Vancouver Whitecaps’ Disney dreams are over. A penalty shootout loss in their Round of 16 match up with Sporting Kansas City was a disappointing way for the Whitecaps’ MLS is Back tournament to end, but with nothing to separate the teams over the 90 minutes in a 0-0 draw, it was down to spot kicks to decide their fate.
Despite Thomas Hasal keeping out one of KC’s kicks, misses by three Whitecaps saw Sporting move on to the quarter-finals and sent the ‘Caps back to Vancouver to face 14 days quarantine with their heads held high after a tournament to forget in many ways.
It was bare bones for the Whitecaps, who could only field six players on the bench and were without a back-up keeper.
Marc Dos Santos made two changes to the team that started in the win against Chicago, bringing in Cristián Gutiérrez at left back and pushing Ali Adnan into a left midfield role in a 4-4-1-1 formation. Cristian Dájome was the only other change for the ‘Caps, coming in to the right midfield slot.
The gameplan looked like more of the same that had worked against the Fire – play solid early, deal with the expected early KC pressure, then make a late play for the win, with Yordy Reyna and Ryan Raposo off the bench looking to be the key in that regard.
Both teams enjoyed the ball in the opening exchanges but it was KC who looked like the most likely to break the deadlock, forcing a few half chances, but nothing more.
The first real goal threat came in the 18th minute and it came from KC, when Gadi Kinda was allowed a free header from close range, but Thomas Hasal got down well to strongly turn the ball around the post.
Hasal was called into action again moments later when he parried away a fierce shot from Roger Espinoza. KC kept the pressure on and sent the ball back in to the box and an Alan Pulido was allowed a free header on the edge of the six yard box, which he sent wide.
Johnny Russell blasted one over from a good position soon after, as KC turned up the pressure.
But the Whitecaps were holding firm. If the hope was that KC might run themselves out, then that still seemed a bit away, but the chances became fewer as the half wore on.
Vancouver had their best chance of the half with five minutes remaining, when they found themselves with numbers over on a breakaway and Dajome forced Tim Melia to tip his strike over the bar.
The ‘Caps kept the pressure on from the corner and Inbeom Hwang made space to fire in a 30-yarder, which Melia turned over again with a one-handed save.
Theo Bair had a chance next but couldn’t get a strong header on it, as the ‘Caps finally took a bit of pressure off their defence with some forays forward to finish the half.
KC still had time to test Hasal as the half came to a close, with Russell flicking on an effort that came to him, forcing the young keeper into a sprawling stop.
In the last moments of stoppage time, Hasal kept out a KC free kick, and although he couldn’t hold onto the ball, the danger was turned away for a corner by an alert Derek Cornelius.
Sporting couldn’t take advantage of all their chances, however, and the teams headed in scoreless, which would certainly have pleased the ‘Caps camp.
KC started the second half where they left off, with Graham Zusi forcing Hasal into a near post save just three minutes in.
Bair was sprung by a great Hwang ball minutes later, but could only fire off a weak shot at Melia. He came closer though in the 53rd minute when his deflected shot went inches past the left post, as both teams started to find some room.
Russell came close to putting KC ahead just past the hour mark, firing a fierce effort into the side netting.
KC came the closest yet to either side breaking the deadlock in the 66th minute when Pulido did well in the box to make room and get off a shot, which Hasal touched onto his near post.
There was a worrying moment for the Whitecaps when Hasal went down with a head knock, but he was deemed good to continue as the ‘Caps switched things up by bringing on Yordy Reyna.
Both teams were starting to look a little weary, but the effort didn’t drop off that much, although clear chances did.
With penalties looming and the game two minutes into the six minutes of stoppage time added on, the Whitecaps won a free kick 30 yards out, which Adnan drilled low towards goal, causing Melia problems but he recovered to keep the ‘Caps out.
But penalties it was to be and when Dajome crashed the first kick off the inside of the right post, the writing was on the wall for Vancouver. Further misses by Derek Cornelius and Yordy Reyna saw KC run out 3-1 winners, moving on to face Philadelphia Union in Thursday’s quarter-final.
For the Whitecaps, it’s time to head home and be with their families, albeit with the small matter of two weeks quarantine first. What lies ahead this year for them is still up in the air, but the tentative plans appear to have the matches starting again in just four weeks in some form.
When the team can really take much from this tournament is hard to say. It was a false environment in many ways, their numbers were greatly depleted, but there was fighting spirit shown that will unite this group moving forward.
Can they compete with the league’s best at full strength and will that even be possible for them depending on what the plans are for the rest of the season? That’s the two big questions for the team right now. I guess we’ll get some of those answers soon.
For now, they can take some solace in the play of the likes of Hasal and Ranko. Blooding young players like Gutierrez. And nobody got sick. It’s the small things that feel like successes right now.
FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 0 – 0 Sporting Kansas City (KC win 3-1 on penalties)
VANCOUVER: Thomas Hasal; Jake Nerwinski, Ranko Veselinović, Derek Cornelius, Cristián Gutiérrez; Cristian Dájome, Leonard Owusu, Russell Teibert, Ali Adnan; Inbeom Hwang (Yordy Reyna 73); Theo Bair [Subs Not Used: Ryan Raposo, Patrick Metcalfe, Simon Colyn, Michael Baldisimo, Damiano Pecile]
KANSAS CITY: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Graham Smith, Roberto Puncec, Luis Martins; Ilie Sanchez, Johnny Russell (Gerso Fernandes 67), Roger Espinoza, Gadi Kinda, Khiry Shelton (Daniel Salloi 80); Alan Pulido [Subs Not Used: Richard Sanchez (Gianluca Busio 67), Winston Reid, Matt Besler, Amadou Dia, Jaylin Lindsay, Cameron Duke, Felipe Hernandez, Wan Kuzain, Erik Hurtado]
MARC DOS SANTOS
On the match:
“I thought tactically our approach, we covered the ground how we wanted to go about the game. The effort of everyone was fantastic. We tried to put ourselves in a position that in the second half, we could have finished our opportunities. There’s two really close ones. I think a shot that got deflected from Theo that was so close, then a very good free-kick from Ali that was close. Look, my guys are fantastic. The foundations of this group and the foundations of what we could be about is great and I am very excited to see how this group is going to look like when we are going to be able to work with consistency with everyone. Very young team today, incredible professionalism and effort. We did everything we could and then penalty shots, its 50/50. I saw Maradona miss, I saw Platini miss, I saw Ronaldinho miss. You know, it happens. I am very proud of the group. I am very proud of our guys. I am very proud of the staff, not only the technical staff, the medical staff, everybody that came here with the right attitude and every time there’s a setback or a problem, the attitude of the staff, of everyone in the club, of the players was incredible. So we are leaving this tournament stronger that’s for sure.”
On the postgame message to the players:
“I spoke to the staff and to the players letting everybody know that I am proud of everyone. I am proud of how after we conceded seven goals in two games, how we were able without really training to readjust things and not concede a goal in the last 180 or more minutes. Being a team that was very organized and knowing what we wanted to do in the last two games, it was clear and our guys are coming out of this stronger and better. Our group is fantastic, our players that worked so much on the field are a great group of guys and that’s why they were able to push and do well. We got knocked out against a very good Sporting Kansas City team where we played equal and where our guys have to be proud of themselves.”
On the performance of the team during the tournament:
“You know, we just think about the full puzzle. Guys, Bikel, Maxime Crepeau, Bryan Meredith, Erik Godoy, Andy Rose, David Milinkovic, Tos Ricketts, Fredy Montero, Lucas Cavallini, all guys that are out at this moment. So when we look at the full picture, we have to be confident that we are going to make this team grow. Everybody is working hard for that. We lost tonight in penalty shots, we are sad, we are disappointed because we felt that we were close but then you have to put that aside. Look at the big picture, look at what we could look like and keep working. We are in the right direction as a club or culture that is being created by everyone is the right one and we will be a strong club. I am very confident about that.”
On the performance of Thomas Hasal:
“I spoke a lot in the last few days about Thomas and Thomas knows how much I appreciate him and what I think about him. But Thomas needs to stay in the process you know. It’s games like that, that are going to make him grow and become better and remember he is Canadian and he was brought up in our academy, so everybody in our academy, the staff, Raegyn, our technical director, Greg, everybody has to be proud of the work they have done to bring the kid to us. And Youssef continued the job that was done before. Thomas needs to stay focused. Thomas needs to stay away from the blah blah blah of social media and guys that get too excited fast and too low fast. Thomas needs to stay in his bubble and focus, keep working and it is the only way he is going to become better and better, but he showed great signs in the last 180 minutes but I said it yesterday I think, when you look at Thomas, what he showed in pre-season and how he listens and how he works with Bryan and how he works with Max, it is important for his growth. He needs to stay in planet earth and not allow media or people to bring him to planet mars. He needs to stay in planet earth.”
On tonight’s effort:
“I’m so proud of everybody, so proud of the kid next to me playing like he’s been here for years now. That’s just to mention one guy. I’m so proud of the organization as a whole. Everybody in this club who came down here to this tournament knowing that we’re facing adversity and everybody stepped up to the plate, every dynamic possible. This extends to all of the staff. But most importantly, the product that we put out on the field, especially what we showed tonight. You saw a team that played with tremendous heart, tremendous respect for the jersey, respect for the logo and that’s all you can ask for, a team that puts themselves on the line for the club and that’s what you saw tonight. I’m so proud of the guys for what we accomplished here.”
