“Iron Sharpens Iron”: FC Dallas vs Vancouver Whitecaps match analysis

“Iron Sharpens Iron”: FC Dallas vs Vancouver Whitecaps match analysis

(Photo Credit: @WhitecapsFC/X.com)

Make that two back-to-back road wins in 2024.

On Saturday night, Vancouver Whitecaps managed to make it two straight wins to continue their undefeated start to the season, defeating FC Dallas 3-1 in Frisco, banishing any past demons relating to slow starts. A fast and furious first half was enough for the Whitecaps to seal the three points, bringing them up to second in the Western Conference after three games.

It’s No Fluke, The Whitecaps Are Red Hot

The victory against San Jose got the monkey off the Whitecaps’ back by getting that elusive road win at the first time of asking. Yet, while the victory is important both in the table and in the locker room, one victory is not enough to convince your fanbase that this start is different from previous years. Two back-to-back road wins? Now you give them something to believe in.

“I’ll be honest, I’m really proud of the guys,” confessed acting head coach Michael D’Agostino on his team’s performance. “A fantastic first half, and a difficult start to the second half but we weathered the storm. They came out flying at us in the second half early, and we did well to stop them from getting too many chances. They had a couple chances, but at the end of the day, it was difficult but I’m really, really proud of just the effort in general.”

That first half performance was one for the ages for the Whitecaps, as they continue to impress in front of goal this season. Across the last three matches, the Whitecaps have outperformed their xG in each game. In this match against Dallas, they doubled their xG by scoring three from a 1.5 xG according to MLSSoccer.com. A stark improvement from their start to last season, where Brian White was dubbed the “xG striker” for having the highest xG in the league without scoring many goals. But for D’Agostino, the change in killer instinct comes from confidence rather than a change in tactics.

“I don’t think we’ve changed that much, to be honest,” admitted D’Agostino on his team’s newfound clinical nature. “We work on our finishing, we work on our set-pieces, we work on everything, really quite consistently in almost the same way as we did last season. Sometimes it’s about confidence, and I think today it’s just about continuing to do the things that you do every week”.

Regardless of how it is that the goals are coming in, the important part is that they are and that they are generating crucial early points on the board. Add to that a strong defensive display in the second half that stood fast in the face of a Dallas onslaught and you have the basis of a team that could go very far at the start of the season, if both those sides can keep it up.

Danger In Depth Proves Itself Once More

In our season preview on how the Whitecaps could avoid a slow start, it was highlighted that the depth in the attack would be crucial to ensuring the Whitecaps could start as strong as possible. Last night’s match proved how crucial it truly is after new-addition Fafa Picault made his first start for the ‘Caps, earning himself a goal and an assist on the night.

In the last few games, the attack has seemed a little flat with Damir Kreilach alongside the dynamic duo of Brian White and Ryan Gauld. Kreilach did well in the two-legged tie against Tigres in the Concacaf Champions Cup, but his lack of pace and similarity in movement to Brian White left a little to be desired against Charlotte and San Jose. Last year, if one of White or Gauld were having a slow period (like at the start of the 2023 MLS season), the ‘Caps would have little to look at on the bench to turn things around. This year, the ‘Caps swap out Kreilach for Picault and it breathes fresh air into the attack.

“Fafa [Picault] is an exciting player,” remarked D’Agostino in the post-match presser. “He’s a guy that can go at all guys one on one. I felt that their full back was, I don’t want to say scared of him but, at the end of the day, he was giving them some space and Fafa was able to cut inside and make some crosses. And then when he came a little bit tighter to him, he was able to go down the line and create space for Schöpfy to make a run between the full back and center-back.”

As D’Agostino mentioned, the Haitian veteran brought a level of dynamism, trickery and directness that was lacking in the ‘Caps. His assist for Brian White was Picault epitomized, dancing past his marker with some stepovers before curling a perfect cross for White to nod in. His goal was another classic showing, albeit in unique circumstances. Picault, whilst being nowhere near the tallest man on the pitch, demonstrated his powerful determination by fighting to get on the end of that Ryan Raposo cross and smashing his downward effort into the side netting.

