(Photo Credit: @WhitecapsFC/Twitter)
The Whitecaps comeback kings were at it again in Toronto on Saturday afternoon. Trailing to an impressive 50th minute goal from Deandre Kerr, the dynamic duo of Ryan Gauld and Brian White sparked a Vancouver fightback, with Tristan Blackmon heading home an equaliser six minutes later before White also rose to the occasion to head home a 66th minute winner off a pinpoint Gauld cross.
It was no more than the Whitecaps deserved, bolstering not only their playoff chances, but the opportunity to be a top four seed in the MLS Western Conference, and maybe even more than that.
Vanni Sartini went with the 3-1-4-2 formation that’s been working well of late, with latest addition Junior Hoilett going right into the matchday squad on the bench.
The home side had the first look on goal three minutes in when Federico Bernardeschi hit a low free kick wide of the right post.
That was pretty much it for clear cut scoring chances for the next little spell, as both sides enjoyed possession and forays forwards but without really troubling either goalkeeper.
TFC threatened again in the 26th minute when Lorenzo Insigne forced Yohei Takaoka to tip the ball over for a corner with a strike from the edge of the box after being set up by a nice backheel pass from Bernardeschi.
Vancouver’s first real look on goal in the 32nd minute when Ryan Raposo’s fierce shot was parried away by Tomas Romero.
Toronto went straight up the pitch and won a free kick, which Bernardeschi got on target but was batted away by Takaoka.
White got into his best position of the first half in the 38th minute for the ‘Caps but swept his effort wide, while Richie Laryea had a low effort saved by Romero as Vancouver finished the first half strongly.
Goalless at the half, Vancouver pushed for the breakthrough after the restart and Raposo brought an acrobatic save from Romero in the 48th minute.
The ‘Caps kept the pressure on from the resultant corner but were caught out by a quick TFC counter where Insigne sprung Kerr, who put on the jets to keep ahead of Sebastian Berhalter and finished with aplomb past Takaoka.
Deandre Kerr = composure personified. 😎
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 17, 2023
What we’ve learned from the Whitecaps this season is going behind is not the death knell it’s been for Whitecaps teams of the past and as with the team’s last match in New York, Vancouver quickly levelled when the ball ran through to Blackmon from a Raposo corner and the centre back headed home through a crowd of players in the 56th minute.
Tristan Blackmon and #VWFC will take that.
All square in the 6ix! pic.twitter.com/iQrwggc05A
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 17, 2023
Vancouver kept the pressure on and Raposo left the bar vibrating with a curler that crashed off it with Romero beaten.
The Whitecaps pressure was relentless and after a few close calls they went ahead in the 66th minute.
And as has often been the case this season, the dynamic duo of Gauld and White did the damage with Scot sending a pinpoint delivery in from the edge for a wide open White to head home.
Ryan 🤝 Brian
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 17, 2023
White was denied a second by Romero in the 73rd minute in a beautiful back to front move that saw a lovely one-two with Gauld to set up the chance.
White had the ball taken off his foot in front of goal with five minutes remaining after Gauld ran through Toronto before playing the ball out to Pedro Vite who put the cross into the box.
Insigne sent a dipping free kick over the bar two minutes later, but that was it for the home side and the ‘Caps easily saw out the rest of the match, securing three big away points, and continuing their derby day and Eastern Conference dominances.
It wasn’t a classic in terms of entertainment from start to finish, but the lively second half and the comeback from the ‘Caps sparked by the Ryan-Brian connection was a joy to watch. You really feel this Vancouver side are starting to hit their stride, getting red-hot at the right time. They had to find a way to win on the road if they were to become bonafide playoff contenders. They’ve done just that and the ‘Caps are now unbeaten in their last four road matches, with three of those being wins.
This victory and that run of form sees them finish the weekend in fourth place in the Western Conference standings, eight points off St Louis in first, with a game in hand, and a match to come at BC Place against them. At one stage this weekend, the ‘Caps were sitting second in the West.
We’ll finish on this thought. Vancouver have to face all three teams above them down the stretch. If they win all seven of their remaining games they’ll head into the playoffs as the top seed in the West. They might not even have to win out to achieve that. Incredible stuff.