On lessons learned:
“I don’t like the word ‘depleted’ or the phrase ‘depleted squad’ because we didn’t look like a depleted squad tonight and I think everybody can attest to that. The squad that you saw tonight was a team, a full team, a team that played with full heart and a team that stepped up when everybody was needed. ‘Depleted squad’ for me is misused. Obviously we know there are guys that weren’t here but this is a tournament that we can grow from as a young team. This is only going to make us better and I want to reiterate that we’re proud of everyone who came down here.”
On the support the team received:
“This was a collective effort not just from the 11 guys that were out on the field and from the subs that came on. This was from an organization – everybody needed to step up to the plate and do their job and you saw that. You saw that in ways like you mentioned – from the support, from the staff, from the players, from the subs, everybody on the side cheering this team on, wanting it for the club, wanting it for the fans. It’s truly special when you have everybody pulling on the same direction. That’s what we had here. And that’s what makes teams. Teams grow from experience like this, from tournaments like this, from times like this. Especially in defeat, you learn in defeat and that’s exactly what we’ll do here tonight.”
On making big saves for the team and standing up to the pressure:
“Yeah, of course it’s been a big, special first few days, but I think tonight is all about being proud of our team performance, especially feeling now, we’re obviously disappointed to be out of the tournament, but, it’s a feeling of pride for everyone out on the field that gave their all today. These guys in front of me didn’t stop running, especially this guy beside me. Not one player gave up for a single moment in this game and the rest of the team is a part of it as well. Everyone was a part of it, and everyone has given their all these last few days.”
On the penalty shootout:
“I was excited. Shootouts for goalkeepers are definitely a chance to be a hero, penalties are something I enjoy, and I thought I was ready for it. The team gave me some good advice, some good information. Of course we worked so hard to get to the point it felt like this was our moment, this was our time, but unfortunately it wasn’t.”
On hitting his head on the goal camera:
“Yeah, I’m all good. I’m definitely not used to the camera being there so it took me by surprise in the first half, but I’m okay. Thank you.”
On blocking out the buzz and staying focused on his game:
“To be honest, this is the first time I’ve heard about any of this, but these guys do a good job of keeping me out of that and at the end of the day we’re just playing soccer; it’s what I’ve done all my life, it’s what I’ll continue to do.”
SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Thoughts on the match…
Today, along with our game against Real Salt Lake, they were two very good performances. Today we controlled the game. We created so many different chances. Their goalkeeper came up with some good saves. But at the end it was a really good performance. Defensively, I thought we were tremendous. A lot of times, when you play in games like this where you do what we did in regards to the way that we played and you go into penalties, you wind up coming away and losing. I’m proud of the guys for staying focused and concentrated because they deserved to advance. They deserved to win the game. It was a very good performance and good execution at the end.
On the team’s strong defensive play…
I think some of it is confidence. I think some of it is feeling good about the things that we’re doing in training and then executing in the games. As I said, if you look at the way we played against Real Salt Lake, we didn’t give many chances away against a very, very good team. And then today we really didn’t give any chances away. I think the guys are gaining confidence in that world which I think has a lot to do with reading of the game and a lot to do with the work that the guys are doing off the ball and collapsing with more than just one or two guys around the player. We were collapsing with three or four sometimes. We’re not giving teams a lot of space on the ball and that’s really, really good. And then, the other thing is, we’re getting a lot better with second balls, which is something we’ve always struggled with a little bit. We’ve gotten a lot better. This group is actually doing a really good job with it. All those things are helping. Everybody is defending. Everybody is working hard. The other thing, too, is that we’re starting to get a lot more pressure up top because I think that our fitness is definitely increasing.
On the team’s aggressive attack aiding the defence…
We moved the ball well and we created great chances. You’ve got to give their goalkeeper a lot of credit. The young kid did a good job. There are some situations where sometimes you can obviously be a lot more clinical. You can be more concentrated and all of those things. But sometimes when they don’t happen, you also can’t lose yourself and we didn’t do that today. I think one thing you have to take into consideration is that you still have to maintain a high level of concentration when you have the ball a lot like we did in the game, especially defensively. What tends to happen is that you have to keep a compact group to make sure that, all of a sudden, you don’t get picked apart because you’re pressing, pressing, pressing for a goal and you open yourself up at the back. I thought we had good balance in our attack. Their active defending in today’s game was really, really good. It wasn’t an easy game to play.
On the play of Vancouver’s goalkeeper…
We had a lot of good chances and he made some really good saves. When you’re in this area of a tournament, the only thing that you’re trying to do is you’re trying to advance. I think we had the ingredients today to advance. We were good with the ball. We for sure created really good chances. Defensively, we were very tight. And at the end, when it went into penalty kicks, I thought Timmy was tremendous. I thought our guys that went up and took them were confident. We had been working on them, but they were confident. We do pretty well when we get into this area of tournaments.
