It’s been some week for Vancouver Whitecaps striker Lucas Cavallini. An emotional rollercoaster that saw him sent off on Sunday, fined and suspended on Wednesday, and become the match winner on Saturday as the ‘Caps headed to Utah and disposed of a ten man Real Salt Lake side 2-1.
This wasn’t a pretty match for the most part, with neither team taking a grip of proceedings as the sheer volume of matches coming thick and fast at the players felt like it was taking its toll. After a first half pretty much to forget, aside from a save from Thomas Hasal, David Milinkovic fired Vancouver ahead in the 53rd minute when he finished a Fredy Montero cutback for his first goal as a Whitecap.
Kyle Beckerman got sent off for a second booking following a video review just past the hour mark, but this only seemed to light a fire under the home side and the ten men tied things up with nine minutes remaining when Justin Meram headed home.
Vancouver fought back though and retook the lead three minutes later when Cavallini slid in between two RSL defenders to put away a Montero cross, giving the ‘Caps a lead they weren’t to give up and a huge three points in their quest to make the postseason for the first time in three years.
Marc Dos Santos made just one change to the side that saw off Montreal Impact 3-1 at BC Place on Wednesday night, with Theo Bair coming out of the starting line-up to make way for Ali Adnan, who slotted into a left midfield role rather than left back, with Cristian Gutierrez staying in that position following his strong showing midweek.
Montero continued to lead the line after his two goal performance against Montreal, meaning DP Cavallini had to make do with a place on the bench on his return from suspension.
RSL have been a team of highs and lows this season, with a 3-0 win over LAFC sandwiched between a 4-0 defeat to Minnesota and a 5-0 shellacking by Colorado in their last three matches.
But if you were expecting an end to end goalfest, the match couldn’t have started further from that if it tried, with both teams launching a few attacks without really threatening or calling either goalkeeper into action.
Thomas Hasal had to come up with the first real save of the evening on the half hour mark after his poor punch from a RSL corner fell to Pablo Ruiz on the edge of the ‘Caps box. The Argentine made room to fire off a fierce shot from 20 yards out but the young ‘Caps keeper got down well to turn the ball away.
The Whitecaps came close to taking the lead in the final minute of the half when Montero sent in a dangerous cross towards Cristian Dajome, which RSL defender Nedum Onuoha sliced onto the top of his own net for a corner.
But that was to be all she wrote for the half. It was a half of football. Just not a very good one.
The second half started far livelier, with Damir Kreilach heading a RSL corner just narrowly wide two minutes after the restart.
The Whitecaps not only responded quickly, but they did so by taking the lead with their first shot on target in the match in the 53rd minute.
The Colombian Connection came into play again as Montero played the ball forward to Dajome who cut it back from the byeline for Milinkovic to tuck it away for his first game as a Whitecap.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) September 20, 2020
RSL looked for a quick reply and Hasal was forced to make a diving save at his near post after a Justin Meram cross was deflected goalbound.
But their job was suddenly made harder when veteran Kyle Beckerman picked up a second yellow in the 63rd minute after a video review for a little flick out at Hasal after he smothered a ball in the six yard box.
Hasal was soon back in action, diving to turn away a Ruiz drive two minutes later as the home side still fancied their chances of getting back into this one.
Montero nearly doubled the Whitecaps lead in the 76th minute, diving low to get onto a Cavallini header, but Andrew Putna kept it out of the RSL goal.
The ‘Caps weren’t looking comfortable with their one goal lead and their one man advantage, playing too deep and looking ready to concede at any time. That time came soon, in the 81st minute, when Maikel Chang sent a looping ball to the far post and Meram rose superbly to head past Hasal and tie things up for the home side.
That goal you felt was coming. What happened next, not so much as the Whitecaps went back up the other end of the pitch and retook the lead three minutes later.
Montero was pivotal to the goal again, grabbing his second assist of the night when he got on to the end of a beautiful cross field ball from substitute Michael Baldisimo, cut the ball across the six yard box, and Cavallini slid in between two RSL defenders to fire the ‘Caps back into the lead.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) September 20, 2020
Kreilach saw a great chance presented to him on a plate seven minutes into the stoppage time, when a cross came through to him, but he was a couple of steps away from being able to stick a leg out on to it.