FINAL SCORE: Toronto FC 1 – 2 Vancouver Whitecaps
50’ – TOR – Deandre Kerr (Lorenzo Insigne)
56’ – VAN – Tristan Blackmon (Ryan Raposo)
66’ – VAN – Brian White (Ryan Gauld)
Possession: TOR 57% – VAN 43%
Shots: TOR 10 – VAN 17
Shots on Goal: TOR 3 – VAN 8
Saves: TOR 6 – VAN 2
Fouls: TOR 12 – VAN 10
Offsides: TOR 0 – VAN 1
Corners: TOR 3 – VAN 5
TORONTO: Tomas Romero; Kobe Franklin (Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty 67′), Sigurd Rosted, Michael Bradley, Raoul Petretta; Franco Ibarra (Latif Blessing 67′), Alonso Coello (Víctor Vázquez 80′), Jonathan Osorio (Shane O’Neill 79′); Federico Bernardeschi, Deandre Kerr (CJ Sapong 79′), Lorenzo Insigne [Substitutes not used: Luka Gavra, Aimé Mabika, Brandon Servania, Themi Antonoglou]
VANCOUVER: Yohei Takaoka; Mathías Laborda, Ranko Veselinović, Tristan Blackmon; Sebastian Berhalter (Pedro Vite 58′); Richie Laryea (Levonte Johnson 90’+1), Alessandro Schöpf (Russell Teibert 90’+1), Ali Ahmed, Ryan Raposo (Javain Brown 80′); Brian White, Ryan Gauld [Substitutes not used: Isaac Boehmer, Junior Hoilett, Karifa Yao, J.C. Ngando, Simon Becher]
On the seven-game road stretch:
“There’s three more games, so it’s going to be [tough]. We started this decisive seven games now in the best way possible. Now, celebration tonight on the flight back, rest tomorrow, and then Monday starting thinking about Houston immediately. I know it’s almost a joke to recharge and go 100 percent, but that’s what we need to do against probably the best team at the moment in MLS. I think they are number one and we are number two for the last kind of 10 games.”
On the match:
“I really like almost everything. I think we played very well. In the first half, I think we didn’t have the necessary I don’t know how to say, maybe killer instinct or attitude in the final third to score, like we thought the game could go. Like them having the ball, and we asked them forcing them to play inside and trying to counter and we did very well. Then unfortunately they created a great goal they scored to be honest here, we were being a little bit naive because that ball played by Sebastian needs to be played wide and he played the ball centrally, but Insigne made a fantastic pass. So they scored a goal, but then again, after that, we also showed that we probably are in a better fitness condition than them because they were unable to cope with the ground [covered] at the end and we scored the 1-1, 2-1, we could have scored like to be honest three or four goals. I think it’s a fantastic win, it’s beautiful, and also we played very well.”
On playing with Brian White:
“I love playing with Brian. Whenever I get on the ball in the final third, my first thought is to look for him because his movement is unbelievable. I know that if I give him a few chances, he’s going to put some away. He’s an unbelievable guy to play with, works extremely hard for the team from the front. It’s nice to see him rewarded with goals.”
On the recent travel:
“I mean, it’s been tough, but it’s just part of the job, and we just have to get on with it. This especially was a tough one. We just flew yesterday and our dinner was late, 11:45 p.m. Toronto time so it’s been a little bit harder, a little bit of a longer travel than normal but I don’t think it shows on the pitch. The last few games has been able to tell we’ve been doing a lot of the traveling and there’s nothing we can do about it. Just get our heads down, we work hard, and hopefully we keep getting the results.”
On his goal:
“Raposo was on the ball, just put in a good cross, and I think Mathías [Laborda] was just in front of it and kind of dragged the man out of position and I was kind of there just sitting like a duck and it happened to hit my head and thankfully it went in. I think even from the way that I celebrate it, you could kind of see that I was a little bit shocked but I’m happy that it went in and shoutout to Mathías for missing the ball.”
On the defensive set up with the formation:
“I think, first and foremost, when the guys are firing up top, it makes our job a lot easier. I think it’s kudos to them and the work that they’re putting in. It alleviates the pressure that we have to deal with and kind of makes things a little bit easier for us but yeah, defensively, I think we’re putting in good shifts. [We’re] definitely becoming more cohesive as a backline and I think, definitely as the season’s gone on, you can see we’re becoming much more comfortable in the system that we’re in and it’s working for us right now. Obviously, [there’s] always things to work on, but I’m happy with the way that it’s going so far.”
TERRY DUNFIELD – INTERIM HEAD COACH
Can you give us your thoughts on the performance against Vancouver tonight?
“Vancouver are a really good, really top team. They don’t give you a ton. And I thought we just edged in the first half. It was close. Just looking at our metrics, at halftime, some detail went out, got our goal, which was great. Really nice feeling. It was great to see the BMO on its feet again. Then it leads to a turnover and a set piece, and just looking at our organization, it’s not quite right.
It’s a good header from Blackmon, and yeah, we struggled to come back from that punch, I think. And then just reviewing the second goal, we maybe could have gone tight to goal. We decide to drop off, protect what’s behind us, is fine. We know the relationship between Gauld and White is good. There’s one player in the box versus our six. And it’s in the back of the net. But up until that point of the goals, I thought it was a nice performance.
I thought in the first half, he pushed the back three back and made space for others. It was a little bit selfless at times in the second half. I thought it was amazing, the quality from Lorenzo. That’s what he can do in the half-turn, and then you can just see the athleticism and composure and technique of Deandre Kerr come out 1v1, as soon as he’s through, it’s a goal, so I thought that was great.”
Did you see any rust from the guys today?
