yellow card, then you pretty much know what was coming soon after. And right enough, Reyna received a red after picking up a second yellow four minutes into stoppage time when he even more stupidly swung an arm at Picault in the box.
Reyna was sent off and Picault stepped up to easily fire past Rowe and wrap up an excellent performance, and well deserved victory, by Philly.
The Whitecaps showed a couple of glimpses of the attacking threat everyone was talking about recently, but they were very brief. When a team gives up four goals and can only register two measly shots during the whole match, none of which were on target, there’s no excuses for that.
The only positive is it was against Eastern Conference opposition, but just as Robbo was looking to go with a more settled line up for the second half of the season, all of these starting spots are up for grabs once again.
Just a bad day at the office? We’ll find out in the coming weeks.
FINAL SCORE: Philadelphia Union 4 – 0 Vancouver Whitecaps
PHILADELPHIA: Andre Blake; Keegan Rosenberry, Mark McKenzie, Auston Trusty, Ray Gaddis; Alejandro Bedoya, Warren Creavalle; Ilsinho (Marcus Epps 76), Bořek Dočkal, Fafa Picault; C.J. Sapong (Cory Burke 66) [Substitutes not used: John McCarthy, Jack Elliott, David Accam, Derrick Jones, Fabinho]
VANCOUVER: .Brian Rowe; Jake Nerwinski, José Aja, Doneil Henry, Brek Shea; Cristian Techera (Jordon Mutch 46), Aly Ghazal (Anthony Blondell 71), Felipe Martins, Alphonso Davies (Nicolás Mezquida 46); Kei Kamara, Yordy Reyna [Substitutes not used: Sean Melvin, Sean Franklin, Efraín Juárez, Aaron Maund]
On the team’s performance…
I am disappointed in the result. I thought we got what we deserved which was nothing. I thought we were way off from the first minute. We were leggy, looked tired and we were not sharp. We did not play our futbol in the right areas. The only time we tried to play was fifteen minutes after halftime and we let ourselves down with some unacceptable behavior. I will deal with that internally. Congratulations to Philadelphia, they were the better team from the first to the last minute.
On the two changes at halftime…
We needed energy. I thought we lacked energy in the first half, which is why I made the substitutions with the two wide guys. There was an example there with Alphonso Davies. It was to protect him, but Nicolas [Mezquida] coming in for a little bit brought a little bit of calmness to our play, but then we conceded a bad goal and two penalties and then the game is gone.
On Jordan Mutch’s performance…
He did okay. Again, it is very hard to take too many positives from a performance like that. What does concern me is I have to go back and speak to my staff is that we look very leggy. We look two miles off. We did not look like we were fit enough. I know that is a little bit harsh, but we looked like we were tired. It is easy when we go down to ten men. The shape was good, but we were way off.
On the match tonight…
It was just disappointing and embarrassing. It is something that we drive all the way out here and we cannot put that on the field. It is just something that is embarrassing.
On improvements that need to be made…
You just have to move past this game. Take tonight to get what you can from it and look yourself in the mirror. We need to move onto next week and have an intense week. We have to hold each other accountable. We just need to get back after it.
On the match tonight…
After it was 1-0, we still had a chance to tie the game. It’s the mentality. You know we went down and then we started to give up. We cannot do that. We have to believe in each other and trust one another. No matter what stick to our game plan. Stick to the way we train and the way we prepare for the game. I think today we did not do that.
On the lessons learned from this match…
I think we need to reset. Every time we lose a bad game it is back to the basics . You know do not lose the confidence. There are still a lot of games to go. It is just about changing the approach of each game. I think now it is on to the next game. Now, keeping your eleven players on the field is the key for us.