“I knew that Ryan was going to cross it, and I didn’t really see the ball leave his feet too well, but I knew it did leave and I kind of put myself in a spot where I hoped the ball would end up,” explained Picault to the media on his goal. “At that point, I just tried to meet the ball at its highest point to get over the defender and thankfully, I got enough on it to go past the ‘keeper.”

While the performance highlights Picault’s own personal ability to pull out stellar performances at his age, it really demonstrates the danger that the Whitecaps have been able to bring in not only on the pitch, but off the bench.

“I think it’s important both on and off the field that we get along, which is not always necessarily the case, but in ours it’s helped us,” said Picault about the forward line’s connection. “We play for each other, we have great communication and a positive vibe between the group, so that’s very important when trying to create things and get to gelling and building chemistry. At the moment, I think as a front group we’re all on the same page, but this is only a few games in so we’re not trying to get ahead of ourselves, but we’re also optimistic about what we can do if we continue to gel even more.”

Different profiles in different positions that allow each approach to a game be unique and tailor-made to the situation. While it may not seem like much at first glance, it may be the depth between the likes of Kreilach, Picault, Gauld, and White that could elevate the ‘Caps to a new level this season.

Mentality Shift Makes Monsters of Men

It wasn’t too long ago that defending a two-goal lead was still a vulnerable situation for the Whitecaps, especially on the road. But this year, it feels like the ‘Caps are more than ready to grind out results when faced by volatile environments and desperate teams. And that comes down to something beyond what happens on the training pitch, and beyond what’s written on the tactics board; it comes down to the team’s mentality, and that’s something that takes time to cultivate. Thankfully, it looks like it’s in the right place this year, which is something that has made many players like Ryan Raposo excited for what’s to come.

“The mentality is a lot different,” explained Raposo to the media after the match. “I was just speaking with someone from the medical staff, and they’re saying ‘wow, what a difference it’s been since you first came in 2020’. Back then, you know, it would have been crazy in the locker room. Now, guys are happy and the music is going but it’s not like we just won the MLS Cup.”

“Personally I love that mentality and it shows that that is the standard almost, that we go on the road to win matches, and at home we try to win matches so I love that mentality from the guys and I think with the additions we’ve brought in, the maturity they have, it’s helped us in these type of of moments and to hold off in the second half and just grind that second half out.”

In the start of any season, it is vital to set a precedent, and the Whitecaps have been able to do exactly that in 2024. Road wins should be something that is celebrated, but not taken for granted. Home fields must be turned into fortresses. Every player must feel like they can take on anyone and win. These are the pillars of a championship winning team. And while it might be too early to call the Whitecaps a potential championship-winning team, if the foundations are there then it could be a title they may take on as the season progresses.

“I was just thinking of the saying, ‘Iron Sharpens Iron’,” stated Raposo on his team’s mentality and strength in depth in 2024. “We have a really, really deep team. This was Fafa’s [Picault] first start in the league and he comes in and gets a goal and assist. That just shows the depth we have in this team and it’s a really good thing.

“The mentality is even good from the guys that aren’t chosen, they’re still cheering on the guys so it’s all positive, we’re all working in the same direction, and that’s what a championship team does”.

Next week is back at home against Real Salt Lake, and it provides another opportunity to extend their strong start of the season in front of their own fans. They are the only Canadian team now in the MLS to remain undefeated, after TFC and CF Montreal both fell in Matchday Four, but that likely will not last forever. Eventually they will lose a game, but it will be the reaction from that result in the next match that shall show how far they’ve come in their mentality.

And if the first three games are any show for it, you can bet that they will only come back stronger.

Authored by: Felipe Vallejo

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