A Lukewarm Start: Whitecaps vs Charlotte match analysis

A Lukewarm Start: Whitecaps vs Charlotte match analysis

Despite the hope that the Whitecaps can finally buck their trend of slow starts to the MLS season, the performance on Saturday didn’t necessarily inspire the masses that that would be the case. A 1-1 all draw at home to Charlotte isn’t the worst of results, but the match itself lacked some intensity and quality for large swaths of the game.

Sleepy Beginnings Lead To Sloppy Goals

It wasn’t the start that the Whitecaps would have wanted. The team was backed by nearly 30,000 fans at BC Place, creating an electric atmosphere perfect for a big performance. And you would think that with all that excitement and noise, it would be impossible to be sleepy on the pitch. Well, think again, because that’s exactly what happened at the start for the Whitecaps, and it cost them a goal half an hour into the match.

“Overall, I think we did well but we did start a little bit sleepy,” assistant coach Michael D’Agostino, who was in place of the suspended Vanni Sartini, told media after the match. “A lot of the things we planned on doing we just didn’t execute, whether it was for a lack of understanding or probably more likely just a lack of willing[ness].”

The sleepy start came to a head in the 31st minute when the Whitecaps conceded the goal from Iuri Tavares. The ball went wide and into pressure when there was more space in the middle and a poor giveaway from Ryan Raposo at the byeline near the goal allowed Charlotte to hit the ‘Caps quickly. A clever play from Enzo Copetti allowed a whipped cross to go through his legs and put it on a plate for Tavares to thunder his shot into the roof of the net. The defenders didn’t react fast enough and track those runs, allowing the space for Tavares to capitalize in.

The ‘Caps were nearly punished once again ten minutes later when Ranko failed to get the ball under control, letting Copetti pickpocket him and go one-on-one against Yohei Takaoka. Thankfully, Takaoka came up huge with his save but it highlighted the lack of intensity for the team. That moment then became a turning point for the ‘Caps, as after that moment they began dominating the play.

“It was massive [for us],” admitted Tristan Blackmon on that Takaoka save. “I think it’s huge for him in his confidence for the first game, making a big save like that. Having that massive save changed the momentum [of the game] and it sort of woke us up.”

The Whitecaps will need to learn quickly from their sleepy mistakes, as they can’t rely on Takaoka bailing them out week in and week out across the whole season.

Flat Build-Up Lends to Slow Start

In theory, it looked like the Whitecaps were primed to win this match. The coaches chose a 3-4-3 formation, hoping to really get at Charlotte. It’s a formation that morphed into a 4-3-2-1, with the unorthodox right wingback in Alessandro Schöpf tucking into the midfield and Ryan Raposo going from left wingback to left back to complete the back four. The idea was to have more bodies in the midfield and in the attack, and to create situations of numerical superiority. The issue was that that never really happened.

Part of the reason was the way Charlotte was set-up. Dean Smith’s side was disciplined and compact in their 4-2-3-1 defensive shape, clogging up the middle and pressing the wide areas to force the Whitecaps to either play it backwards or hoof it forwards. The other part of the reason is that there was not enough movement in the build-up, with the center-backs rushing their passes to the full-backs, and the midfield not being able to get into space quick enough. That isolated the attack, and nullified any threat for the Whitecaps.

“We were going to the full-backs too early,” explained D’Agostino to the media after the game. “Every time we went to the full-back, that was their kind of trigger [to press us]… and we were kind of keeping it to one side”.

This meant that Charlotte were able to keep more possession in the opening stages, and reduce the threat of the Whitecaps. It was really only after they conceded the goal that they woke up and made some tactical tweaks to allow themselves to get them back into the game, starting with the center-backs.

“We wanted a little bit more passing between Ranko [Veselinovic] and Tristan [Blackmon],” remarked D’Agostino. “For those two, it’s really difficult to get back and forth and back and forth, and once you stretch them [Charlotte] a little bit more, and be a little bit more patient, we had success.”

Second Half Shows Signs of Success

The saving grace of the first half came in the dying moments of it. A second phase from the corner saw Pedro Vite chip it to the back post for Raposo to slice a cross and fool Kristijan Kahlina before trickling in. That set the tone for the second half, where the Whitecaps began to dominate the game in the way many ‘Caps fans were used to and hoping for this match.

The attackers began to get more involved and pin Charlotte back in their own half. Passes in the middle of the park began to be crisper, with Cubas and Vite being able to ping those lofted balls into the wide areas up the park. All that allowed the ‘Caps to really sink their talons into the match, and put Charlotte under real pressure.

“We were struggling to win the ball up in higher positions [in the first half],” described D’Agostino on his team’s performance. “We were always kind of playing on the back foot a little bit, but once they [the attack] were able to get on the front foot, it also changed everything in behind and allowed us to win the ball in higher areas”.

And while the final ball was still a little lacking, the Whitecaps always looked the likeliest side to score the winner. Ali Ahmed and Sebastian Berhalter coming into the match gave the ‘Caps that much-needed injection of energy and intensity, and had the Whitecaps had five or ten more minutes, they might have stolen the three points from right under Charlotte’s noses.

The focus now is on San Jose next weekend, where the Whitecaps have had little success in recent years. They will need to be sharp from the off if they want to avoid yet another defeat at PayPal park and fall back into bad habits at the start of the season.

Authored by: Felipe Vallejo

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