Overall, a very strong performance from the players. Obviously to be without one of our best players in Haris Medunjanin, for guys to step up and put the maximum effort in, it was an important game. Obviously, you do not want to fall behind. Almost the end of the first half of the season now, it was a big swing game in terms of getting that result, and keeping a clean sheet. We talked a lot about knowing that Vancouver is one of the best teams at sitting deep with ten guys behind the ball and then countering and breaking. They are a very good road team. I thought we handled the first half extremely well and played some of our best soccer. We made them work, we talked a lot about playing quickly from side to side and eventually some holes and seams would open up. We would find Borek [Dočkal] in between the lines; I thought we executed that part of things very well. The players deserve all of the credit. Again keeping the clean sheet is something important. Andre [Blake] did not have to face a shot on goal today so that means guys are really doing their job. We created 25 shots so I am happy to break out a bit and get four goals. You can go through each individual guy like ray Gaddis who is playing very well, at a high level and never get mentions but I will single him out. Overall, a very good team performance from everybody and they put a lot into it and it is an enjoyable one to walk away with four goals. I thought the crowd was excellent and cheered us on.
On the disparity of shots and over 600 passes…
I don’t know if we ever have to be honest. Again we have improved on the possession side of the ball. I said it to Earnie [Stewart] yesterday after the training session that we are at a stage where I know we are going to play soccer now. I know that we are going to keep the ball. I know that we are going to attack and create chances. The only question is how will the group respond to adversity? So if Vancouver did score a goal against the run of play, how strong are we to rebound from that? Fortunately we did not get to find out today, which I am happy with. But in terms of a dominant performance in the first half; when Kei Kamara is defending inside their eighteen-yard box with Alphonso Davies that is the best defense we can have, which is to be good with the ball. Make them chase us and I thought that we did that on the night and I think we deserved the three points. It was probably one of our best performances of the year in terms of a complete shutout, four goals, and being fairly comfortable. Against a good team by the way. Their front four is a handful.
On consistently attacking the right hand side…
Look we are a right-sided dominant team. Ale[jandro]’s tendency is to drift over there. We have talked about it with you guys a bunch now and it is a case of if it is not broke, don’t try and fix it and overthink things. Does Fafa [Picault] sometimes get frustrated that we forget about him for minutes at a time? Absolutely. But you can see the impact he has on the game just when we do roll balls to his feet. I thought Ilsinho in the first half had so much of the ball that he was tired. Keegan [Rosenberry] and him were overlapping, Ale [Bedoya] was running through there, and we flooded that side with Borek [Dočkal] making some deep runs on the right hand side as well. We had tons of crosses there, we did not get on the end of any of them but got our goal, which made Vancouver have to open up. Brek [Shea] has played some at left back and has played a lot as a number nine this year so it is not an easy task to switch. I thought we had a good joy and success on that side.
On the discussion for the final penalty…
Listen, it is the 94th minute. It is a situation where Cory [Burke] is a striker and he wants to step up. He drew a penalty himself prior so he wants to step up and take the PK. I overruled that and said that Fafa [Picault], for the 94 minutes sprinting all over the field deserved it in that moment. I want guys that want to score; I like that Cory [Burke} took that thing as quick as he could. Fafa [Picault] threw a little bit of a fit but he got rewarded in the end. I was worried about the emotions when going from high to low to high and then being calm enough to take a PK there. But at that stage it is 3-0 and just wanted to reward the guy that put the work in.
On if the game is a milestone for him…
It is not about me at all. I think our players deserve the credit, I think what Earnie [Stewart] has built here is powerful. We have put young players on the field and they are stepping up when we are giving them opportunities. Again there are still some mistakes that are made but overall as far as me as a coach I just turned thirty-nine which sounds scary because it is close to 40. You are learning every game and every training session. I love my group of players, I think we have a strong locker room and I am a relationships coach. I want to get to know them; I want to talk to them, I want to communicate with them. For example, Borek [Dočkal] is having a baby this week. Two goals and a baby is a pretty good week. Those little things that I think the players fight for me and they play for me because of that. But it is not about me or any tactical decisions or this or that. It is about a group of guys and a club that has created an environment to try to get results and get wins, and try to make young players better every day. We have inventions sprinkled in there that push the young guys in a smart way. When one guy is injured or out because of suspension the next guy steps up. It is a complete team and club performance from top to bottom. It has been fun to watch it get better and better. Again we still have a long way to go.