That was to prove to be the last chance of the game, and the Whitecaps held on for what could prove to be a massive three points, and a victory that moved Vancouver over three teams and into seventh spot in the MLS Western Conference standings and into the playoff places.
There’s still a lot of football to be played, there’s still stuff that isn’t great with the team and their performances, and there’s been elements of luck and fatigue playing their part along the way. But back to back wins, three wins in the last four games, and an exciting attacking partnership in the making all give some glimpses of what this team could become.
Let’s just take that for now before the second half of the season really kicks in, the weeks away from home take their toll, and the constant playing of matches every three of four days runs everyone into the ground.
At least next up is a game on Wednesday against a team below them in the table, LAFC. Yup, that should be another stroll in the park.
FINAL SCORE: Real Salt Lake 1 – 2 Vancouver Whitecaps
SALT LAKE: Andrew Putna; Aaron Herrera, Marcelo Silva, Nedum Onuoha, Donny Toia (Corey Baird 71); Pablo Ruiz, Kyle Beckerman; Maikel Chang (Christopher Garcia 90+8), Albert Rusnák, Justin Meram (Jeizon Ramírez 90+1); Damir Kreilach [Substitutes not used: Zac MacMath, Nick Besler, Justen Glad, Erik Holt, Milan Iloski, Everton Luiz]
VANCOUVER: Thomas Hasal; Jake Nerwinski, Ranko Veselinović, Derek Cornelius, Cristián Gutiérrez; Janio Bikel (Michael Baldisimo 59), Russell Teibert (Leonard Owusu 73); Cristian Dájome, David Milinković (Lucas Cavallini 59), Ali Adnan; Fredy Montero (Andy Rose 87) [Substitutes not used: Bryan Meredith, Theo Bair, Erik Godoy, Ryan Raposo, Tosaint Ricketts]
Possession: RSL 63.1% – VAN 36.9%
Shots: RSL 25 – VAN 8
Shots on Goal: RSL 4 – VAN 3
Saves: RSL 1 – VAN 3
Fouls: RSL 12 – VAN 9
Offsides: RSL 0 – VAN 2
Corners: RSL 10 – VAN 6
MARC DOS SANTOS
Thoughts on the match:
“I felt that in the first half we were a little bit disconnected in the midfield. What I mean by that is our wide players didn’t connect overall well with the midfielders. And when [Albert] Rusnak and [Damir] Kreilach were coming in pockets they were creating problems for us, and we left a little bit too much in those moments Rusty [Teibert] and [Janio] Bikel alone dealing with numbers there. We were able to get out of the first half with the 0-0, we had two good half-chances, especially the one with where it’s a great block from their defender. Then I felt we came on in the second half better. We scored the first goal in a great play, and then when the red card comes it’s so tricky. In soccer, a red card doesn’t mean that everything is under control. You then have a team that has nothing to lose. You have a team that is home and came from a 5-0 home loss, so they have absolutely nothing to lose. They want to go at everything and we felt a little bit of fatigue in some moments. But we were able to react well. Salt Lake when they did the 1-1 dropped a little bit, gave us a little bit more [of] the possession. We were able in a very good play again to score the 2-1. And then what I have to say is, did I like the moment that we have to suffer to get the three points? No. But did I like the fact that after three games in eight days, and travel, and recovering so fast coming, and see a group of players that fought so much to stay with the three points and give everything they had. The attitude to keep the win was very good. We suffered to get it, but it was very good the attitude, and that’s what I told the team. I said it’s not going to be nice our run of being on the road for two months, playing 12 games on the road, because our home games are not home games. The most important thing is how can we get results, and the personality and attitude of the players were very good.”
On the front four looking exciting, but addressing balance of team in midfield:
“It’s a good point. You also have to take a little bit of risk. In soccer if you take away something, you lose in another side. Look in the end [in the last four games], we scored three, plus two, plus three again, plus two again. But it’s something that definitely needs to be addressed, let me give you a clear example. Imagine that their right back has the ball, [Aaron] Herrera has the ball on the right side, and Ali [Adnan] puts pressure there. We have to work out the opposite midfielder being [Cristian] Dájome, comes across to help Bikel and Rusty, and the two forwards not staying in the same line to bring more numbers there. It’s going to be a balance. But I don’t want to take away what the team believes in also. We have pieces that can be dangerous, exciting, and we have to find the balance and we have to work on it, because I think that we could still defend much better with the attacking pieces we have. I don’t want to be in a position that we have to take one of these attacking players out just because we’re scared of other areas. I prefer that we try to solve the game with goals when we can, and then like we did at the end if we have to bring a third centre back or another midfielder to try to close the game we do that. But it’s a great point, it’s really a balance. If you add another midfielder then you lose support to our number nine. Look, right now it’s the first time after MLS is Back that we have all the group working together, all the players together and we could slowly work on what we want to be about. It’s better to do that with wins than to do that with losses.”
