(Photo Credit: @WhitecapsFC/Twitter)
In a city known for its theme parks, it’s fair to say that Vancouver Whitecaps rode an emotional rollercoaster in their 2-2 draw at LAFC on Saturday night.
The Whitecaps’ Colombian Connection of Deiber Caicedo and Cristian Dajome had Vancouver two up and riding the highs by the 38th minute, but when Carlos Vela pulled one back with the help of VAR two minutes later, the descent was already on and the comeback was complete when José Cifuentes’ superb strike tied things back up with 15 minutes to go.
But Vancouver heads didn’t go down. They composed themselves and went at it again, almost securing a winner from a late Dajome effort. It wasn’t to be and the points were shared. Tough not to come away with the win when two goals up, but getting anything from away matches against LAFC has certainly been a struggle for Vancouver. There was a lot to be proud of in this one, but also a disappointment in not getting the job done, when they looked to have the tools to do it.
Playing their third match in the space of eight days, and their final match before finally heading back to Vancouver to train, Marc Dos Santos made three changes to his starting line-up, with Javain Brown and Erik Godoy returning to the backline and Caio Alexandre coming back into the midfield.
The home side had the first real chance seven minutes in when Thomas Hasal spilled a long range Eduard Atuesta effort. Raheem Edwards pounced on the rebound, playing the ball across goal, but Ranko Veselinovic just poked it past the right post for a corner, which then came to nothing.
MDS has talked a lot about ghosts this season. Those things that haunt his team. While some have now, hopefully, been exorcised, one that remains has been two horrendous trips to LAFC, with six goals given up in each of their last two road games there. When the two teams played there last season, LAFC were 4-0 up by the 14th minute. This time around the teams were scoreless, so that’s at least an improvement!
The ‘Caps almost sneaked the lead two minutes later when Tomas Romero had to act quick to keep out a deflection off his own defender.
Vancouver were holding their own and Caicedo sent a dangerous low ball to the back post midway through the half, but there were no takers in a white shirt to turn the ball home.
LAFC were looking susceptible at the back, especially to pace, and the Whitecaps took full advantage of that, and took the lead, in the 25th minute on a quick counter attack.
Brian White controlled a Javain Brown chip forward on his chest, bringing the ball down superbly and playing it out wide to Dajome, who played the ball into the box towards his countryman Caicedo. The pass was cut out by Kim Moon Hwan, who could only direct the ball goalwards and Caicedo showed great anticipation to sneak in and tap the ball home. 1-0 Vancouver!
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) July 25, 2021
LAFC looked shocked but Vancouver’s play had merited some reward and as the visitors kept the pressure on it was to become dreamland in La La Land for the ‘Caps seven minutes before the break.
Cristian Gutierrez sent a free kick into the box and Dajome rose unchallenged to head home and double the ‘Caps lead. He met it perfectly and the delivery was equally inch perfect from the left back.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) July 25, 2021
Vancouver’s two goal lead was to last only two minutes, however, when Vela ran on to an Atuesta through ball and fired home fiercely. The goal was initially ruled out for offside, but subsequently given by referee Kevin Stott after a video review.
Heading into the break with a two goal advantage would have been huge for Vancouver’s confidence, but they had to make do with one but could be content with the knowledge that they had been the better side through the first 45 minutes and certainly looked like they had more goals in them.
The key for them now was surely not to sit back and try and soak up what would be the inevitable LA pressure in the second half. The old adage of the best form of defence is to attack looked perfectly suited for Vancouver here.
LAFC clearly received a roasting at half time and Bob Bradley made FOUR changes to come out for the second 45, and they were on the front foot from the off, putting the Whitecaps defence under constant pressure.
But they held firm, trying to launch forays forward when they could, but as the pressure intensified and the Whitecaps started to visibly tire, it felt like a case of when and not if LAFC would score again. The question really was whether that would be an equaliser or whether Vancouver could grab a third before then.
The answer came in the 75th minute. Diego Palacios got the better off Brown on the left and whipped in a cross for Cifuentes, whose stunning first time volley gave Hasal no chance and it was all tied up.
While many would have expected LAFC to continue to lay siege and grab the winner, it was Vancouver who took the game by the scruff of the neck and to the home side.
Dajome thought that he’d restored the Whitecaps’ lead in the 84th minute when he fired home, but the goal was ruled out, seemingly for Janio Bikel interfering with the goalkeeper’s view from an offside position.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) July 25, 2021
Neither team could find the breakthrough in the final minutes and both had to settle for just a point.
While the negative is obviously giving up a two goal lead, and such draws can feel like defeats, there are so many positives and building blocks for Vancouver from this one.
The team, to a man, can be very proud of themselves and the way they played and attacked a strong LAFC side. They dealt with a lot of pressure and the reaction after the equaliser went in was first class. It was a game that showed that they can go toe to toe with some of the best teams in the West.
