The stage was set for a dramatic finish. Well into added time, the Whitecaps were down 2-1 in their home opener, fans desperate for an equalizer. One final push led to a cross hit to the back post, where Erik Hurtado rose to the occasion, lacing the ball into the net with an exquisite volley. The crowd erupted as the score was now…3-1? Well, that’s a bummer.
Sadly, Hurtado scored just his 4th-ever MLS goal at BC Place as a member of the opposition, and the noise the fans let loose was a hearty amount of boos and grumbles rather than cheers. Someone should probably tell the ‘Caps that the 2020 season is underway, because last weekend’s match against SKC felt all-too often like 2019’s greatest hits.
The good news is that help is on the way! Maybe! Janio Bikel and Leonard Owusu are both in full training, and it seems like all hope of turning this ship around rests on their shoulders. Okay, that might be a bit dramatic, but it was painful to watch the ‘Caps get completely overrun in the middle of the park, looking like absolutely nothing had changed from last fall.
Inbeom Hwang and Russell Teibert did not turn in their finest performances on the weekend. It seemed like SKC played the ball around them at will, while on the flip side there seemed to be absolutely no space to operate once the ‘Caps had the ball. This led to a lot of Derek Cornelius and Jasser Khmiri long balls to overmatched forwards and fullbacks, which led to not a lot in the way of sustained possession.
Perhaps the saddest part was that the ‘Caps looked reasonably dangerous once one of their forwards actually got the ball at their feet in the attacking third. David Milinković set up the team’s lone goal with a skillful move along the endline, while Yordy Reyna – particularly in the first half – had a small handful of electric runs through the middle.
The problem was getting the ball to the forwards in a controlled manner, which was difficult because as mentioned, the midfield was a black hole the likes of which we hadn’t seen since the last time the ‘Caps played a regular season game. Where was the improved play that we saw the week before against Minnesota? Where was any semblance of pressing? Did every other team level up at the conclusion of preseason? The dip in every facet was a little frightening.
Something else that is somewhat frightening is the fact that the ‘Caps might roll with the same line-up again this weekend. Érik Godoy is still recovering from his injury, Ranko Veselinović still isn’t on the continent, Owusu missed all of preseason and Bikel only landed last weekend. There’s a good chance that none of them are ready to play on Saturday, which doesn’t leave much in the way of line-up flexibility.
Looking for any potential changes is tough.
Neither Fredy Montero or Tosaint Ricketts stood out in their substitute appearances, and it might be telling that Dos Santos didn’t use his third sub on someone like Theo Bair. Sacrificing one of the four forwards to add in a third midfielder against the Galaxy would make sense, but in this situation that midfielder would probably be Andy Rose, which isn’t very inspiring (we’ve seen enough of the Inbeom-Teibert-Rose trio).
Defensively, there’s not a ton of coverage until Godoy and Veselinović are ready, with the only legit bench option (Cristián Gutiérrez) occupying the same position as the defender least likely to be taken out of the starting lineup (Ali Adnan). The backline wasn’t the weakest part of the team against SKC, but they didn’t guarantee themselves spots in the starting line-up moving forwards.
Taking a quick look at the opposition, the Galaxy are coming off a 1-1 draw in Houston on opening day. They’ve continued their club philosophy of loading up on attacking heavy hitters, bringing back Cristian Pavón (who scored against the Dynamo) and replacing Zlatan with Chicharito (who wasn’t awe-inspiring last weekend but will surely find his footing soon).
The good news for the ‘Caps is that the Galaxy conceded 59 goals last season, tied for third-worst in the West, and they didn’t keep a clean sheet in preseason. The bad news is that they racked up 11 home wins last season, tied for fourth-most in the league. The ‘Caps had a road record of 3-9-5 in 2019, which isn’t great but – perhaps surprisingly – was better than any other Western non-playoff team (and better than Dallas, who made the playoffs).
A lot of what I’ve written might sound like I’m hitting the panic button already, but that’s not the case. It is frustrating, however, just how much of last weekend seemed like a step backwards, and how we don’t know when multiple key players will be ready to play.
The cavalry’s coming, it’s just unclear when they’ll get here, and how good they’ll actually be. We’ve got to hope the answers are “soon” and “very”, otherwise there might be multiple games like last weekend’s coming in the near future. Let’s see if Saturday brings us something to build on.