(Photo Credit: @WhitecapsFC/Twitter)
Going into Saturday afternoon’s Matchday 3 fixture, Vancouver Whitecaps and Houston Dynamo were in similar boats. Both sides had only one point from their opening two games, they were both looking for their first goals, and their respective coaches were still trying to assess the best way to set up their sides to get their first win.
For the third consecutive match, Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini went with a different formation. First it was the 3-1-4-2, which didn’t work out at either end of the pitch. Then it was the 3-4-1-2 that saw the side tighten things up at the back, but still lack the ability to capitalize on the few chances they created going forward. This afternoon it was the 3-4-2-1. These may seem like minor changes, but the Italian gaffer has been tinkering to try and unlock his squad’s creativity going forward without sacrificing their defensive solidity.
The only change to the lineup came as a result of this formation alteration with Ecuadorian Pedro Vite replacing fellow South American Déiber Caicedo. This meant Lucas Cavallini was the lone striker, while Vite shared creative playmaking duties with Ryan Gauld. It also meant that they would kickoff with their wingbacks once again inverted. Left footed Cristián Gutiérrez began on the right while right footed Cristian Dájome was on the left flank.
Houston’s Paulo Nagamura made one more change to his starting XI compared to his counterpart. Both switches were to the Dynamo’s midfield three in their 4-3-3 setup. It was Memo Rodríquez and Darwin Cerén making way for Darwin Quintero and Adalberto Carrasquilla. Quintero, the 34-year-old Colombian, known for his attacking creativity and brilliant finishing abilities, had only made a pair of substitute appearances for a total of 44 minutes. It would turn out to be an inspired decision by Nagamura to play “Darwin Jr.” from the start.
It was the diminutive attacking midfielder who would carve out the first attempt on goal in the game. In the second minute, using his freedom to roam, Quintero popped up on the left side just outside of the box to collect an overhit cross from Griffin Dorsey. He then shaped up to put in a cross-come-shot that Thomas Hasal could only palm over the crossbar. This was a warning sign of things to come.
The first definitive moment for Vancouver came in the 11th minute when Sartini did what has become a regular part of his tactical plan or adaptations within a match – swapping his inverted wingbacks on to their more natural sides. This played a significant role in the Whitecaps taking the lead only three minutes later.
Dájome took a throw in on the right just inside the Dynamo half and played the ball to Ryan Gauld. The Scotsman played back-to-back passes with Russell Teibert near the touchline before laying on a through ball for the overlapping Dájome. The ‘Caps Colombian bent in a quick cross with the inside of his right foot that was met at the near post by an onrushing Cavallini. The Canadian international had made a quality run to the top of the six-yard box, in-between two of the orange shirted defenders. His side-footed shot with his favoured left foot found the back of the net with a kiss off the inside of the post he was sprinting toward.
The jubilation for the Designated Player was evident for all to see has he celebrated by headbutting the ball he had just scored with before rushing to his teammates and coaches. It was a well taken first goal of the campaign for Cavallini and the ‘Caps squad.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) March 13, 2022
The next incident of note was an awkward one. A 24th minute substitution of Vite due to experiencing dizziness from a blow to the head. The attacking midfielder didn’t want to come off, but the medical officials in the stadium deemed he must due to Concussion Protocols and Vancouver used the Concussion Substitute Initiative. This meant the ‘Caps didn’t lose one of their five available subs and Houston gained the ability to make an extra sub. Vite was replaced by Javain Brown. The Jamaican defender took up Dájome’s role at right wingback, who in turn moved further forward in attack next to Gauld.
The teams traded half chances and speculative efforts before the match took another twist. Cavallini gave away a cheap free kick 10 yards into his own half. Houston took it quickly and played it to the left side to Carrasquilla who, after a one-two with Fafa Picault, lobbed over a diagonal ball to Corey Baird. With his first touch he played an easy ball past a sprawling Hasal where Quintero was waiting to tape home into an empty net. The cross from Carrasquilla froze the Whitecaps backline who were appealing for offside, but to no avail as the Dynamo were onside and the match was all tied up.
