The Cardiac ‘Caps, the Comeback ‘Caps, call them whatever you want, but this is a Vancouver Whitecaps side that simply will not quit.
Two goals at the death gave the Whitecaps a 2-1 victory over Houston Dynamo at BC Place on Friday night, and although it may be a bit hyperbolic to say with over two months of the regular season left to play, but it was a result that kept Vancouver’s season alive as this felt very much like a must-win game in terms of the MLS West playoff picture.
Being brutally honest, this was, for the most part, a horrible game, but Simon Becher’s 88th minute goal on his MLS debut and Lucas Cavallini’s stoppage time winner gave the ‘Caps an absolutely massive three points after falling behind to Fafa Picault’s 6th minute opener. Pretty or not, they won’t care. Ultimately they got the job done.
With the squad ravaged by covid and injury, the Whitecaps were down to the bare bones for this one, with Vanni Sartini making three changes to the starting line-up from the team that got a hard-fought point in Nashville last weekend and a bench that Vanni said had three players on it basically for “moral support”.
That good road form, that has seen the Whitecaps unbeaten in four now away from BC Place, has been undone by their poor home form where they’d lost their last two games before Houston came-a-calling. A huge reason for that, and their up and down home form in general, has been their slow starts, seemingly always putting themselves in a hole they need to dig themselves out of.
And it was the same story once again as Houston took a 6th minute lead, once again coming about from some horrible Vancouver defending.
The ‘Caps cleared a corner but it fell to Samuel Junqua 20 yards out, who floated the ball back into the box and Picault ran in unmarked to meet it on the six yard line. He got the slightest of touches, but his run caused confusion and the ball bounced past Cody Cropper, into the net, and the visitors had the lead.
— Houston Dynamo FC (@HoustonDynamo) August 6, 2022
A horrible start, but the ‘Caps have got used to chasing the game at home and for the most part, they’ve had success. It’s not the most sustainable gameplan, as recent results have shown, but they’ve been fortunate not to be heading into the half more than one down and been able to grind out some results.
This time they had a whole 84 minutes to turn things around, but for the rest of the first half there were few real goalscoring opportunities to get them back on level terms. They had a few scrambles in the Dynamo box, a Julian Gressel shot that he couldn’t fully connect on, and a late chance when Tosaint Ricketts couldn’t get his outstretched foot on a dangerous Gressel ball across goal, but that was it.
Things needed to change and Sartini lamented at half time that he needed the backline to play higher.
This time there were no actual personnel changes from the ‘Caps at the break, and although they upped the tempo a bit, there were still no signs that an equaliser was imminent, or even coming at all.
The Whitecaps made a couple of changes before the hour mark and then the game really started to pick up.
Thorleifur Úlfarsson came close to doubling Houston’s leading, running in unchecked to get onto a ball, taking a touch inside and firing in a shot that Cropper touched onto the right post and then smothered the rebound.
Vancouver responded with a Gressel effort that Steve Clark saved with his legs, as the action flowed from end to end.
But as quickly as the goal threats appeared, they disappeared again and Houston were seemingly comfortably cruising to three away points.
The Whitecaps’ last roll of the dice was to bring on WFC2 call-up Becher, joining his fellow 2’s call-up Ali Ahmed on the pitch, and the pair linked up to bring the Whitecaps level in the 88th minute.
Gressel cut the ball back to Ahmed, who danced into the box and fired off a shot that hit off a Dynamo defender and came across the goal to Becher, who fired home the equaliser six minutes into his MLS debut.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 6, 2022
It was another incredible late goal for the Whitecaps and it gave the players and a crowd a lift and the belief that there was still time to grab all three points.
And there was.
The ‘Caps took the game to the Dynamo as the game entered into stoppage time, winning a corner on the right.
Ryan Gauld whipped the corner in and although Houston cleared the first phase of danger, Vancouver kept the pressure on and Michael Baldisimo won a crucial header on the edge of the box that knocked the ball to Ranko Vesolinic. The Serbian quickly got the ball out to his left to a wide open Cavallini, who powered into the box and powered the ball under Clark to give the ‘Caps a dramatic victory.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 6, 2022
Those two late goals were the seventh time that the Whitecaps have turned a game around after the 85th minute, taking 13 points from games late on. Stunning stuff.
