Watching the results of this week’s US Presidential election come in felt a lot like watching Vancouver Whitecaps’ 2020 MLS season, well until the very end when their paths took different forks.
There was excitement at first, then concern, then excitement again, then the waiting game, then you just wanted it to end, then there was hope, before ultimately celebration/dejection. But it was a close run thing in the end.
The Whitecaps’ season of adversity may not have had a happy ending in terms of the playoffs, but at least the whole team can finally go home and spend some quality time with their families. I’m sure the joy and relief of that will soon overtake the disappointment of missing the postseason, although missing it by three points to the team that staged a three goal comeback against you in the MLS is Back tournament will certainly take a bit of getting over.
They also wanted to end the year on a high, securing more wins than last year in 11 games less, and putting in a performance of pride. They did both in a very assured 3-0 win over the LA Galaxy at Providence Park, thanks to a Fredy Montero double and a sixth of the season from Lucas Cavallini.
Both teams went with as strong a line-up as they could field, with Vancouver missing midfielder Michael Baldisimo due to yellow card accumulation and Leonard Owusu, who was he was back in Ghana sorting out paperwork.
The opening stages saw both sides create some half chances, with little real danger, but the Whitecaps broke the deadlock in the 24th minute when Cristian Gutierrez sent in a pinpoint accurate cross onto the head of Cavallini, who headed home his sixth of the season from the edge of the six.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) November 9, 2020
Gutierrez found himself in the thick of the action four minutes before half time, when he was on the wrong end of a horrific leg bending challenge from Julian Araujo on the edge of the Galaxy box that saw the LA man given a red card after a video review.
If the Galaxy weren’t feeling like they just wanted the season to end by this point, they most certainly did two minutes later when the Whitecaps doubled their lead, as Montero sent a nice ball out to Ali Adnan on the left, which the Iraqi whipped back in for the Colombian to chest home with the faintest of touches.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) November 9, 2020
The ‘Caps clearly sensed blood and wanted to go out on a real high, going for it at the start of the second half.
Russell Teibert forced a great save out of David Bingham, with a fierce volley four minutes after the restart, but it took them until the 70th minute before they got the next real good look on goal, with Cristian Dajome running in on goal and forcing another good save out of Bingham.
At the other end, Evan Bush had been having a fairly quiet afternoon, but he produced a fantastic one-handed save to turn away a Chicharito free kick in the 75th minute, as LA finally started to show their metal.
Bush was called back into action five minutes later, tipping a fierce Sacha Kljestan effort onto the bar and out for a corner, as the ten men of LA suddenly found a spark.
But the Whitecaps defence held firm and the team said goodbye to Portland with a third goal a minute into stoppage time. The Colombian connection teamed up for perhaps the last time as Dajome slipped the ball inside to Montero, who took a touch to knock it past the defence and buried it high into the Galaxy net.
A fine finish to a disappointing and testing season. And likely the last goal we see from Montero in a Whitecaps jersey.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 9, 2020
If it is, it was a nice way to bow out. As this win was for the team. They battled to the end, showing pride in their performance. Agonisingly it left them just three points shy of the postseason, and with a better PPG record than two of the teams that made the playoffs in the East.
Whether they’d have done much in the postseason is debatable. You have to feel likely not, but as I said last week, just getting their after everything they faced this year would have been a small victory.
Now there’s heading back to Vancouver, where they can go to the coffee shop of the same name instead. That loss against San Jose at the MLS is Back tournament, where they gave up a two point lead, can be pinpointed as their undoing. As can not taking any points from Portland and Seattle in their recent meetings.
But it’s all over now. The inquests can begin. And the Whitecaps need to improve. Another important offseason begins. Let’s hope this one can actually produce a better outcome.
FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 3 – 0 LA Galaxy
VANCOUVER: Evan Bush; Jake Nerwinski, Ranko Veselinović, Érik Godoy, Cristián Gutiérrez; Cristian Dájome, Janio Bikel, Russell Teibert, Ali Adnan (Tosaint Ricketts 87); Fredy Montero (Damiano Pecile 90+2), Lucas Cavallini (Theo Bair 87) [Substitutes not used: Bryan Meredith, Derek Cornelius, Andy Rose, Jasser Khmiri, Ryan Raposo, Patrick Metcalfe]
LOS ANGELES David Bingham; Julian Araujo, Giancarlo González, Daniel Steres, Emiliano Insúa (Emil Cuello 86); Joe Corona (Sacha Kljestan 55), Perry Kitchen; Yony González (Rolf Feltscher 44), 26.Efraín Álvarez (Kai Koreniuk 87), Cristian Pavón; Ethan Zubak (Chicharito 46) [Substitutes not used: Justin vom Steeg, Nicholas DePuy, Cameron Dunbar, Carlos Harvey]
Possession: VAN 52.3% – LA 47.7%
Shots: VAN 16 – LA 12
Shots on Goal: VAN 6 – LA 6
Saves: VAN 6 – LA 3
Fouls: VAN 14 – LA 15
Offsides: VAN 0 – LA 3
Corners: VAN 2 – LA 7
MARC DOS SANTOS
Thoughts on the season:
“Nine wins out of 23 games, I think if it was 34 games we would have won more. The last two months the team is understanding more and more what we want to do with and without the ball. I think we could have finished a year with 13, 14 wins at least. The negative part of the season is, I think so many other points we could have got through draws. The problem is not the number of wins, our number of wins is solid compared with the other teams that are up there. The problem is the number of losses that could have been draws. But again when we look at everything, we wanted to put a base, a platform for the future, thinking very well with a lot of responsibility in the offseason to better the team and to build from this. I’m proud of the mindset going towards this game. To be honest, I felt it in training yesterday, I told my staff that the guys seemed tuned in like if it was a playoff game. Very strong mentally, very aware of the importance of this game, we took this game incredibly serious. I think it showed tonight, and we deserved the win. Yes they went a man down, deservingly, it was a clear red card. But we deserved the win before that we were already playing well, we were already up in the score. Our team did the little things right, of course that the second half we had so much the ball that in some moments, we were feeling that in counter attack situations LA could have been dangerous. But I think overall it was under control, we needed that third goal to finish it up. And yes, it’s a good way to finish the season, but at the same time I’m speaking with you guys and I’m disappointed we were three points away of being in the playoffs.”
On spending time with family now:
“Oh man I hope my wife’s not going listen to this, she doesn’t usually. I hope I’m going to be lucky and she won’t, but my head is in the recruitment side. My head is on how are we going to make the jump in the roster, to build on what we’re doing. So to be honest, I think the first three or four days as of tomorrow I’m going to relax and spend some time with the family. But I’m already thinking a lot about what does the club need, what do we deserve, what do our fans deserve, what’s the next step for everyone as a club to grow. So it’s a mixed feeling. I’m proud of the guys throughout the process, because it’s been hard and they were extremely professional all the way. I said it many times, their attitude, their mentality all the way was always very, very good. The environment we created was very good inside. So I’m proud of that part, I’m proud of the number of wins, I’m proud of the number of points for the 23 games and for being only three points away. But at the same time I’m disappointed that in the big key moments we didn’t get those extra three points somewhere that would allow us to be to be in the final eight. But I think we have a lot of positive things to build on moving forward.”
“Well, me and Axel are very aware that we have a DP spot. I have to tell you that in all conversations between me, Axel, and the owners there’s a commitment of the owners also to make the team better and to go to the next step. There’s ambition, also in part of the owners on that side. They saw some growth, and everybody saw some growth inside the type of season that we had. We finished in front of teams that will play next weekend, teams that are going to have an extra game and we have more points than them. So, I’m not able to explain that, but at the end of the day I’m looking forward to how we could grow from here, and we have to grow and we have to become better. We have to go and study very well what’s going to make the next step in this roster, what’s going to be the next jump. Can we now go from growing in year one to two. In going through this adversity and we spend 100 days in a hotel, we spend almost 50 days of quarantine in one year, and we kept going. That has to be the mindset moving forward. With that being said, also what’s the next step for the roster. How can we grow. That has to be our commitment in the offseason, and it is right now. That’s the start of everything here.”
