(Photo Credit: @WhitecapsFC/Twitter)
Not as bad as it could have been. I think that could certainly be one of the takeaways for Vancouver Whitecaps after their 3-1 loss at LAFC on Sunday night.
A beat up Whitecaps side, missing a growing number of key starters, head into the international break still in search of their first win of the new MLS season, with some “building blocks” according to head coach Vanni Sartini but also with a lot to think about as they desperately try to turn their fortunes around.
I don’t think many people would have given the last placed Whitecaps much of a chance against table toppers LAFC, but Tristan Blackmon returned to his old stomping ground to fire Vancouver ahead in the 12th minute.
And it was a well worked goal too off a set piece.
Pedro Vite spent so long looking to place the ball for a free kick that you knew something was planned. LAFC, however, seemed slow to cotton on to that as Sebastian Berhalter whipped the ball into the box. It was met superbly by Lucas Cavallini, whose header crashed off the right post but the rebound fell straight to Blackmon who poked the ball home from a few yards out to give Vancouver the lead and the centre-back his first goal as a Whitecap.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) March 21, 2022
The visitors looked lively. Could the shock be on?
Well this proved to be as good as it got for the ‘Caps, but it shouldn’t have been, as a game defining moment came five minutes later which should have put the ‘Caps 2-0 up.
Thomas Hasal produced a fantastic sprawling save to deny a José Cifuentes header off a Carlos Vela cross. It was a top drawer stop, and as LAFC committed men forward for the subsequent corner, a Hasal punch set up a quick 2-on-1 counter as Cristian Dajome and Cavallini bore down on the home goal. As Dajome streaked into the box, he had Cavallini wide open, with the goal gaping, to his left but chose to shoot instead, which former ‘Caps keeper Max Crepeau saved and the danger was cleared.
Selfish, a lack or awareness, over confidence, or a combination of all of the above, it’s hard to say, but it was the wrong decision and a costly one, as Vancouver weren’t really at the races after that miss.
When the Colombian watches it back, he’ll realise his mistake, but the damage was done and LAFC soon hit back in the 27th minute when Hollingshead got the better of Berhalter in the box to head home a pinpoint Vela corner without even having to leave the ground.
— LAFC (@LAFC) March 21, 2022
This was going to prove to be a test of the Whitecaps’ fighting ability and they battled but it always felt that the home side were going to go on and secure the victory.
Carlos Vela made it 2-1 to home side in the 38th minute at the second attempt after Hasal had stopped his first effort, but the work on this one was all set up by some magical play by Kwadwo ‘Mahala’ Opoku, who showed footwork trickery the Whitecaps can only dream off right now to waltz his way through Russell Teibert, Javain Brown, and Jake Nerwinski on the right wing to set up Vela for the finish.
Fantastic play by the Ghanaian but abysmal stuff from the three Whitecaps.
— LAFC (@LAFC) March 21, 2022
It was nearly game over three minutes after the restart when having not learned of his danger from the first half, the Whitecaps allowed Hollingshead a free header off a corner, which Hasal saved on his line.
But the home side couldn’t put the game to bed and although the Whitecaps weren’t offering too much threat in return, they were at least still in the match.
That all changed with 20 minutes remaining when LAFC did finally put the final nail in the ‘Caps coffin, and who else would be the man with the hammer than Hollingshead again.
The Whitecaps had two chances to clear the pressure from another LAFC corner, with the second one falling to Hollingshead on the edge of the box and his low rocket powered past Hasal to make it 3-1 and game over.
— LAFC (@LAFC) March 21, 2022
Mahala drilled the ball wide for LAFC a few minutes later as you worried the game could now get out of hand, but the Whitecaps held firm, and almost reduced the deficit to one two minutes into stoppage time, but substitute Deiber Caicedo saw his goalbound shot knocked away by a Doneil Henry block.
All things considered, it wasn’t the worst we’ve seen the Whitecaps play down at LAFC by a long way but no wins from their first four matches and just one solitary point to show for their efforts is not what anyone hoped for after the strong end to last season.
It looks such a different team in terms of danger, bite, and just fight really. Missing Ryan Gauld, Brian White, Caio Alexandre, and Erik Godoy to early season injuries is a killer. That’s four key starters out and I think the depth has been shown to not be what is needed.
There is at least a two week break now until the next game when an equally beat up Sporting Kansas City come to BC Place on April 2. That will give the Whitecaps time to get some players back, Gauld and White are expected to be good to go, and work on what is going wrong, especially how to get something, anything coming to increase the pressure and danger in the final third.
It’s still very early days, but the feelgood factor from last year has already gone and Sartini now finds himself in his first rough patch as a head coach. This will test his coaching chops and we’ll see soon what his response will be.
