(Photo Credit: Concacaf.com)
Vancouver Whitecaps big first leg win over Real Espana at BC Place last Wednesday gave them a comfortable cushion as they headed into the second leg in San Pedro Sula today. Just as well as the ‘Caps Achilles heel was on full display yet again, as some dreadful defending saw the Hondurans put three goals past the visitors, all from wide open men on set pieces, as Real Espana came away with a 3-2 win on the day, with Vancouver moving on 7-3 on aggregate.
Carrying forward a five goal lead from the first leg afforded Vanni Sartini the opportunity to leave some key performers who had already played a lot of minutes this season at home. With Ryan Gauld, Julian Gressel, Andres Cubas, Ranko Veselinovic, and Alessandro Schopf all remaining in Vancouver ahead of the team’s big MLS match at the LA Galaxy on Saturday, Sartini made eight changes to the team that won the first leg a week ago. Those changes included goalkeeper Thomas Hasal coming in for this first start of the season.
And Hasal was called into action just four minutes in, producing a fabulous sprawling save to keep out a Gestel Montes header from a corner, with the big defender allowed to rise unchallenged.
The Whitecaps got their first look on goal in the 8th minute when Cristian Dajome broke forward and played the ball inside to Pedro Vite. The Ecuadorian took a touch inside to make room for the shot but could only look on in agony as his effort crashed off the right post.
The game was fast paced and free flowing, with both teams keen to attack. Pedro Baez had the next effort for the home side 10 minutes in, forcing another save from Hasal.
Espana kept pushing, looking for some kind of way back into the tie, and Exon Arzu had an effort wide, with centre back Karifa Yao being given a bit of a torrid time in his first Whitecaps start.
The ‘Caps must have thought they’d taken the lead in the 24th minute, when a scramble bounced off Vite and was heading over the line, only for Carlos Mejia to produce a superb last ditch clearance.
Espana responded with Montes being allowed another free header off a corner, which again produced a save from Hasal. It doesn’t seem to matter who is in that Whitecaps backline, allowing free headers off set pieces seems to be a concerning trend.
With the Whitecaps hanging on to their clean sheet, they were penalised just past the half hour mark for Hasal holding on to the ball too long in the box, giving up an indirect free kick, which Espana wasted. A seldom enforced rule, but one which I personally wish was far more strictly enforced all over the world!
As the half counted down, Hasal made another good save to keep out a Jose Reyes shot, and the young ‘Caps keeper finished the first half with six saves to his name as the teams went in scoreless.
The pace to start the second half wasn’t as frenetic, and the goalmouth action dipped as well.
The closest either team came to opening the scoring came in the 59th minute when a curling free kick from a tight angle from Sebastian Berhalter was kept out by a scrambling Luis Lopez at his near post.
Espana kept pushing for their first goal of the tie and Maikel Garcia blasted over from a good position 11 yards out just past the hour mark.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 66th minute and it came from Vancouver, with a stunning curling strike from White from just inside the Espana box. He certainly enjoys his cup competitions!
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) March 15, 2023
The lead was to last just a minute, however, as once again the Whitecaps struggled to defend a set piece.
This time it was a free kick which was swung in from the right. Hasal came out to initially punch the ball away, but it didn’t go far and as no ‘Caps defender reacted to clear it out of the six yard box, it broke to Montes, who fired home for a goal that both he and Espana deserved.
The goal gave the Honduran side a lift and they kept taking the game to Vancouver.
It paid off for them to as they took the lead in the 75th minute, and to no-one’s surprise, it came from a set piece.
Jhow Benavidez, Epsana’s dangerous playmaker that the Whitecaps had done well to keep quiet over the two legs, sent in a lovely looping corner that came to an open Rocca at the back of the box and the Argentine blasted home past Hasal to give Espana their first lead of the leg.
The Whitecaps weren’t done yet though and they got back on level terms with seven minutes remaining after some nice footwork from substitute Becher in the box after receiving a long pass from Berhalter. The young striker took a lovely cut inside before finishing with aplomb past Lopez at the near post.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) March 15, 2023
The parity wasn’t to last long, and the home side went back ahead three minutes later from… oh you guessed it, from a set piece.
Benavidez sent in a free kick from the right, which was met by a free Garcia, but Hasal managed to tip his header over, only for the hosts to go ahead from the resultant corner.
It was another great delivery from Benavidez, allowing Montes to run in unchallenged and head home his second of the match, which also proved to be the leg winner.