— Houston Dynamo FC (@HoustonDynamo) March 13, 2022
Cavallini had a chance from a second phase of a corner blocked before Quintero was thwarted from giving his side the lead in the 39th minute. Hasal did very well to get his right hand up as he dove to his left to stop the left footed shot from Quintero. The young ‘Keepers’ heroics would see his side head into the locker room level.
The sides returned unchanged after the interval, but both coaches would have fancied their chances to take all three points after a first half that saw both sides produce spells of positive football.
It was the hosts who would take the lead. Lucas Cavallini laid off a pass, inside the Houston side of the centre circle, for Gauld that was behind him and the Dynamo intercepted. Their quick counter attack seemed to be closed down as Ranko Veselinović challenged Sebastián Ferreira. However, the Paraguayan Designated Player was able to pull the ball back to Quintero. The dangerman’s run was totally unmarked and he smashed home his first-time strike with aplomb from a few yards outside the box.
— Houston Dynamo FC (@HoustonDynamo) March 13, 2022
Vancouver would go on to struggle to break the hosts down and level the score.
Their best chances were a Brown header from a Gauld free kick in the 66th, a flurry of chances around the 72nd minute that saw Steve Clark get his finger tips on a Tristan Blackmon header and Dorsey block Cavallini’s back post header, and finally in the 86th minute Gauld volleyed over after a broken corner kick.
In the end both sides got their first goal of the season, but only the home team took points. It is a bitter loss for the ‘Caps who felt this was possibly the most winnable match in this early phase of a long season. They are alone in the boat now at the bottom of the Western Conference.
All their attention now is focused on next Sunday’s 7pm kickoff in California versus LAFC and an interesting rendezvous with former colleagues Doniel Henry, Marc Dos Santos, and Maxime Crepeau.
FINAL SCORE: Houston Dynamo 2 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps
Possession: HOU 59% – VAN 41%
Shots: HOU 16 – VAN 17
Shots on Goal: HOU 4 – VAN 2
Saves: HOU 0 – VAN 2
Fouls: HOU 12 – VAN 9
Offsides: HOU 1 – VAN 2
Corners: HOU 9 – VAN 10
HOUSTON: Steve Clark; Griffin Dorsey, Tim Parker, Daniel Steres, Adam Lundkvist; Darwin Quintero (Memo Rodríguez 75), Matías Vera, Adalberto Carrasquilla (Darwin Cerén 78); Fafa Picault (Teenage Hadebe 90+2), Sebastián Ferreira (Thorleifur Úlfarsson 75), Corey Baird [Substitutes not used: Michael Nelson, Zarek Valentin, Tyler Pasher, Sam Junqua, Zeca]
VANCOUVER: Thomas Hasal; Tristan Blackmon, Ranko Veselinović (Ryan Raposo 84), Florian Jungwirth (Marcus Godinho 66); Cristián Gutiérrez, Russell Teibert (Tosaint Ricketts 90+5), Leonard Owusu (Déiber Caicedo 66), Cristian Dájome; Ryan Gauld, Pedro Vite (Javain Brown 24); Lucas Cavallini [Substitutes not used: Isaac Boehmer, Sebastian Berhalter, Javain Brown, Jake Nerwinski, Michael Baldisimo]
On the match:
“A little sad, to be honest. We lost and I think we didn’t deserve to lose, especially in the second half, we were the much better team. First half was very open. I think it was very good when we had the ball, our pressure wasn’t good. The second half we were very good. We had the chance to tie, we pushed, we pushed. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to score and I see a lot of positives. I’ve seen a lot of positives in the performance.”
On Pedro Vite:
“So Pedro basically took a little knock in the head, he felt dizzy for like a minute so he told us ‘I’m feeling dizzy’. Then after two minutes he was okay. So we wanted to keep him on the field but the medical officer of the stadium reviewed the play on video and told us that we needed to take him off. It was a mandatory sub so I didn’t want to stop him because of course he was playing very well. I think he was being one of the best players in the field. But of course, it’s okay. I think it was an overly cautious call by the doctor, but I’m 100 per cent with the doctor because we don’t want anything to happen to our players. So it is what it is.”
