(Photo Credit: @WhitecapsFC/Twitter)
After the year it’s been, it was probably foolish to think that things would go to anything but down to the wire for Vancouver Whitecaps and their push for the playoffs.
Heading into their match-up at LAFC on Tuesday evening, a win would seal the deal for the ‘Caps, but a 1-1 draw means the job isn’t quite done yet, but Vancouver will head into their final game of the regular season in the playoffs places and with their postseason fate firmly in their own hands.
Cristian Dajome had Vancouver in dreamland, firing home the opener 14 minutes in, but Mamadou Fall’s equaliser in first half stoppage time, correctly given after a video review, set up a nervy second half. LAFC pushed hard but the Whitecaps defence held firm, coming away from California with a point which could even be good enough to see them head into the playoffs depending on results elsewhere.
Both teams lined up in a 3-4-1-2 formation with Vanni Sartini making only change to the team that got the win against Minnesota last time out. That came in the back three, with Ranko Veselinovic making way for Erik Godoy.
The Whitecaps headed into this one full of confidence. One loss in your last nine matches and two in your last 20 will do that for you. But they had yet to win in four visits to the Banc of California stadium, with just two points and two hammerings to show for their efforts.
Nobody needed to tell Vancouver fans how dangerous and deadly LAFC can be at home, and the black and gold had the better of the early going, but were reduced to long range eefforts, none of which tested Maxime Crepeau in the Whitecaps goal.
And it was certainly against the run of play that saw Vancouver open the scoring 14 minutes in after a quick pick of the ball just inside their own half.
Ryan Gauld brought the ball forward, slipping it through to Brian White. The ‘Caps leading scorer centred it for Dajome, but it was behind the Colombian and he had to show some fancy footwork to make a clean shot for himself, which he did superbly before blasting the ball past Jamal Blackman to give Vancouver the lead.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) November 3, 2021
Amazingly this was Vancouver’s first goal in the opening 15 minutes of a game all season. But what a time to get it!
That goal sparked another period of strong possession from the home side and it nearly paid off in the 24th minute when Canadian Raheem Edwards turned superbly in the box and brought a fine diving save from Crepeau.
The ‘Caps immediately stormed forward on a quick counter, and Bruno Gaspar had a chance to double their lead in a 2-on-1 break but pulled his effort past the right post when he should have done better.
Would that prove a costly miss? It wouldn’t have put the game anywhere near to bed, but it would have given Vancouver some desirable breathing space.
LA kept pushing and the final moments of the half saw the ‘Caps defence under a lot of pressure. They were bending, blocking, and eventually they broke two minutes into first half stoppage time when a cross into the box came off Florian Jungwirth’s leg and fell to Fall a couple of yards out, who easily knocked it into the empty net.
The farside linesman immediately put his flag up for offside, but video review confirmed it came off the Whitecaps defender, the goal stood, and the teams headed into half time on level terms.
— LAFC (@LAFC) November 3, 2021
The constant demand on the Whitecaps defence to try and block everything LA were throwing at them wasn’t really a sustainable gameplan, and the equaliser was no less than LAFC deserved. But Vancouver really needed to adopt the old ‘best form of defence is attack’ approach for the second half.
Bob Bradley made one change at the break, bringing on Jose Cifuentes, as they looked to push for all three points, and they came out strong, with leading scorer Cristian Arango forcing a fantastic reaction save from Crepeau five minutes after the restart.
Vancouver were struggling to get much offense going and their defence was still facing a lot more action than was healthy or desirable. As the hour mark approached Sartini brought on Cristian Gutierrez for Godoy, who had been given a torrid time out there.
LAFC continued to press, forcing more defensive scrambles from Vancouver, but they held firm and finally started to keep hold of the ball and take some of the constant pressure off.
They finally tested Blackman in the 70th minute when Javain Brown rose to meet a deep Ryan Gauld corner, forcing a save and forcing another corner.
LAFC responded by bringing on Carlos Vela, a clear danger to the Whitecaps defence but they took a defender off in the process, which could also then open up some spaces for Vancouver.
The home side started to turn up the heat again, and more Crepeau saves and defensive scrambles followed, while Arango pulled a shot wide left from a good position with 12 minutes remaining.
Vela was next to come close, curling a free kick inches past the right post in the 83rd minute, as Vancouver breathed another sigh of relief.
LAFC now had to balance going for the win they really needed and not leaving too much space at the back for quick Vancouver counters and they should have been punished in the 85th minute when ‘Caps substitute Deiber Caicedo broke though on goal but seemed caught in to minds as to what to do and the onrushing Blackman smothered the danger.
As the game entered into stoppage time, Arango squandered another opportunity for the home side when he dived to meet a dangerous Cifuentes ball across goal, but completely missed the ball.
That was to be the last threat on the ‘Caps backline and after a match which felt like they were under siege at times, facing 25 shots on the night, the final whistle signalled relief and joy as Vancouver inched ever closer to securing their first playoff berth since 2017.
Tonight’s point could even be enough to secure that spot come Sunday evening, depending on how other results go, but a point or more against Seattle will make sure. BC Place is sure to be buzzing. After everything the team has been through this year, falling short at the final hurdle would be heartbreaking, motivation in itself to carry the team over the line.
