Changing the Narrative: San Jose vs Vancouver Whitecaps Match Analysis

Changing the Narrative: San Jose vs Vancouver Whitecaps Match Analysis

(Photo Credit: @WhitecapsFC/

On Saturday, Vancouver Whitecaps earned their first win of the season in California, coming alive in the second half after a deadlocked start to beat San Jose Earthquakes 2-0 and get that elusive first road victory, and overall first win, of the season. Two spectacular goals from substitutes Alessandro Schöpf and Ali Ahmed silenced the critics that were predicting another slow start for the ‘Caps.

Flat Beginning For ‘Caps

It was a bit of a sleeper match at the beginning for the Whitecaps. They allowed San Jose to dominate possession, with hopes of winning the ball back higher and counter at pace. However, while the defence was upholding their end of the plan, the attack was struggling to get anything going. San Jose only managed three shots with one on target, which is great from a defensive point of view. Andres Cubas in particular was excellent in breaking down San Jose’s attacks. But for the Whitecaps’ attack, they only managed one shot all half, which was a header on target from Javain Brown on a corner more than half an hour into the match.

Many fans were surprised at the lack of pace in the team for the way they wanted to play, with Damir Kreilach once again getting the nod ahead of the likes of Fafa Picault and Levonte Johnson, who are both much faster and direct than the Croat. But in the end, the attack was just too flat and predictable, something that acting Head Coach Michael D’Agostino identified and looked to change at the break.

“In the first half, I felt like we became a little predictable,” admitted D’Agostino on his team’s first half performance. “They were pressing us high and we didn’t always do the things that would allow us to unlock their high press. We went long quite often, very direct, and it became a little bit too predictable.”

Thankfully, the tactical and personnel changes in the second half proved to be effective, and allowed many to forget about the rather dismal display from both teams in the first 45 minutes.

Substitutes Made the Difference

They were the changes that everyone was screaming out for. And to everyone’s joy, we saw Picault and Ali Ahmed appear by the fourth official to get into the match around the 62nd minute. The game, at that point, had largely been in San Jose’s favour, with them having come out of the break with renewed energy and vigour. However, that all changed when these two came on.

Fafa demonstrated the different kind of profile that he brings to the Whitecaps, immediately opening up the defence more by making direct runs and threatening to take his man on in one-on-ones. He started the charge for the Whitecaps to make their impact on the game just over 10 minutes later. It was another substitute in Alessandro Schöpf that struck first for the ‘Caps, pouncing on a poorly cleared ball off a ‘Caps corner and thundering home a half-volley strike that was too powerful for the outstretched Daniel.

“Fafa [Picault] gives us something different,” explained D’Agostino about the Haitian’s impact on Saturday. “He’s a player that can take players on, that can run in behind. He is very, very dynamic, very tricky with the ball, so he’s someone that, so far, has made a big impact when he’s coming on and giving us something different.”

Yet, the cream of the crop was Ali Ahmed, the Canadian youngster who was just coming back from his hernia surgery last month. The 23-year-old midfielder added even more directness and flair to the game when he came on, and epitomised his ability with a wonderfully taken goal at the end of the match. His graceful control of the ball to slip past his marker, his confidence to open up his body and take a shot, and his ability to place it directly into the top right corner says all you need to know about this kid; he is going to be something special for the Whitecaps this season, if he can stay fit.

“I’m really happy for him,” remarked D’Agostino on Ahmed’s performance on Saturday. “Obviously he had a down moment [before] with having the injury in the off season, and now he’s still coming back to full fitness, but I can see a really big season for him. He’s just gotta keep his feet on the ground and make sure that he keeps working everyday.”

And while the game itself was perhaps not the perfect game for the ‘Caps, it did highlight that they have something that they were desperately lacking last season: difference-makers on the bench that can bail them out when needed. And that might be worth more than many will give credit for.

Statement Road Win

It took until late June last year for the Whitecaps to get their first road win of the MLS season, in that thrilling 3-2 victory over LAFC. This time around, however, the Whitecaps have wasted no time to stamp out any concerns about repeating that feat in 2024. In all honesty, it wasn’t the prettiest of victories. But the Whitecaps showed growth in their ability to not only grab a goal when the tide is against them, but to grind it out for all three points.

“I think the mentality is that we can win anywhere now,” said D’Agostino on his team’s mindset after the match. “It’s only two games into the season so we don’t want to get too carried away, but it took us a long time in 2023 to get our first away win, and that’s something that we want to change.

“I think these boys, these men, have become more experienced on how to manage games and especially in difficult conditions away, so I love to see the mentality switch to say ‘hey, we can win any game regardless of the opponent’.”

Considering that in this same matchup on the same matchday last year we saw the Whitecaps surrender a lead to San Jose and end up leaving PayPal Park with nothing, this match has reflected the growth that the team has had mentally ahead of this new season.

Getting this win has certainly allowed them to start off on the right foot so far in 2024, getting four out of a possible six points so far, and they will need that resilient mentality for next week as they go up against a lacklustre FC Dallas in Texas.

Authored by: Felipe Vallejo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.