“No, we expected it. We hadn’t played for two and a half weeks, so I thought there would be a little bit of clunkiness but once we got to 10, 15 minutes, we started to find rhythm and find ways through and over Vancouver’s midfield wall and created some nice attempts.”
What concerns do you have about the rest of the season affecting other players?
“I think the way the season has played out, it’s a lot of opportunity for younger players. When they look back at this season, not only have they had a lot of important appearances, they have, I’d say, for the most part, speaking collectively, grown throughout the year. Kobe comes to mind, Kerr, Alonso again was solid today. I think it’s been a real positive season.”
What was behind Michael Bradley playing centre-back especially when Shane O’Neill was available?
“I think Michael moving into that position has allowed us to build out of the back and progress up the field consistently. I think he has this incredible quality of making others around him better, and with some top players from Franco and Alonso in front of him. We have unlocked something, Michael playing in that role.”
Given how the season has played out and the rivalry with Vancouver, is this sort of loss especially bitter?
“I think as the game played out, I think you didn’t necessarily have – similar when we played Montréal, that old school rivalry feel where tackles are flying in and it’s high intensity and it’s a little bit tactical at times. I think to kind of summarize or paraphrase the game, we struggled to deal with a couple punches, and I think just a couple scars were opened up after conceding two. We weren’t able to punch back.”
On Deandre, how much with a young player is it important to build a connection for Lorenzo?
“It’s been great to have Lorenzo back for sure, and I think the way Lorenzo plays, time is so important, being at full fitness. A lot of his actions are implicit and if he’s having to think as a player, is he going to run in depth, is he going to be on the same wavelength with me, or at least potentially him taking an extra touch. But when it all comes together, it does look like that sequence on the first goal.”
When you see a header like the second goal conceded tonight, how frustrating is that for you?
“I think we are in a good spot. It was something we spoke about at halftime, just keeping our fullbacks a little more narrow. We gave up some territory but it would keep us connected. It’s frustrating but one of the threats of Vancouver is just the quality of their front two together. It’s a lot of work to do to score from 15, 16 yards. There’s not a ton of pace on the cross so it is a good header. But yeah, I think both goals, a hundred percent, most of the goals, “come on guys, you can make a play there.” Unfortunately, maybe that feeling just kind of transferred to the group a little bit, like, oh, man, we shouldn’t be here.”
What do the next few days look like for you before Miami?
“Yeah, it was frustrating just having to look at my phone seeing D.C. were tied and mathematically we were still hanging around. We wanted to keep a real nice feeling from Philly, get a little bit of momentum to go down to Miami. But just kind of our luck run; we are going to play a rested Messi probably. But no, I’m sure the guys will be looking forward to going down to Inter Miami. We’ll train there for a day or two and head to New York.”
Obviously a disappointing result but what did you think of the overall performance of the team?
“I thought we did a lot of good things. And then some bad things. That’s just how the game goes. It’s tough. I mean, I thought a lot of guys put in a lot of good games, good shifts. We worked pretty hard. But we just came up short. It’s unfortunate but it’s just how it is. It’s the game that we play.”
How has it been for you personally?
“I feel like I’m happy with it. Obviously you ask any player, he’s going to be happy he’s playing. It’s hard to come in this time of the season as well. But I’m just taking it day-by-day and doing my best in training and trying to improve myself to help the team as much as possible.”
Why do you think there was so much space for that header?
“It’s a good question. I think on that goal, we did a bad job of letting Gauld I think dribble up the field without putting any real pressure on him and we just reacted, I think to the play, versus being proactive and getting into good spots, and that’s just how it is. I mean, you can’t let a DP dribble up the field like that. You give him time, he’s going to do what he’s good at.”
Quick turnaround, what’s the mentality going into another two tough games in the Eastern Conference?
“Yeah, we play Miami. That’s going to be obviously a big game for everybody. All eyes are on that type of game. As a player, it’s a high-pressure game, and when everyone is watching, you want to do your best and perform as a team and perform as an individual. So I think if we can go into that game with that mentality, we’ll make it as hard as possible for Miami. And following that, you know, we’ll see how the result goes on Wednesday, and we’ll focus for Saturday.”
Your view on Deandre’s goal?
“Yeah, actually I have no idea how it started out but then I just seen Deandre running in and it was like, please don’t miss, DK is good enough to take that chance and he did. I’m happy for him and he gets another goal for himself. He’s a very talented player. I don’t know how old he is, but he’s a young guy, younger than me. I think he has a bright future and if he keeps training hard, he’ll do well.”
Given any thought what it’s going to be like going against Messi?
“I just focus on the game and do what I need to do. I’m sure you ask any player of this past generation, especially of the younger guys, we grew up watching Messi but every player watched him and continues to watch him every week. So there’s that part of it, but at the end of the day, he’s just human and he’s just another player, very talented obviously, the best of all of us. But he’s still human and you just have to treat it like a normal game. Obviously Terry, I’m sure the coaches, they will come up with a plan for dealing with that but we’ll see. Then we’ll do our best to defend against him.”