I’m sure most people would have gladly taken a point going into this one, and by tomorrow that will probably seem a good result. Three would have been massive though and would have lifted them from the last place they were in at the start of the match up to ninth, four back of the playoff places. Instead they have to settle for being second bottom and six points back.
The team now head home to Vancouver for a full week of training and some home comforts. They’ve only lost one in their last six games, but they need to start turning these draws into wins. The foundations are there to do that, but they need to build on them, and quickly.
FINAL SCORE: LAFC 2 – 2 Vancouver Whitecaps
LOS ANGELES: Tomas Romero; Kim Moon-hwan, Jesús David Murillo, Tristan Blackmon (Eddie Segura 46), Marco Farfan (Diego Palacios 46), Raheem Edwards (Corey Baird 46); Latif Blessing (Francisco Ginella 46), Eduard Atuesta, José Cifuentes; Diego Rossi, Carlos Vela [Substitutes not used: Pablo Sisniega, Jordan Harvey, Danny Musovski, Brian Rodríguez, Bryce Duke]
VANCOUVER: Thomas Hasal; Javain Brown, Ranko Veselinović, Érik Godoy, Cristian Gutiérrez; Caio Alexandre (Russell Teibert 76), Michael Baldisimo, Janio Bikel; Cristian Dájome, Brian White (Tosaint Ricketts 76), Déiber Caicedo [Substitutes not used: Evan Newton, Theo Bair, Andy Rose, Leonard Owusu, Ryan Raposo, Jake Nerwinski, Patrick Metcalfe]
Possession: LAFC 54.3 – VAN 45.7
Shots: LAFC 10 – VAN 5
Shots on Goal: LAFC 5 – VAN 3
Saves: LAFC 2 – VAN 3
Fouls: LAFC 15 – VAN 20
Offsides: LAFC 2 – VAN 3
Corners: LAFC 5 – VAN 5
MARC DOS SANTOS
On the team’s performance tonight:
“I’m very, very proud of the guys. Not in the celebration mode because we were 2-0 up and we always believed that we still had a third goal. In the locker room right now, it’s not a party. It’s a good point in a stadium that is incredibly difficult to get points. But what was special about the game today, it’s how we were consistent throughout the 90 minutes. I feel that we were always the team that didn’t back off, pressed them the right moments, look to exploit the spaces in their team. Many of our players had individual performances that were very good. I’m very proud of the mindset because we’re not doing a party in the locker room, we feel we could have gotten something even more. When you come to a stadium like that, before the game you say if we get a point it’s positive. I think that the difference tonight was the consistency of the 90 minutes from our group.”
On whether the subs could have come in quicker:
“Yeah 100%. We wanted to do the subs of Tos and Rusty. They were on the line ready to come in when it was 2-1 and then they have to see them get the goal so I hate that. I feel that maybe, we were a few minutes away from doing the substitution, we should have maybe done it a couple of minutes earlier. But then you never know, could LA still tie the game? It’s tough to get these things. But I still think that we weren’t very, very low. Normally, if you look at the last two games of LAFC, they create so much volume of chances and shots, and it wasn’t the case today because we weren’t low. We were always in a medium-higher block, we did come a little bit lower in the second half but I think it’s a situation that’s normal. You don’t ask the team to do that, you always ask them to push more. That’s the type of team I want to coach. It’s easier said than done, there’s players there with a lot of quality. Cifuentes, Rossi, Vela, Atuesta… at any moment they find passes between lines and then sometimes there’s a little bit of that fear in our team of ‘hey man we can concede, we back off’, that I think overall our mid-block pressure and we still stepped in the right moments was very positive.”
On the midfield’s performance:
“We knew that for a game against LAFC we needed to have the midfielders that would give us the best ability to get out of pressure quickly. Bikel, Baldi, and Caio, we spoke a lot in the pregame about their role, and how important it would be for them to get the ball out of pressure. If you play LAFC only with holding midfielders that don’t have a lot of quality of getting out of pressure, you never get out because they’re counter press is so hard to get out. I think they did a great job, all of them with very different characteristics, but all able to get out of those areas very well.”
On what his message was to the team coming into the game given past results:
“I didn’t think about that. I thought about that when we spoke about it in the press conference, because it’s true. The last two results here were 6-0 and 6-1. Very, very heavy, but I think I said it in the press conference, it’s a different team we’re a different group. It’s a different game and we are building this team in a very special way so I didn’t arrive here nervous. I didn’t arrive in this stadium afraid; we actually spoke a lot to the guys about ‘first 10 minutes we go at them, we press, we don’t allow the stadium to get behind them’. But this stadium is in a good way crazy, even if they concede two goals they don’t shut up in a good way. Every soccer game is differently and sometimes if you remind players of past results, I’m not sure if it brings confidence, it can even bring fear to the guys and that’s something we didn’t have at all today, we were never afraid.”