FINAL SCORE: Los Angeles FC 3 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps
Possession: LAFC 61.5% – VAN 38.5%
Shots: LAFC 18 – VAN 7
Shots on Goal: LAFC 9 – VAN 2
Saves: LAFC 1 – VAN 6
Fouls: LAFC 15 – VAN 12
Offsides: LAFC 3 – VAN 0
Corners: LAFC 11 – VAN 3
LOS ANGELES: Maxime Crépeau; Kellyn Acosta, Jesús David Murillo, Mamadou Fall (Doneil Henry 81), Ryan Hollingshead; Latif Blessing, Ilie Sánchez, José Cifuentes (Francisco Ginella 87); Kwadwo Opoku, Carlos Vela (Cristian Arango 81), Brian Rodríguez (Ismael Tajouri-Shradi 74) [Substitutes not used: John McCarthy, Diego Palacios, Sebastien Ibeagha]
VANCOUVER: Thomas Hasal; Tristan Blackmon, Ranko Veselinović, Jake Nerwinski (Ryan Raposo 74); Marcus Godinho (Cristián Gutiérrez 61), Russell Teibert (Leonard Owusu 79), Sebastian Berhalter, Javain Brown; Cristian Dájome (Déiber Caicedo 74), Pedro Vite; Lucas Cavallini [Substitutes not used: Cody Cropper, Florian Jungwirth, Michael Baldisimo, Matteo Campagna, Tosaint Ricketts]
On the goal:
“It seems crazy to be positive after two defeats in a row and in four games we never won, but I see a lot of progress these games to be honest. We executed the plan like we were trying to do. We had chances, we knew that [when] we came here they are probably the best team in the league to be honest, in terms of talent, in terms of players that they put on the field. And we play a very brave game. We were trying to stay compact, and trying to play direct to attack them in the space, and we did it. The differences in the game has been the great play that Opoku and Vela did the for the second goal, and then the banger that Hollingshead scored. But you know, there’s no shame in losing here because I think a lot of teams are going to lose here and we need to think about us and that’s a building block, resetting the thing, working. We’re going to BC Place for the next two games and with the hunger to make points, to make possibly six points in the next week two home games. That’s what we need to do.”
On scoring first but falling in a tough environment:
“I think we did well. We actually had the chance to score the 2-0 with Dajo in that counter attack. I want to see the play. I don’t know if he had the chance to pass the ball to Cava when Max made that save. We knew that they were going to push a lot, we conceded the goal on the first corner kick, and that’s the only play that I would say we could have done much better. But then we keep playing, we were doing well. The midfielders I think did a very good job in shielding the ball from Vela, they were trying always this long ball because they were unable to play in between us. Even at the beginning of the second half I told the guys, we need to keep playing like this. And in fact we had a couple of chances on the crosses and everything, but at the end we concede at third goal. For sure better decision making in the final third would have helped, but we will analyze the game better when we come back to Vancouver.”
On the game:
“I think it was a good game, we played against a good team. I think we did a lot of stuff right, but we also did stuff wrong that we have to look back and go back to the drawing board. Everything is on us. We can’t blame anyone. I think this is a great group, we’re going to get things right.”
On improving performances:
“I think we’ve got to look at the games we’ve played, we’ve got to take the positives and we’ve got to work on them and keep building off that. At the same time, we’ve got to take the rest of the game and look what we can do to improve. I think each game we’ve had spells where we’ve played well and we’ve shown what we can do. I think our biggest thing is going to be improving the length of those spells and how can we turn those 30-40 minutes of playing well in a game to 90 minutes because that’s what we need to get a performance and get a result.”
“Another home game and another victory, which makes us happy. We are happy with the result and very happy with the reaction after going down with a goal in the first half. Two elements of the game tonight that we were not ecstatic with were in the first half. Our ball movement was a little slower than we wanted. We wanted to move the ball quickly and laterally first, and then expose them deep in some pockets and channels. We were not able to do that, and we let the guys know at half time. There was also a little bit of concentrated moments on set pieces, which we were disappointed in. Again, we lost a little focus in those moments, but other than that our build up, our reaction, counter press and offensive pieces worked really well. There was a lot to take from this game and something that I have got to know from this group is their ability to react to situations and come together and find a way to win. They did that again tonight and I am pleased with that.”
Improvements during this game
“It was a better performance than last week. We connected more passes and we created more high-quality chances. Our buildup was much better, which we spent a lot of time working on. But we can get much better and I think that it’s very important and I shared that with the guys. We are satisfied with the effort, with the action, and the result. However, we are not satisfied yet with our play throughout the course of the night.”
Positions/combinations the next couple games
“It’s week to week. It is really about looking at who we are playing and finding good match ups to break them down as well as finding weaknesses in our opponents. It is also about who in our roster can give us the best chance at winning those games and seeing what combinations work. However, it is more about rotating than finding the right eleven. I am a big believer in smaller groups and seeing who gels with who. We must look at the right flank, the left flank, the front 3, our 3 midfielders, and the back 4, so we can see who is working well in these smaller groups and which players are connecting in these groups. Those are the things we are looking for, so it goes beyond just the qualities of the players. It goes into areas such as characteristics, personality, and the who gets along with one another. These are all the thoughts and factors that we take into consideration for the starting lineup.”
First career brace
“It is a good feeling. As a defender, I am not in goal scoring opportunities enough to get braces very often but I do sneak some goals in there. Every year I am in the 4 to 5 goal range, which I love but let’s double it up this year.
Set pieces and mentality
“We’ve been talking all season that we need to win the set piece battle. We want to be positive on set pieces so I got a header back so that matches but defensively we know that’s one of the ways teams are going to try and beat us. They can’t break us down and they’re not going to get in behind us. It’s catching us sleeping in a set piece. It is something we’re emphasizing and working on. We need to be better on it. We’re also really dangerous on attacking set pieces.”
JESÚS DAVID MURILLO
The importance on building chemistry amongst the players
“I feel that we are living it (team bond) differently day to day and it reflects on the pitch. We have many things to correct, and we are conscious that with the quality of players we have we can give more. This is what we live day today and what we are working for while being conscious that we can give more. We are a team with great quality people, we are happy, but we are aware that we can build every day whether you’re a substitute or a starter. As we say in Colombia we are part of a strong family.”
Things needed to correct or improve on
“Adding to what Ilie (Sánchez) said, we know teams like Vancouver sometimes do not have options beyond looking for a counter-attack of scoring on set pieces. We must reinforce our selves and know that we will face many teams with that profile.”