On Lucas Cavallini’s match:
“You know playing and being fit, of course helps and we tried also to make the setup that was I would say, helping these characteristics or not doing like kind of a high pressing, but starting with a little lower line in order for him to not consume all the energy when we don’t have the ball. Being able to be our point of reference in the box, I think he did well, in some parts of the game. In some other parts of the game, he drifted too much right and left and we didn’t have him in the box, but, you know, it’s one when a striker scores and wins the duel, and he also had another couple of headers in the box that I think his performance was positive for sure.”
On the match:
“Like you said, tough result. Coming in here we had a good chance of getting three points and putting our momentum going into next week. I think we had better chances this week than we did last week. That’s about capitalizing, more in our offensive end then being solidified again in that defensive end, so, tough match. Looking forward to next week.”
On the two goals against:
“I think the first one was on our right side and got clipped over the left side of our defense. I guess we thought it was offside, and they played a good ball back into the middle where Quintero was waiting. Then the second one, I think Ranko won the tackle and it trickled out to Quintero again, he took it well, he showed the class he has as a player. Simple things that we can work on in training, try to emulate and get better at and hopefully as we go on through the season we can minimize those circumstances.”
On his goal:
“It felt good, it felt good. But you know, collectively, I just wanted as a team to win the game. Finally put it in the net but it didn’t mean a lot because we ended up losing, but I think we deserved to win this game today.”
On his fitness:
“Physically, I’m feeling good. So you know, I can make extra runs and create extra chances and set up extra plays. So I mean, it’s how I feel comfortable, and I mean, Vanni tells me to get in those pockets a lot, that’s what I’ve been doing better at it. So it’s been working. We’ve been generating a lot of chances off that. We just need to be more clinical, again, a lot of chances today, but there’s only one goal and I think we deserved to put more in the net, but Houston defended well, a lot of chances, creating a few off the line. Yeah, I mean, unlucky today.”
On tonight’s game:
“Yeah, awesome. Awesome feeling, but I think we have to praise the group of players that stepped on the field and were very disciplined, showed a lot of character never, never put their head down when we conceded the first goal. Very pleased with the performance, very happy for the win and now let’s hope we keep building from this. I think they played very well. I think they were very disciplined to how we wanted to approach this game. We need to get a little bit patient with our possession to break them and find the guys out wide. So, they tried that, they kept doing that and we created a lot of chances. I think the work that we did throughout this week really paid off in the game and again praise the players for their performance. I think they were very, very good.”
On Darwin Quintero’s performance:
“Absolutely. I think (Darwin Quintero) was awesome. I think with the game plan that we had and the strategies going into this game I think he did really well, for Darwin’s game, it paid off on the field. I think Darwin had a very good 70 minutes, started getting tired there at the end, so he needed to come off. That’s what is great for our group that we have players that understand that sometimes they are going to come off the bench, sometimes they are going to start and they are really responding well to that and Darwin gave everything that he had today from the start and as everyone saw, he had a big influence in the score tonight.”
On Darwin Quintero having a free role on the pitch:
“Again, every game there is a different strategy, a different game plan and I’m going to say it again, it was his play and the way that we need to approach the game today, I think it fit him really, really well and again, I was pleased with his performance.”
On giving up the goal early and if he has had a chance to see how it was conceded:
“Yeah, I haven’t seen the video yet, but I need to see the position of our backline. We have to look back (at the video) and fix that with our players. I think we had one play there in the first half result in their goal other than that, I think we were in control (even when we were) behind and pushed the game and created chances. So, I would like to come out of this game. I’m happy with the performance and everything that we worked on throughout this week to create more opportunities, to be more dangerous up front, to be more dangerous on the offensive third and I think we did that today.”
On the team’s mentality this year compared to last year:
“The coaching staff was really, really proud after the final whistle was blown. This team showed a lot of character. We bent but we never broke. We conceded first. We never changed the way that we wanted to approach the game. The guys believed in the game plan, the strategy for the game. We made it very, very clear how we could break Vancouver and I think they were very disciplined with that, and I think it paid off in the game. I think (Houston) created a lot of chances to score even more goals tonight. But again, the guys showed a lot of character and a lot of great mentality throughout the game even in the final 10 minutes when we were under pressure and we were trying to just keep the 2-1 score.”