On Dájome’s waived goal:
“I didn’t watch it yet, but I just felt that sometimes in 50/50 situations I wasn’t sure about the calls. I don’t want to say more than that because it’s too expensive, but there’s moments of 50/50 that I wasn’t sure about the calls. It bothered me a little bit but I didn’t watch the play, maybe I’ll watch it, maybe I’ll get a good explanation and then I’m going to learn something about this. We always felt even 2-2 that our team reacted. We played these 90 minutes always to win. We didn’t come here to get a result; we came here to win and this is why maybe in the locker room there’s this slight little disappointment from our guys.”
On Brian White adapting to the team:
“Brian has linked with the team quite well. He’s adapted to the team very fast, and he’s a team guy above all. He’s here to help the Whitecaps and his mindset has been good. His work rate, he’s helped the team in the linkup a lot. You always want your forwards to score because your forwards want to score. But for me, the number one thing is if you keep on scoring goals because your forward helps in the build-up, and other guys get in the scoring sheet. This is a team sport, and Brian has zero ego. I think he always goes into the game with the right mindset.”
On the excitement towards returning to Vancouver:
“I miss it. When I say how much I want to leave Salt Lake, I want to make sure I reinforce how much the people that we’ve been with there are phenomenal. The people of Real Salt Lake, the club, how everybody treated us, was phenomenal. But we want to leave, like it’s enough. I have a lot of coaches, friends and colleagues that say, ‘I don’t know how you guys did that’. Some cried when they had to go three weeks or one month to the bubble in Orlando. For us, it’s been Orlando, Portland, Salt Lake so we’re fed up, we just want to go back home. So, we’re extremely, extremely excited. But then there’s this typical of what our season is about, that we go home train four days, and go to Salt Lake to play a home game against Minnesota, so that’s the cherry on the top of the cake.”
On the match:
“We knew it was going to be a tough game. It’s always tough to get results, especially with their fans, how loud they are and how into the game. To go up 2-0 was I think an important part of the game for us. Unfortunately we weren’t able to hold on to all three points, but getting out with a point here is I think a big deal, so we’ll take the one point and move on.”
On chemistry with teammates:
“It felt good, like I knew where Deiber and Dajo were making their runs and was able to connect with both of them. We got a couple of dangerous opportunities. but it was good to connect, get a goal out of the one play in the first half. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get a third goal to win the game.”
On the result:
“It’s not easy to come here and to get the point. I think the mentality and attitude for the team, it was great today.”
On staying strong after conceding an equalizer:
“Stay together. We conceded the second goal and, you know, we talked to each other, we said okay, let’s go. It’s almost finished the game. So, let’s fight again to see if we can get a goal or keep the result like that.”
On the play of the midfield:
“For this game that was our appointment to press high, because we know if we keep dropping and play in our half we’ll give them [too] much space to play between us. So, this was the main task to press, don’t be afraid to press high and to play in their half.”
Thoughts on the game:
Tactically in the first half, I felt we got overrun in the center of the field, so we changed at halftime. I think that part was better. The second half we did a better job of pushing the game. But there’s still too many moments where we hurt ourselves where we were closing down and trying to put pressure to see if we could win a ball back and we commit a silly foul, there’s times when late in the game where too many bad passes, so instead of now connecting three and four passes and keep going forward and putting pressure on, we are running 30, 40 yards to put out our fire. Again, not enough guys had really good days. There’s a part where you’re behind, and now we’ve got to push hard to get back into a game. And so there’s some credit on that end but overall, not good enough tonight. Not good enough.
What do you make of the substitutions in the second half and what they brought to the table trying to bring that urgency and push the tempo?
Yeah, we went back in the second half to playing four in the back. I thought it helped us a little bit in
terms of how they wanted to step up and press. I think in the first half, we couldn’t find the balance of Cifu coming into the midfield enough and making a midfield three. So the way we changed with Poncho coming into the midfield with Edward and then Cifu with a more clearly defined midfield role, I thought that was time and then Corey came on, so that we had a regular front three. I think tactically it helped us. I thought early in the half we had a number of big advantages that we just didn’t do well enough with, and would have been nice to get to 2-2 even earlier. The play to get the second hole was a good finish and a good finish by Cifu but then late in the game — see us connect more plays and make more chance, I didn’t believe we were sharp enough.
You mentioned tonight was not good enough. What do you feel needs to keep improving for next game?
There’s not enough guys in the first half who have come and away where they are sharp and alert and alive. If you don’t have guys engaged on every play; if the game is going 60 miles per hour and you could have guys that are running around and faking that 30, then you have no chance, and even if others are up to speed, you’re giving away too much and too many different moments, so the first half on that end, no, we didn’t. We didn’t have enough guys who are fully engaged in the game. As I mentioned, I think the tactical flexibility we chose so far has been good and other games where we played three in the back, I think it’s been very hard for teams to cross half, we’ve won a lot of balls — there was a little of that in the first half but not enough. I thought in the center of the field, we were second to too many because, and that’s the reason we changed the way we played at halftime.