On if Tim Melia is the best penalty stopper in the league…
I think Tim does a really good job on penalties just in regular games. I’d say he’s one of the best, for sure. He’s definitely one of the best because even during the season, he always seems to find a way to make good decisions. He’s got a really good eye for reading what players are going to do.
On the match-up with Philadelphia in the quarterfinals…
It will definitely be a different game. They have a lot of energy. From front to back, they are very solid. They’re a team that plays on both sides of the ball really, really well. There are not a lot of holes in their group. We expect it to be a really, really tough match for us. It’ll be different. We’re going from 9am ET to 11pm ET to 8pm ET and we’ll see where the next one goes after that if we get through.
On the creative play of the front five…
I think the group has a lot of improvisation in it. You can work on pattern play and different things and give ideas to guys. But at the end, when the other team starts posing different situations, it’s hard to manage that from the sideline during the flow of the game. When you look at players that we have, I could go through a ton of them. You’ve got Johnny Russell, you’ve got Khiry Shelton, you’ve got Daniel Salloi who came on, you’ve got Gerso Fernandes, you’ve got Alan Pulido, you have Gadi Kinda and Gianluca Busio when he came on. Those guys have a lot of improvisation within the game and what you can tell is that they’re all starting to get familiar with each other and starting to understand more and more all the time what attributes each of them bring. They definitely can create stuff out of nothing, which is something that we haven’t had in this team in a long, long time and not at this quality across the board.
On staying focused for the penalty shootout despite most of the play being in Vancouver’s end…
It’s just the life of a goalkeeper, right? It’s one play, one decision that affects the game. Then when you go into a penalty shootout, I think our goalkeeper coach, Alec Dufty, does a phenomenal job preparing me and all the goalkeepers for those situations and we were fortunate to come out on top tonight.
On the role of preparation for shootouts and if he watches other player’s tendencies…
Yeah of course. A penalty shootout is different than penalties within the game. You’re trying to pick up any little cues you can see, directions people are looking, tendencies of the shooter, their run-up, their approach, and kind of put everything all together all at once and hopefully pick the right side. Tonight I thought the guys taking the shots on our team, they were really good penalties and as a goalkeeper you tell yourself just try to save one and the guys are going to put all theirs in and tonight we were lucky to get out of there in four rounds.
On being 5-0 in penalty shootouts throughout his career and if he takes special pride in that part of his game…
I don’t think so. I think it’s just another piece – you try to be the most complete goalkeeper you are and you have to work on all different facets of your game. In all the penalty shootouts that I’ve been in, the shooters – especially on this team – have always done so well and most of them have scored and I’ve had to make a save or two, so a lot of that comes down to the team.
On the performance of Vancouver’s 21-year-old goalkeeper Thomas Hasal…
He was the difference-maker all game. I think that we controlled a lot of that game, we could’ve maybe had a little better execution in front of goal but he changed the entire game, he kept that team in. He’s a very young goalkeeper and he had a great performance. The future’s bright for all of Vancouver’s goalkeepers, I think they’re all very talented and they have a very good future ahead of them.
On what he was thinking and feeling as he scored the winning penalty…
Obviously we’re all happy that we won. I was the fourth man to take it so there’s always a chance that I was going to step up and have to win it. So I kind of walked in with the mindset that this is going in, it did, and I’m happy that I could provide the PK to win the game.
On the approach toward his penalty…
I think I was just focused on myself. I knew that if I put it where I wanted to, there’s no way he could save it and it turned out well for me. He was close to it but I try not to focus on the goalie that much and I knew if I put it where I wanted it, it was going in.
On dealing with the pressure of coming off the bench and needing to take a penalty…
I think it’s up to the player really and I’m going into the game with the mindset that I have to help the team win. In these games we know that if the game’s tied at the end, it’s going to go into penalties, so it’s always in the back of your head. In the game, I try not to think about that, I want to go out and win in regular time, but once that whistle (blows) at the end of the game, it was in my mind that I’m going up, I’m taking this penalty and I’m making it. I try not to think about it until the end and I’m just happy that I could put it in.
On if the team got frustrated after taking so many shots and not being able to find the breakthrough…
It’s always frustrating when you have a lot of chances and you can’t put them in. I think the guys we have on the team know just to keep on pushing and we kept on creating chances. Maybe on another day, two of those or three of those are going in the goal so I think it’s good that even though we’re not scoring, we’re still creating them. It shows that we’re still going to try, no matter what. Obviously the goalie had a good game and we could’ve been better in the final third but if you keep on trying, one of those is going to come off and hopefully in these next couple of games, they will. It’s like you say, it’s keep on trying, they’re going to go in eventually.