Rapids vs Whitecaps Match Analysis: Red card sinks ‘Caps in Colorado

Rapids vs Whitecaps Match Analysis: Red card sinks ‘Caps in Colorado

It was looking good, until it wasn’t.

That was the gist of the match on Wednesday evening, as the Vancouver Whitecaps fell to a 1-0 loss to Colorado Rapids in Commerce City thanks to a handball penalty and a red card. Bjorn Inge Utvik went from hero to unfortunate zero as the Whitecaps went back-to-back road games with zero points and three straight league matches without a goal.

Levonte Johnson impressive in first MLS start

Before the madness that was the end of the first half, there were positive signs from the Whitecaps. After Colorado dominated the early proceedings, the Whitecaps started to heat up with their dangerous attacks in transition. The man that was at the heart of those threatening attacks was Levonte Johnson, who was making his first MLS start of the season.

After an impressive brace against Cavalry FC in the Canadian Championship midweek last week, the 25-year-old Canadian was called to the starting lineup against Colorado. With some heavy rotation after that disastrous 3-0 loss to LAFC this past weekend, as well as one eye on the Cascadia Cup derby this Saturday, it was likely expected for Johnson to start the match.

What was then unexpected was how lively Johnson looked in that first half. He was taking on Keegan Rosenberry one-on-one on multiple occasions, and looked confident to bypass him. The left-winger was often the outlet for the midfield to switch the play, and he drove towards the goal to create chances, including one shot that was deflected wide but looked destined to trouble Zack Steffen, and another that saw Steffen deny a chipped effort from close range.

“I think he did that we expected,” commented Whitecaps Head Coach Vanni Sartini on Johnson’s performance. “We wanted him to be a handful when we were winning the ball, and going one-v-one. He had two chances to score, he was always a threat on the left side and I think he was very, very good.”

With a Whitecaps attack that has been puttering the last few games, fringe players like Levonte Johnson will need to take advantage of these opportunities to not only put in some solid performances – like today – but get some goals on the board so as to kick some of the other attacking players in gear.

Red card harsh, but ultimately right decision

The half-time break allowed many disgruntled fans to voice their displeasure online as they reacted to Bjorn Inge Utvik’s unfortunate red card. The Norwegian center-half looked to have made a spectacular goal-saving slide in the box to deny Djordje Mihailovic a certain goal. He was congratulated as the hero in the aftermath, but as time wore on with the referee’s delay, he soon found himself to be an unfortunate villain.

The video review showed that Utvik had – unintentionally – handled the ball when he slid to block that shot. His arm did seem to be in a natural position, but due to its block of a certain goal (with Takaoka nowhere near it), the obvious call was to give a penalty.

And while the penalty decision was seemingly accepted by both players, staff, and fans alike, what shocked all three was the referee Alexis Da Silva’s decision to send Utvik off with a straight red. Given the obvious innocence of Utvik with his intentions, which were never to handle the ball in the box to deny that goal, it then felt harsh to give Utvik a red, especially with the recent understanding of avoiding “Double Jeopardy”.

“I gotta be completely honest with you, I had in mind that the rule was that the Double [Jeopardy] was no longer part of the rules,” admitted Sartini after the match. “I thought Bjorn [Inge Utvik] could have taken a yellow card, but I don’t know. I don’t want to say something wrong or, of course, biased.”

While many would agree with him, checking in with the letter of the law, it seems that handballs in the box to deny clear goal scoring opportunities are a special exception to the Double Jeopardy law. According to the IFAB rules, “denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by a handball offense” is deemed a straight red card offense.

It seems harsh even in the rules, but if we are to follow the letter of the law, it was the correct one. Now Sartini and co. will need to figure out their game plan for the match against Seattle with one less defender to be able to rely on.

Second half mentality shows ‘Caps aren’t down and out

After going down to 10-men, most managers would transition to a compact, low-block in a 4-4-1 formation and try to hit on the counter. But, as many reading will know, Vanni Sartini isn’t most managers. Sartini chose to keep his original structure in a 3-4-2 formation at the start of the second half, with the only change being on the field with Johnson now occupying the wing-back role and Javain Brown dropping back down into the back three.

It was a bold move, which caused some moments of panic throughout the game, but it kept the Whitecaps in the match. A few times Colorado looked poised to double their advantage, but a last-ditch block or tackle from the defence, or an outstretched save from Yohei Takaoka, kept the Whitecaps within touching distance.

And while the Whitecaps struggled to create many chances – with the only notable one being a Brian White chipped effort that caught Steffen off his line but looped over the goal instead – their determination to not sit back and soak up pressure demonstrated their dedication to fight back. It’s not easy to try to stay organized and yet still fight like you’re on level ground when down a man, but the Whitecaps were able to do so for over 45 minutes.

“I’m very proud of the effort and the commitment [of the team],” explained Sartini to the media after the match. “I’m proud of the quality of defending in the second half, because they didn’t have any easy chances. Of course they had more of the ball, as is normal in 11 vs 10, but that was what the idea was: to stay in the game until the end, and to try to score the tying goal.”

“Unfortunately, we didn’t score but again, we stayed in the game until the end, and that was a very good indication, including the first 45, of what we can do to Seattle next week.”

Boasting back-to-back defeats can be an obvious worry for many fans, especially considering it’s been 345 minutes since they last scored an MLS goal. They will just have to hope that these performances can soon turn into results so that the Whitecaps can stay close to the top of the pack and build on their impressive start that has only just begun to sour.

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.