FINAL SCORE: LAFC 1 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps
Possession: LAFC 52.8% – VAN 47.2%
Shots: LAFC 25 – VAN 5
Shots on Goal: LAFC 11 – VAN 2
Saves: LAFC 1 – VAN 10
Fouls: LAFC 12 – VAN 7
Offsides: LAFC 1 – VAN 2
Corners: LAFC 6 – VAN 5
LOS ANGELES: Jamal Blackman; Mamadou Fall, Jesús David Murillo, Sebastien Ibeagha (Carlos Vela 72); Kim Moon-hwan, Latif Blessing, Diego Palacios, Marco Farfan (José Cifuentes 46); Raheem Edwards; Cristian Arango, Brian Rodríguez (Danny Musovski 90) [Substitutes not used: Tomas Romero; Jordan Harvey, Daniel Crisostomo, Bryce Duke, Tristan Blackmon, Michee Ngalina]
VANCOUVER: Maxime Crépeau; Érik Godoy (Cristian Gutiérrez 57), Florian Jungwirth, Jake Nerwinski; Bruno Gaspar (Ranko Veselinović 85), Russell Teibert, Leonard Owusu (Janio Bikel 77), Javain Brown; Ryan Gauld; Brian White (Lucas Cavallini 85), Cristian Dájome (Déiber Caicedo 77) [Substitutes not used: Thomas Hasal, Marcus Godinho, Ryan Raposo, Michael Baldisimo]
On the match:
“We knew that for them it was a big game, they had the chance to catch us. And to play here, it’s hard. They have these fans that from minute one and, my opinion, they influence a little bit of the referee too, all the half and half calls are for them every time. And it’s okay. It’s normal. And it’s actually beautiful for the league, so they have a very beautiful atmosphere. And we know that was this kind of game: to suffer, to defend very well, and then to try and counter attack to exploit them. We did it very well with the goal. We had a couple of chances in the second half, one big one with Déiber [Caicedo], another one with Déiber could’ve crossed but at the end they had two or three great chances too. The last one at the last minute, I don’t know, probably from the bench we blew to the ball to put the ball out and it went well. So I think we deserve it. Well, even if they put in a good effort, we deserve it for the defensive effort and so we need to finish the job at home. So, beautiful.”
On Sunday’s Decision Day match vs. Seattle:
“We are looking forward [and] I’m looking forward to the game. I’m looking forward to having BC Place full of our fans pushing us, doing the job with Seattle trying to win, of course. We know that a tie is enough, but a win can put us in a better position. So we’ll try to beat Seattle and to celebrate with our fans at the end of the day Sunday afternoon.”
On the team’s fighting spirit:
“We knew they were throwing everything at us and we had good spells of possession sometimes in the game. In the first half, the first few minutes we were in their half. Second half, they started strong the first 10-15, and then we got the possession a little bit of a good spell. But overall that was the key to our success, is to be a tight team, and to be difficult to play through. Obviously LAFC is really good at that, finding pockets in between our lines and in between our players. But yeah, it was a great defence performance from everybody. You know, that’s really important. And we go back to Vancouver with a tie or a win against Seattle, we’re in. So it’s Decision Day for a reason and it’s up to us.”
On Sunday’s Decision Day match vs. Seattle:
“Nobody in the locker room or in the organization is looking for a draw next Sunday. We’ll analyze this game for sure, work on stuff that we can do better. But we’re not playing for a draw. We’re playing for a win. That’s our mindset and we’re going back to BC Place where our record shows that we are a good home team. So the next thing now for us is to regroup, recover really well, and then prepare Seattle. Obviously they’re a really good team, there’s no lie about that, and we know that they have good players, quality players, and depth around their squad. So it’s up to us and it’s a perfect way to end the season on a good note to get the win at BC Place.”
On the match:
“It was a fantastic fight. LAFC, they’re a great team. They have all the big offensive players. They have massive quality on top. We knew that before and they showed it today. We threw ourselves at every ball and every tackle. We fought with everything we had. When you see the last tackle, Ryan Gauld tackles it and gets the goal kick for us in our box. I think that shows the mentality and the attitude of the team. Of course they had chances, but the way we fought was just incredible. And that’s why we deserve a point for our mentality and style of play.”
On the mentality for the Decision Day match vs. Seattle:
“Same as usual. I think we shouldn’t change anything despite obviously the fact that we are in with a point, but when we play home we want to win. We press the opponent as we do usual, and we try to win our duels, our second balls. Of course Seattle is a top team, they play for being first, so to skip the first round. So they will go for it as well, but I don’t think we will play for a point. Maybe obviously when the game goes longer and it will be tight, obviously then you make adjustments to keep the point. But we’re going to the game to win. So if we were just to drop and defend against a team like Seattle, you can’t do that for 90 minutes. You’ve got to be active, and you’ve got to create chances, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
LOS ANGELES FC
In a big game, you never want to go down early. But I thought our response was fantastic. I really liked the way we pushed the game. We just didn’t find a way to get another goal. Now we’ve got to take the energy and the effort that we had tonight and be ready to go after it one more time in Colorado. Now we need a little bit of luck, a result or two to go our way. It can’t stop us. This group has continued to push games in ways that I feel very good about, that we feel very good about. They’re really disappointed tonight because I think they felt the winner was there. We’re going to keep going and go to Colorado with an understanding that we got to do our job and hope we get a little bit of luck.
Message to his team after fight shown:
I told them after the game that you put so much into it, you pushed the game in a really good way, and somehow the winner didn’t come tonight. So we got to take it and go again in Colorado. If we do that, then I think maybe we’re going to get a result that goes our way, then we’re going to be ready for the playoffs because we will have been hardened from tough games.
What did you see from Carlos Vela and how much power does he bring to the attack?
After we went down in the first half there was a stretch where the group that was on the field really pushed the game in a big way. We had some chances. Max Crepeau played really well for them. Then we made the first change at after with Cifu coming into the midfield and Raheem going wide. I think obviously Cifu is capable of making some really good plays going forward. Then when Carlos comes on, we switched the way we played, played 4-3-3 again. Carlos still has certain ways to come inside, slip the right passes. We saw some of the fluidity that we’ve not always been able to get this year. So I think that helped us try to push the game over the second half when Carlos came on over the last, say, 25 minutes.