And much needed. The win moves the Whitecaps back up to 10th in the table, two point back off the playoff line, with ten games left to play. Just ahead of them are the LA Galaxy, their next opponents. Every game is starting to feel like a must-win, but these are also the matches that seem to bring out the best from Vanni and the team. Strap yourselves in, as this run-in feels like another wild one.
FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 2 – 1 Houston Dynamo
Possession: VAN 45.2% – HOU 54.8%
Shots: VAN 13 – HOU 9
Shots on Goal: VAN 4 – HOU 4
Saves: VAN 3 – HOU 2
Fouls: VAN 7 – HOU 11
Offsides: VAN 0 – HOU 2
Corners: VAN 5 – HOU 5
VANCOUVER: Cody Cropper; Javain Brown (Simon Becher 82′), Ranko Veselinovic, Tristan Blackmon (Jake Nerwinski 69′); Julian Gressel, Russell Teibert (Ali Ahmed 69′), Leo Owuso (Michael Baldisimo 57′), Ryan Raposo; Pedro Vite (Lucas Cavallini 57′), Ryan Gauld; Tosaint Ricketts [Subs Not Used: Isaac Boehmer, Janio Bikel, Sebastian Berhalter, Alessandro Schopf]
HOUSTON: Steve Clark; Zarek Valentin (Zeca 83′), Tim Parker, Daniel Steres, Sam Junqua; Darwin Quintero (Griffin Dorsey 72′), Héctor Herrera, Darwin Cerén; Thorleifur Úlfarsson (Ethan Bartlow 83′), Sebastián Ferreira (Adalberto Carrasquilla 72′), Fabrice-Jean Picault [Substitutes not used: Michael Nelson, Memo Rodríguez, Corey Baird, Roberto Avila, Marcelo Palomino]
On the win:
“I think that this win is if we make the playoffs, I think that it should be in the highlights reel. If we make the playoffs this is the win that should go there, because if we are in the playoffs, it’s all because of this win. So it’s a very important game. We go from zero to three points and that allows us to stay on the course of what we said about starting in a new mini-league after the cup. Trying to win at home and sneak one and possibly two good results away. So it allows us to, I don’t want to say relax, but not go into emergency mode against the Galaxy and we’ll try to go there and make a result there in LA.”
On scoring late goals:
“It’s not sustainable for us. I think we need to be better in starting the game and be ourselves from the beginning. To be honest, we started the game well but we conceded that goal. I want to see it again because, you know, it’s kind of a childish to concede a goal like this. Then it’s hard to score, because it’s not easy, it’s a low scoring game. So if you concede easily one goal then it’s hard to come back, and since you push you risk to concede a second goal. In order to go to the playoffs, we need to have games where we are up in front at the end of the first half.”
On scoring his first goal in his MLS debut:
“No, I don’t think it has [sunk in yet]. It was just, kind of getting in the right spot and those are the positions you want to be in and the ball just fell to me and it was just kind of a reaction to be honest.”
On fighting until the end:
“Vanni just stressed that we all have to fight until the end and always bring the energy. I think you saw in the last 20 minutes, that the tide of the game was starting to turn and we started to put more and more pressure. That’s all you can do, is just to continue to go at teams and I think that’s kind of what you saw tonight.”
On the ‘never say die’ spirit from the team:
“The team has a lot of sacrifice, the team is always willing to go the extra mile and we don’t stop fighting until the last minute. I mean, we’ve seen how many games we have won so far this season in the last minute, so it shows a lot of character and great attitude from the players. So we’ve got to keep this up and I mean, here at BC Place, it’s something special because we tend to get these games more at home, but also on the road we’ve been having some fair results as well.”
On scoring a last minute game winner:
“It’s amazing. Words can’t describe it, it’s just all our sacrifice put into the final goal and finding a win like that, it’s just a relief. I think it was well deserved. As I said, there were so many games that we scored in the last minute and it feels amazing. We’ve just got to try to win the games before and not just worry so much until the last minute.”
On tonight’s game:
“It’s difficult to say, but I have to praise our guys. We had a good first half, minimizing Vancouver and having full control. In the second half, we dropped off too much and let Vancouver push us back. We had the best chances of the game in counters and transitions, it was just a lack of attention and lack of resiliency. Overall, I think it was a good response from the guys after the Philadelphia game. We are all gutted because we believe that we deserve much more than what we got today.”