On fatigue and the schedule the rest of the season:
“I’m concerned with that. I feel that I saw in some games that I was watching today some injuries. I’m concerned with how much can the players go. It’s not easy. I hope that people that watch the games on TV understand that you might want to see sometimes a guys coming out and press, or a guy pushing out. But we played on Wednesday a game that we gave everything to win it, then we had off on Thursday because it was the only time we could have given the players with a family time before this stretch of crazy two months. It was a light kind of session, recovery to get back and travel, and to play against a team that was here for a week, and comes from a heavy loss, and it would never be easy. Where we have to see is the spirit, how much you could push and grind in the mix of the fatigue, and I have to say that that’s a proud moment. Now, we will have to pay a lot of attention to guys that are in red zones or danger zone. Rusty is in a red zone, there was a moment where Fredy maybe, but he seemed good after. But you’ll have some players that we might have to pay very, very good attention to them.”
On what he was thinking during the final nine minutes of added time:
“I was thinking I’m 43 and I’m going to be 61 after this game. That’s what I was thinking, very honestly. There was a moment where I looked at my watch and in my head I go four minutes still, it looked an eternity. But again, these are the wins that feel good when he whistles at the end, because the guys are very proud of their effort in the locker room. They’re proud of what they give, and they should be, because we’re going to have to stretch ourselves to the limits. But I think I answered your question very honestly, I felt I was getting so old in those nine minutes.”
On getting two wins in a row and what it does:
“Belief. Let’s not forget it’s still three out of four [wins], after a period where you lost three in a row in the east. Only a group with a strong mentality could react like that. Groups with weak mentalities don’t respond to that. Only groups with strong mentalities – at the end it’s three wins out of four, and we have to understand that what’s coming next is still hard, it’s still a challenge. We have to be strong and keep going.”
On Ali Adnan and Theo Bair as options at the wings:
“Ali gives you more possession, more play inside, and more connection with Guti. So Ali, when he’s out, Guti plays inside and they could have the good relationship like that. What Theo gives you is verticality, Theo gives you a lot of depth. Theo gives you a lot of runs in behind, then you just have to choose what are the right games to play who. But when you play inside of 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1, and you play games every three days there’s games, you need those legs to be fresh. Did you see how much running Cristian Dajome did today? So, how is he gonna recover? And you have still guys like Ryan Raposo or Theo Bair or David can play wide positions so you just have to make sure that you keep everybody fresh.”
On their best XI:
“First, you have to make sure that you can play everyone the 90 minutes. You know how much it hurts me in the game that I felt like Janio in the second half was giving important things in the midfield and then at minute 60 we have to take him out because of minutes and accumulation and to follow the process. First, I have to make sure that who’s available all the time to play 90 minutes. When that question is answered and it’s almost there, I think I’m very close to the answers that I needed. Now, I’m a team guy. Everybody is important. Everybody plays a role. Look at the last game. Fredy had an importance for the team. And then this game, Cava comes in and scores the goal. David scores. It’s never about individuals, it’s always about the team so I could have in my head a very close idea of what can be our best XI. But then in my head it’s also, ‘what does it mean if you play Wednesday and Saturday? Can you play my best XI Wednesday, Saturday, and then Wednesday again?’ And that’s not the easy part. For me, the focus is that everybody understands that they’re important for this team.”
