A Winless Streak Snapped: Whitecaps vs KC match analysis

A Winless Streak Snapped: Whitecaps vs KC match analysis

It wasn’t the most convincing of victories, but the ‘Caps got the job done.

Vancouver Whitecaps headed into this match on a six MLS game winless streak, facing an equally-if-not-worse form Sporting Kansas City side in Kansas City. Thankfully for the ‘Caps, a special Ryan Gauld performance earned them a 2-1 win to relieve some of that pressure on head coach Vanni Sartini, although the underlying numbers still raise some concerns.

Tactical shifts prove fruitful… eventually

In the wake of the Whitecaps’ disappointing loss to an underpowered Inter Miami on Saturday, Sartini mentioned that perhaps a slight tactical change might help pick the players up by keeping it ‘fresh’. That seemed to be the intention behind Sartini’s lineup choices for Wednesday, with the team lining up in a 3-5-2 formation instead of the typical 3-4-3, alongside some personnel swaps. Sebastian Berhalter, Luis Martins, Bjorn Inge Utvik, and Javain Brown found themselves in the starting lineup, looking to prove themselves in a struggling side.

The first 20 or so minutes, however, didn’t really look like the Whitecaps were ‘inspired’ in this tactical change. SKC looked dangerous in transition, and were buoyed by the ‘Caps’ sloppy passing, giving them some really good early opportunities. If it wasn’t for a last-ditch, goal-saving tackle from Berhalter, William Agada would have been clean through to score SKC’s opener. It wasn’t until around the half-hour mark when the Whitecaps finally got a handle on the match, and started stringing some nice passes together.

A clever throw-in set-piece allowed Gauld to snatch the opener – with great help from the Wax Museum that was the SKC defense – giving the ‘Caps some comfort going into the half. The second half then was more like the Whitecaps side that we expected, with more emphasis on using possession efficiently, breaking down SKC when on the ball, being dangerous in transition and defensively sound out of possession.

“We came here and we did a very good performance,” Sartini said after the match. “I would say a Whitecaps trademark performance with a great defensive organization, good transition, and good offensive set-plays.”

And the new introductions played a large part in that, with Berhalter having one of his best all-around performances in the midfield, Brown and Utvik putting in fantastic shifts at the back, and even Martins looking more comfortable over on the left. It still wasn’t a Whitecaps performance that would blow people away, but it at least showed that the ‘Caps still had some bite to them, even if it was against a quite poor side.

Final third worries still persist

As the saying goes: A win is a win. But sometimes, it’s worth noting that a win doesn’t always reflect that everything is going well for a side. The Whitecaps might have been the better side on Wednesday, but they still struggled to really look dangerous in the final third for the majority of the match.

Take the two goals that the Whitecaps created. The first one was off a set-piece in which Ryan Gauld was given all the time in the world to pick up his blocked shot in the box, dribble by some cones disguised as players, and slot it into the back of the net. Against better teams, Gauld wouldn’t get another chance let alone that first one. While the second one was a gift given to the ‘Caps on a silver platter. A poor backpass that played Gauld almost clean through on goal.

Of course, you can only beat what is put in front of you, but this SKC side was one that was in very poor form, and also heavily rotated. They had a forward playing at right-back in Khiry Shelton, in his first start since last September. This was a side there for the taking, but the Whitecaps only managed two shots on target in the entire match – and they scored them.

On one hand, you could say that’s a 100% conversion rate. On the other, you could argue two shots on target against a team like this just isn’t good enough. And most would be inclined to side with the latter point. Simply put, the Whitecaps have not been creating enough high-quality shots in the box.

Surprisingly, they are creating good chances. Since their previous win against the Sounders in mid-April, the Whitecaps have created 11 big chances. That’s just over 1.5 per game. They have also created an xG of 10.91 in that same time-frame, which is 12th best out of all 29 teams.
Their biggest problem is that they can’t put away those good chances. Of the 11 big chances, they have missed six of them. And of the near 11 xG, they have only scored 7.

The Whitecaps were overperforming their xG at the start of the season, so you could say that it’s just evening out. But the lack of killer instinct present in this team right now is still something that needs to be addressed – if not tactically then with new personnel. It does not help when your record top-goalscorer in Brian White has not scored since he broke that record in the draw against the New York Red Bulls over a month ago. Perhaps some extra competition up front could help him, either from a returning Damir Kreilach or even a new face altogether.

Colorado an opportunity to prove yourself at home

Out of the six wins that the Whitecaps have earned this season, only two of them have come at home. That shows that the Whitecaps have become a real force on the road, but it also demonstrates that the team is struggling to get the right results in front of their home fans.

The ‘Caps are currently rocking a 2-2-3 record at home, in contrast to their 4-2-2 record on the road. Unfortunately for the ‘Caps and their fans, this lackluster run of form at home has coincided with a record attendance streak at BC Place. Arguments could be made that the ‘Caps struggle to perform when it is in front of big crowds (one need only look to Saturday against Miami), but two solid wins against Portland Timbers and Toronto FC in late-March, early-April show that they can get the job done. So perhaps it is just down to consistency in their mentality, and commitment to the plan.

Regardless of the diagnosis, the Whitecaps need to get better in their own house. Last week put a serious dent in their relationship with their fans, and they need to be able to capitalize on the momentum they have been making to really turn it into a long-term success. That comes with good performances and, arguably more important right now, good results, starting off with Colorado this coming Saturday.

These games at home now matter more than just the three points they could earn. They will decide how much the city will be willing to invest into this club in this post-Miami period, as well as how much patience and understanding their fans can spare before things get askew.

Authored by: Felipe Vallejo

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