On the first half of the game:
“We had a very good first half, playing through them, even in the second half having most control of the game. They had a few half chances, half crosses from our giveaways or from transition moments. We knew what was going to happen. That’s what is the most disappointing, I think we did enough, coming off these games, to get out with three and we didn’t. I’m sure the guys are disappointed, we are disappointed and the fans are disappointed. We just have to go back to work and work on the things that we need to get better.”
On a difference between each half:
“We started to drop off in the second half and defend lower in the field, I think that gave a little bit more momentum for Vancouver. Even with that, we still had good chances in the second half to close that game out. What we did in the second half was good enough to minimize and limit clear chances for Vancouver. We knew they were going to be very aggressive with the wingbacks, cross a lot of balls and be good in transition. The biggest difference is that we defended lower and that allowed Vancouver to move us back.”
On taking opportunities:
“It’s frustrating because we did enough to win the game. Not to be effective in the final third is frustrating because we created enough to score the second goal. It has to be the story of our season. We were not effective enough and not deadly in the final third. Then half play or an off play and they got a goal and a second, and they gain momentum. You’ll lose the game. It’s frustrating, but we win together, we lose together, and we learn from it.”
On a message to the fans:
“We will not give up on the season, we will work tirelessly to be better every day. It’s frustrating that we are not getting the results that we wanted, but they are loyal, and we are going to turn this around for them.”
On having the roster to compete for the top spots in the conference:
“To compete against the top teams in our conference, no, I don’t think so. We need to be honest and clear, we have a competitive group. A group that can make the playoffs, yes, but to be at the top of the league, we still need to take a few transfer windows to get better. I’m sure Asher (Mendelsohn) and Pat (Onstad) are working on it, but this is a process. The players, coaches, staff, and ownership have to be realistic and transparent. It’s going to take a few transfer windows for us to be where we want to be.”
On playing younger players:
“We assess players on a daily basis and make sure they are ready to contribute. While they are not ready, they will not contribute. The process is in place, we are pushing the young players to be future MLS stars. When we believe they will be ready, they will play.”
On thoughts on tonight’s game against Vancouver:
“We came here with a plan, with how we were going to play. I thought we did that very well first half. We created a lot of opportunities. For most of the second half, I felt the same way and that’s what makes it very disappointing that we didn’t play a complete 90 minutes. In the very end, we let it slip, but the way that we played for the majority of the game is how we need to keep going and the way we need to play.”
On changes in the second half:
“You can end up playing differently when you’re winning versus when you’re tied versus when you’re losing. We weren’t as focused on creating opportunities and attacking in the same way we did in the first half. In the second half, we were more worried about maintaining the lead and keeping it 1-0. At times, we were trying to get that second one, and that was a part of how we let them back into the game.”
On the goal and/or his assist:
“I thought I scored, but I haven’t talked to Fafa (Picault) about it.”
On conversations going into the second half:
“We were pleased with how the first half had gone, we were doing a lot of what we spoke about and what we wanted to do going into the game and we executed. We were saying that we need to keep doing that. We have another 45 minutes to play, we can’t let our foot off the pedal.”
On the team’s emotions:
“Deflated and disappointed, we felt like we deserved more. We felt like we could have done better. However fortunate the bounce may have been for them; we think that it could have been avoidable.”
On playing minutes this game:
“It’s fantastic. I’ve been waiting to play again and always staying ready. It’s very rewarding to be able to play a full 90. The icing on the cake would have been the win, but I’m always happy when I play.”
On factors of not getting minutes:
“I think it’s the coach that decides the team, and the only thing I can do is show what I have and the opportunities I have, and also in training.”
On changes in the club:
“It’s very complicated, it’s my fourth year, and I think we’ve had a hard time shaking it the whole time. Even though there’s been quite a bit of change, it’s not a simple fix, it’s not something I can really pinpoint.”
On positives around the club:
“We pay attention to the standings and where we are on the table because we want to make playoffs. The bigger picture we have to look at is beyond the results and how we are playing and take the positives so we can move it on to the next game. There were a lot of positives from this game, and we want to bring those into the next game, but we want to play more of a complete game and fix those things that are holding us back. We have some good pieces in place, and it’s just a small bit that still needs to be fixed.”