On Fredy Montero and Lucas Cavallini working together:
“The answer from Cava was good because when you get a red card and you let your team down in one game, then you come and you help the team get the three points. I had a lot of questions about Fredy. Fredy had a period that after the game against the LA Galaxy in March, and not going into MLS is Back for personal reasons, and then being available again in August. Those are a lot of months. So in that period, we felt that maybe Fredy wasn’t ready for the first trip out to the east. But I also said in another interview, maybe it was badly evaluated. Maybe there was a mistake there in the evaluation, and I admit it. But when we came back from the east, Fredy was always training well, always training well until the moment that we said, ‘Yes, now it’s the time to get back.’ But if you would look at our calendar It was because of pockets of you play here, then you’re two months without playing and you play here and then quarantine and you’re back. It’s been tough to find the right motor and path to go. But when you add everybody together, training together all the time, you’re able to read the things in a much better way. And these are players that have a lot of experience. These are players that want to win, and want to help the team. It showed today again, not only the quality they have but also the workload they had in the game. And yes, of course, they can play together. 100 per cent. They did.”
On recent opponents playing with 10 men:
“I prayed before the games, I trust God and I prayed. Maybe a little bit of luck. I think the sending off is fair. It’s similar to the sending off of Cava against Montreal. So, if you look at the fouls of the player that got sent off, I won’t say his name. He did a lot of fouls in the game. He was playing a little bit with the fire. I think it’s right for him to get sent off.”
On tonight’s win:
“I’m very happy. It’s always good to get three points in the road. And even though we tied the game in the second half, we always believed that we could walk away with three points. They have 10 men and we kept fighting up until the end.”
On Lucas Cavallini:
“Cava, he’s a great guy. We created that connection outside of the field. And I see myself in him when I was that age – hungry to get some goals and show what he’s capable of. And of course he had the talent to play in another league in Europe. He’s looking forward to it. We just need to help him. I’ve been in his shoes. When you don’t get service, when you don’t get the ball. But now, I’m in a different role in this team, and I am happy to help him to get his high level, because if he’s good, the team’s gonna be good as well. So I’m happy for him.”
On his new role:
“It wasn’t easy. To be honest, coming back from Europe, I had that dream to come back and play, score goals and be that scoring type of player that I always been in MLS, but it wasn’t easy. We have ups and downs. Now in 2020, we have a new opportunity. But, of course, the role in the team changed. And it wasn’t easy to be apart of the team. But that’s history now. I’m happy to be back. I always been the same Fredy since the day I signed the contract. Even when I didn’t play, even when I was out of the team I’m the same now that I’m playing.”
On this stage of his career:
“I want to be honest, I am better now. I feel that I’m in my prime. I know a lot of the game. I know when to run or when not to run. I know when to get back in the ball, the possession. I know when to defend well. So it’s like during my career I accumulate this experience that today I can say that even though I’m not that young, I know I can use my time in the field better. Yes, I believe that if I keep playing, soon I will reach my level, my potential. And that’s the only way to get it, by playing.”
“Well, now, as I said before, I’m an experienced guy that knows when the game is asking you to do that. I’m there to do it and I have to defend with the team. I’m able to occupy those spaces where the ball is going to go even before they go in. So it’s about mind games. I believe that is not about running a lot. I believe that it’s running at the right times. And that’s what I’m doing. And just because I’m playing more, it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t doing that before. I just want to be honest and clear that I haven’t changed – the way I train, I haven’t changed the way that I play games, I just have the opportunity to show that now.”
Thoughts on the match:
“It was a well-fought match from the boys. It was tough coming in, just with the high intensity that there was throughout the game. Today the boys showed a lot of heart, a lot of passion, and I respect that. Overall it was three points that were just clinical. We needed these three points more than ever to keep ourselves alive in these playoff spots. Right now one game down, and we’ve still got a lot to go. But we’ve got to be humble and just keep this confidence up.”
On redemption after red card in previous appearance:
“Of course. Obviously I didn’t like the way I played my last game, how things happened. I needed my vengeance and luckily today I got it. This is a new page for me now, and I’ve just got to keep going like this. Positivity and a lot of heart, and goals, more than ever. We need these in order to keep getting those points that we need.”
On playing with Fredy Montero:
“It’s an honour to play with such a quality player. To me he’s the most talented on the team, you could say that. A lot of experience, obviously playing in Europe. Being a goalscorer, it’s great to play alongside him. Obviously our relationship off the field is good, but on the field we know each other well and today we did a lot of interesting stuff together. It’s good to work with Fredy.”