So a loss on the night, but all that really matters was an overall win in the tie and moving on into the quarter-finals for what should be a date with LAFC.
There’s certainly some positives that Sartini can take from this leg – the form of Hasal, another goal for White, and more blooding and experience for the fringe players. But there are some very concerning aspects too, most notably the inability to defend and react to unmarked players at set pieces. Six bookings must also be concerning.
All in all, a 7-3 aggregate win was much more comfortable than that may even look on paper. What lies ahead though is a much greater test and the Whitecaps will need to be a whole lot better defensively if they are to go any further in this competition.
FINAL SCORE: Real Espana 3 – 2 Vancouver Whitecaps (Whitecaps win 7-3 on aggregate)
Possession: RES 65.1% – VAN 34.9%
Shots: RES 23 – VAN 14
Shots on Goal: RES 11 – VAN 7
Saves: RES 5 – VAN 8
Fouls: RES 13 – VAN 17
Offsides: RES 4 – VAN 0
Corners: RES 9 – VAN 0
REAL ESPANA: Luis López, Mayron Flores, Getsel Montes, Devron García, Franklin Flores; Carlos Mejía, Jhow Benavídez, Exon Arzú (Daniel Carter Bodden 55); Pedro Báez (Ramiro Rocca 54), José Reyes (Roberto Osorto 73), Darixon Vuelto (Maikel García 37) [Substitutes not used:
Michael Perelló, Juan Vieyra, Marco Aceituno, Gerson Chávez, Anfronit Tatum, Aaron Zúñiga, Junior García, Eduardo Urbina]
VANCOUVER: Thomas Hasal; Mathías Laborda, Karifa Yao, Tristan Blackmon (Matteo Campagna 87), Ryan Raposo (Javain Brown 46); J.C. Ngando, Sebastian Berhalter, Ali Ahmed; Cristian Dájome (Brian White 61), Pedro Vite (Vasco Fry 77); Sergio Córdova (29.Simon Becher 76′)
[Substitutes not used: Yohei Takaoka, Isaac Boehmer, Levonte Johnson, Kamron Habibullah, Russell Teibert]
On today’s match:
“I think the game was okay, in the sense that it was what we expected, with them attacking a lot and we had to, kind of, resist and then counterattack. We did it perfectly, I think ’til minute 65 when we scored the first goal. And then it became a little bit of chaos. I think players were very tired at the end. The heat, and the fact that a lot of players that played 90 minutes they never played 90 minutes before today, and the wind became a big factor in the second half. But of course, I am a little, I don’t want to say pissed, but you know, actually, it’s good that we conceded those goals on the set plays when at the end, it didn’t count, because we need to work on it because again, it’s been a part of the game that hasn’t been good from the beginning of the season and we need to be better. But for the rest, I’m happy. The qualification was never in discussion, we were always in the game and at the end, I told the guys, even if they were a little bit down, we did not lose 3-2 today, we won 7-3 so we need to be happy.”
On concerns about the continued poor marking and allowing of free headers in matches:
“Yeah, I am concerned, of course. We need to be better. I need to evaluate better what happened. So they had two big, big boys. Very big boys. It was hard. I think the last goal especially, we should have done much better. The first goal, I think Thomas, it was a little bit hard for him because the wind changed the trajectory of the ball, because the defence was okay. It was his ball to get it. And the second one was a bad one to be honest. We need to do much better in terms of positioning, in terms of being aggressive, and in terms of there are some players that they don’t get the fact that if you’re zonal, it doesn’t mean you are a stick. We need to attack the ball.”
On his starting midfield three:
“The reason why I have the midfield [like that] was because Rusty yesterday had a little injury and because we were supposed to start J.C. at number eight on the right, Sebastian, and Rusty on the left so it left us with no, I would say natural player in that role. And so we had to use players that are not used to playing there. Ali played there in the first half, Pedro played there in the first part of the second half and then Vasco played there the second part of the second half. I think J.C. and Seba did very well and the other guys they fought, they fought for the team in a position that it’s not their natural position. I actually want to say Vasco did very well when he came on. And, of course, Ali did much better in the second half when he was in his position as a wingback instead of playing as a number eight but he sacrificed himself for the team because we didn’t have any natural players playing in that position for the game.”
On what it means to progress to the quarterfinals:
“It means a lot. We are in the quarterfinal now probably against LAFC, so it will be a nice clash against, probably, the best team in North America. So it’s going to be a good, I would say stage, a great stage for us to try to go to the semifinals, so I’m really happy that we went through.”