On the altercation with Vancouver coaches…
I call those soccer fights. Everyone acts tough on the field when it is easy and everyone is protected. One of their assistants thought that we were rubbing it in at the end of the game. All it really was was a lack of communication between Cory [Burke], who was a little naïve after playing 20 minutes at that point to step up and get the ball. We just wanted to get the word in and he [Vancouver assistant] took that as us rubbing it in. He said some words, talked a lot, but no actions. I’m still here.
On the impact of Sebastien Le Toux’s introduction into the ring of honor…
I think there was an energy in the stadium which is special. Seb [Le Toux] was a guy that meant so much to the club. He is a guy who is a winner. He is a guy that has embodied the city of Philadelphia. A really good job by our front office in honoring him on the special day with the mural and with the sign. I think they renamed the stadium by the size of it [laughs]. Seba [Le Toux] deserves it. He is a guy who has meant so much to the club. He is the face of the franchise and everybody was out and here for his special day. I think that he deserves it. It was an honor to coach him, to have him in the locker room and to share the moments that we shared together. He is a special player and he got a special day today.
On the two substitutions for Vancouver at halftime…
The message I gave our guys in the locker room at halftime was this is kind of exactly where they want to be. They are within reach still, we did not kill of the game in the first half . At 1-0 and the talent they have in Kamara, Davies, and Techera with those guys they can make a play. They are a dangerous front four. You have read about them all week leading into this game. I think our players read about it as well. They stepped up in a big way. Anytime you can limit a group that is that talented and not give up a shot on goal that means guys are doing their job. Credit to Andre [Blake] for organizing a young backline in front of him. His communication has gotten so much better and he is growing as a goalkeeper. Overall, I cannot speak for the substitutions or why, that is up to Carl [Robinson]. I thought our guys did a good job controlling their key guys. The kid Davies is fun to watch as any player. You watch him on tape and it jumps off the page. He has the talent to go to the highest level, so we respect that group of guys a great deal, but on the night we had a good day.
On if he coaches penalty kick form…
I do not teach that. These guys are paid good money to do what they do, so I do not interfere with penalty techniques. I was a center-back, so I wanted to shoot dead last. I am happy that we connected on them today. It is good, it is a little thing but to keep a clean sheet was important today. Goal differential does come in to this thing to so to score four goals for our group is good for confidence. As far as penalty kicks go, we have a bunch of guys with good technique.
On Warren Creavalle’s performance…
He did a great job of protecting our two 19 year olds. Again with that front four and the fluidity they have and Reyna running underneath Kei [Kamara] I thought Warren did an excellent job. Also, did a good job stepping out. It was our best night if you look from the first minute to the last minute in terms of counter pressing, so that is just when we did lose possession our ability to sprint back was at its highest level of what we had. Warren is a credit to that. He breaks up so many plays. He wins so many duels and his feet in tight spaces he can get out of a jam and just play a simple ball that lets us breathe a little bit. Really happy with Warren. You talk about professionals, you talk about Warren and you talk about Ray [Gaddis], who have been in and out of the lineup an then they step up and do big things for us, so the squad depth that we have and professionalism of those guys when they are called upon they can really raise their level. I am really happy for the two of them.
On his two goals…
The first one I was lucky with the first touch because I wanted to play back to Ilsinho. I hit my other leg so I got lucky. The space was open. I had good position to hit with my left. I hit it well. The other one, I received a great pass from Ale [Bedoya]. I tried to turn into the box, the defender was afraid to make a penalty so I tried to curve the ball close to the post with my left again. I think the second one was important because we felt like we were a much better team this game. We needed a second goal to close the game.
On the importance of stylistically playing a game like the team did today…
It is important of course. For the first time maybe this season I felt like we had for control for like 90 minutes. Usually we make it difficult in the second half with a stupid goal we concede. This time we had full control the full game. I think the first half was one of the best halves we’ve played so far this season.
On forcing Vancouver into tough defensive decisions…
You try to find the weakness of the opponent. Today, we could clearly see from the first minute there was a lot of space on our right hand side to create the chances. We had already in the first 20 minutes like two to three good chances from that spot. We just kept going to make them busy on the left side and I think we deserved to score even more goals today.