On what winning two in a row means for the locker room:
“A lot of positivity now. No more long faces, everybody’s happy. Everybody needs to be happy, I mean we’re doing what we love, we’re winning games. This is a lifestyle for us and in order to be happy we need to win games and right now we’re on the right road and hopefully things keep going this way, and we try to improve a lot of things we need to improve on and nothing but the best for us.”
On Wednesday versus LAFC:
“We have to enjoy tonight’s win, but in a matter of three days we have another final for us. Obviously against, you can say a tougher rival, even though they’re missing one of their key players they still have a lot of really interesting players on the team. And we need to be careful. We need to keep going with what we’ve been doing now these past few games and, you know, try to be humble and study our next rival for the next game.”
On his relationship with Fredy Montero:
“We have a good relationship, on and off the pitch. Not only does it come from only us two, it comes from the team and the support from our teammates, and then the good attitude they showed today. Going forward, hopefully we continue to be like this. Fredy knows me well. We try to practice a lot together, training together, trying to recognize, trying to memorize each other’s runs and positions on the field so we’re always a step ahead of the other team.”
On dominating the game but losing:
“It’s frustrating. I thought that in the first half, we dominated like you said, but it was a little too slow, just not aggressive enough. Two things happened. They gained a little bit of life, and they felt like they were in the game. That’s okay, but then you have to make sure you don’t give up goals like we did, that you continue to keep going and keep going and not give away anything cheaply. Sometimes these games are tough because the opponent is playing for a result. If you give them an opportunity to sneak one, they will. I thought we controlled a lot of facets. I don’t think it was aggressive enough, even after we went down a man. Two red cards in the last two games? We’re better than that. We’re more mature than that. We’ll get after it.”
On the red cards:
“I’m going to have to address it because it’s not us. It was a little bit unlucky. It wasn’t anything vicious today. It was a second yellow, so it’s not a discipline thing. Even the one last week with Douglas, I thought that Douglas had someone push on him and then he reacts, I get it. Contact to the head, red. It’s not a disciplinary thing, it’s just the heat of the moment. It’s a second yellow. Beckerman knows better than that. He’s a professional and he feels bad about it. We’ll mention it, and we just have to be mature. That wasn’t a problem of ours last year, so we have to get back to containing ourselves in situations and not putting ourselves in those situations. If we have a yellow already, we just have to be a bit smarter.”
On the shot numbers:
“I’m encouraged by the mentality of the players, the fight. What we were doing today, pressing and chasing, even going a man down and gambling, I thought we had a little more control of the game and that’s what I’m encouraged by. I just have to relate it to the team, and I did that coming out of the locker room. We’re not a team that’s going to put our heads down. We’re disappointed and we can be upset that the game didn’t go our way, but we can’t dwell on that. We have Galaxy on Wednesday and an opportunity to get 3 points and into the win column. When you have shots is one thing, but when you have shots in the box, to me that’s very encouraging and it should be for the team. Right now it’s tough for the players because sometimes when you’re playing and you lose, you don’t hear that type of stuff. I’m happy with and proud of the guys. Not happy with the result but proud of the guys.”
On Vancouver’s goal:
“Nedum knows that it’s a tricky situation. From what I remember, he anticipates and steals the ball, a second defender presses him and he has to poke it away, a third defender comes in and that’s where he’s lost. We don’t go into practice and talk tactics like, “Let’s dribble out.” In that moment, he sensed the game and thought he could get through. The ball just got away from him. I’m a little disappointed. He could just clear it, but the transition moment was lost. Our reaction was just a little bit too slow. It was too easy for them to get in behind us right away. It’s not just one play. He could have done better, but you have to be pessimistic in moments. Transition nowadays in soccer, both from offense to defense and defense to offense, are critical. The teams that can handle, read and anticipate those quicker are better. For me, anybody on the field, soccer is a transitional game. There’s going to be lots of possessions lost. How do you react in those moments. Today I thought we reacted a little slow in that moment.”