On Adalberto Carrasquilla’s performance:
“Coco (Carrasquilla) had a very good game. Very good game Coco and we talked early this week and how we need to keep increasing his fitness levels and I think he showed well when he came on against Sporting (Kansas City) and today another fantastic performance from him. We just got to keep improving so he can help us for 90 minutes, but again very influential in the middle, keeping possession and moving the ball around and spreading the game and that’s what we wanted from him. So, very happy for his performance as well.”
On the win:
“I think it is very important – even better to get it at home. But definitely we are happy and our fans are happy. The locker room is happy and we want to keep that going.”
On the team’s performance:
“I think it was good on both sides of the ball. We had some other chances to score and have a higher scoring game. But overall, we defended and had some key saves defensively and everybody did their part and that is what got us to win tonight.”
On his conversations with Darwin Quintero:
“I think with every player you play, when you play with center midfielders. Your movement is going to be different and obviously certain through balls I don’t get from other players, but I get from (Darwin Quintero) because of the way he plays. When you are playing with him, you have to have confidence that the ball is going to come in the right spot. I think we connected a few today, but I think throughout the year it will get better and better. It was a great start and good that we talked – we talked all week about it and we just have to keep going with that.”
On how Darwin Quintero helps him on pitch:
“For me it’s good because it allows me to make the run and expect where the ball is going to land. And it freezes me up to get isolation with wingbacks. Obviously, Vancouver plays with a different style and formation than us — different teams. But him being in that spot, eliminates the double or triple pressure that I get and I’m able to take my man on and do what I do best.”
On Darwin Quintero’s second goal:
“It was the best, the timing was perfect and it kind of came out of nowhere. Seba (Ferreira) ran across the goal line, it kind of deflected and Darwin (Quintero) was there to pick it up and just slap it into the goal. Very emotional moment and we just want to keep that going.”
On the potential of the team:
“Definitely. I think we have known that for a while. In some of the games even if we go back to last year, didn’t go the way we wanted them to go. But if you look at last year, it was just one or two mistakes that took away from us winning games. This year our mentality is to go at teams – maybe the first two games weren’t the direct resemblance of what we wanted to do, but now we came into this game saying that that’s what we wanted to do, and we have to continue keeping that going. We don’t want to go too high, but we don’t want to go low. We will strive to get better.”
On securing a win for Paulo Nagamura and his relationship with team:
“I think it is important – we have only been together for two months with the new staff, but it’s important to give our coach his first win. But more importantly, we want to build off of that. It’s early in the season, it is not the moment for us to go crazy and jump around. But we are very happy and happy for the coach and staff. We want to continue going in the direction that they are putting us in. Our whole thing now is to continue to work and stay positive and go in the coaches direction.”
On if he felt that the victory was ever in doubt:
“As a group we were mentioning if we ever go down, we need to come back. When we were down 1-0, we fought and find the goal to equalize and find the winning goal. We had some other opportunities to score but we just kept fighting and believing in ourselves that we’d win.”
On closing out games:
“It was very important for us to win today in front of our crowd. We didn’t want to linger, people don’t have patience and we wanted to win and now we have our first win which is huge for us. And we have the confidence of the group and the locker room, now we want to take this win and build off it. We know it’s a marathon and not a sprint, and we just want to build off of it and keep going from here.”
On what the victory means to him:
“We had the mentality that it was important to get the three points today, that it was important for the morale of the team, for what we are trying to build, to get that first victory. We had played two good games, we just couldn’t earn the full three points or score till today, so I think this is very important for the group’s confidence.”
On the difference with the Dynamo team this year and those in the past:
“More than differences, today was about the approach. They gave me a lot of freedom in the final third, with a specific defensive role, which I managed to fulfill until I was exhausted. They gave me a lot of freedom to move where I wanted, get behind the lines and that helped me due to how I play the game.”
On his second goal:
“It’s inexplicable. What one thinks or does on the field happen in thousandths of a second. When I saw the ball there, I said to myself: ‘Let’s hit it, see if it turns into something memorable.’ Thank God the ball found the back of the net. The most important thing is our teamwork. What the team did. The goals are always a team effort. Sebas (Ferreira) left it for me to hit it and now we are able to leave happy with a victory.”