On capitalizing on opportunities:
“We’ll keep working on being a little more composed. You want to win the game so bad. I remember the great layoff that Chang had in the first half, and you have a good look from Albert. Psychologically, we just have to be a little more composed. The guys have to know that they’re going to get opportunities, and when they get it they just have to be a little more composed. We’ll keep working and we’ll talk about it. Sometimes they land, and sometimes they don’t. Today, we had 20 plus shots and 1 goal from it. That’s just unfortunate. If we continue the attitude we had, especially in the second half and after the second goal, we’re going to be in the playoffs. We’re going to win more games. It starts with Galaxy. I think Galaxy is losing right now too. We have to be ready. Forget this one. Take the positives and fix the negatives. We’ll show some stuff, those transition moments, composure in the box and we’ll be ready for Galaxy.”
On creating chances:
“I don’t know a game this year that we’re not creating chances. That’s a positive. Now it’s putting more than one goal in the back of the net. It’s the same story a little bit. We give up the first goal, then claw back a little way and find our way. Collectively we’ve just got to be a little bit better not conceding, especially at home.”
On the second yellow changing the game:
“You go down a man and it’s a little bit more difficult, but I think we responded perfectly. We went man-for-man almost everywhere on the field and tried to do what we could to find our way in the game down a man. I think we responded pretty well and got the equalizer.”
On the challenge of scoring goals:
“It seems like more times than not we’re in great positions to score. Sometimes a bit unlucky. We’ve scored multiple goals in games. 3-0, LAFC. Four goals on the road in Portland. Four goals on the road in Colorado. That’s a lot of goals and you’re not going to score four goals every game. That’s the reality of it. Sometimes teams come here with the altitude on the road and they sit back a little bit and want to counter. The space in between the lines in the final third is a little bit more difficult than sometimes when you’re on the road and they’re the team trying to press and we can play a little bit more normal.”
On the mood in the locker room:
“It’s not great. But the beauty of this game, the beauty of MLS and the beauty of the condensed schedule is that we have another game in four days. That’s the focus. What are you going to do? You can’t change the results now. You can’t change what happened against Colorado. We came out in the first half and created some good chances. Unfortunately tonight we fell short. We’re not going to sulk too much on this. We’re going to look at how to get better and get a result on Wednesday. If we get a result on Wednesday, there’s going to be more smiles in this building.”
On the team’s defensive effort:
“It feels like they had two opportunities and they took them. Aside from that, I didn’t feel like we were pinned in at all. It was obviously a lot better than the game before. Disappointed to lose and to give up two goals, but I think defensively we were pretty solid. It is what it is.”
On the game being an improvement:
“Obviously, we wanted to win today and have an overall better performance. We did play better, but we’re still disappointed because of the result itself. Colorado was one of those games that you should never get low on, not just in a season but in your whole career. It was better than Colorado, but anything close to that level again would have been completely unacceptable. It’s tough to say we’re building because we did lose again. People are showing more character and more of a competitive edge, and I think on a different day where we convert some of our chances and we do a lot better. This was going to be a test today. If we had played the same as we did against Colorado, we would have been in very big trouble. I don’t think we did. It was better if not great, so I guess we are building towards better results going forward.”
On conceding first today again:
“To be honest it’s very game to game. I think we’ve conceded quite a lot of early goals in games recently, which has really put us on the back foot. Today’s was in the second half, so it’s disappointing to concede. It’s always disappointing to concede, but conceding first doesn’t necessarily mean that the game is over. We showed the character to get back in the game, and it was when we were down to 10 men. We do have something about us. We do have a spine. We are mentally capable of coming back, but we’d much rather score first and be able to take the game to the opposition. I think that will come, because we do have the ability from where we are now. We are a positive team. We’re not going to sit back and only play if we concede. Football’s just one of those games where you have to take your chances and the team’s we’ve been playing recently have done that whenever they’ve arised for them.”
On the halftime mood:
“When we came in at halftime, we thought we could have had a lead. We weren’t too disappointed. It felt like we were playing well. We had lots of the ball, and we had a few threatening moments. We went into the second half thinking more of the same. We wanted to push them back and put them under pressure and see if we can have the altitude affect them by making the game as quick as possible. We conceded two goals, but looking at the stat lines from the game, even playing with 10 men for 30 minutes, we still had possession and way more shots. It’s disappointing. It’s not a terrible performance. We did dominate certain aspects of it, but we just have to do better. We have to fix the mistakes at the back and make the most of our opportunities. We entered their final third so many times today, but we weren’t able to capitalize on that, and that’s one of the biggest reasons why some teams win and some teams don’t.”