Assessing the current roster:
“We have a good idea, but we have to go sit down next week with our calculator and look at the sheet. We’re in a salary cap league, so think very well what’s the pieces, how we move things around. What we could spend, what does it mean the DP, what does it mean the Young DP, what positions are key. The importance of trying to get one or another player in the league that also has experience because of the young roster that we have and now they can influence the younger guys. All of this has to be very well thought about. So if you’re now going to ask me about Player A, B and C, I’m not going to answer any questions on that. We need to be clear in our minds, look very well at the full scenario and that’s going to be the work in this week.”
On the mindset of the team:
“I learned a lot about my players during this, it’s the positive thing about MLS is Back and being in Portland in a hotel together all the time. That allowed me to learn about the people. I told them yesterday in the team meeting before we spoke about the Galaxy and how we wanted to approach the game… it’s incredible. We went through all of this, and yes, like in a family you have your days. Good then some days I’m more upset at my daughter than others. Some days I’m more upset at my twins. So you have ups and downs, but they were so steady. There was never guys crying, never guys complaining. Every time with a good mindset, keep going, being positive and I learned a lot. I learned that when things are difficult I could count with a lot of them, and they stay with the right mindset and they keep going in. That’s something I learned a lot and the level of professionalism that they played this game tonight, where many players sometimes come in, it doesn’t mean anything regardless of the result, we’re not going to be in the playoffs. And you have them with an incredible mindset, very willing to do every little thing that we spoke about. It shows that they’re committed to what we want to be about. Look, if we’re not going to make it we’re not going to make it by three points, we wanted to finish in front of Miami, in front of Montreal, in front of Atlanta, in front of all these teams that we had the chance to finish in front of. That’s going to be our prize for this year, that at the end of all the process we were able to go to MLS is Back to qualify to the last 16, despite everything. During the season, get the maximum amount of points that we could. I just feel that if we would have everyone in the right moment, every player at MLS is Back, Erik Godoy with the team since the start, I feel that we would have been in the playoffs. And now we miss it by three points because in some key moments we can’t count on everyone.”
On the season:
“It’s always disappointed when you don’t reach a goal. We wanted to obviously make the playoffs. We did everything possible, it was a tough year for everyone. We couldn’t make it.”
On finishing strong:
“It’s a good motivation for me. Obviously, I was always looking to help the team, but today was a payoff for me. Two goals and finishing with three points, that’s all that I can ask for. Whatever happens in the future, it’s gonna be good for me, for the team, and for the other guys that fight so hard to be here. And I say thanks to all of them for a nice experience outside my house.
On what the future holds:
“I still have one more month to think about it, and the club as well. My current contract is going to finish on December 31 and then we’ll see. But I’m just happy to finish with two goals, the last games of the season I started with the team, I finally got on the level that I wanted to be and that’s on the positive note on my personal side.”
On relationship with Cavallini and Dajome and how it factors in his decision:
“Those two guys, Cava and Dajome, are two key players for this team. Looking forward, they should build this team around them. They are great. They have the passion, they are young, and obviously they proved in the first year in MLS that they are capable of giving a lot to the team. As an experienced guy in MLS I know it’s not easy coming into this league with high expectations, especially playing from behind as the Whitecaps were doing, always trying to prove themselves. For me, it’s not a decision that I can make right now at this moment. But the club should look forward to build more about around these guys that you mentioned.”
On looking forward to going home:
“After two long months, we are looking forward to spend time with the family, enjoy, and get on the routine with the kids, and recharge the batteries because next year, we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
On the last two seasons in Vancouver:
“First season, building new team, new identity, where I got the golden boot of the team. Second season, 2020, a lot of new things, bad things, quarantine, a lot of trips where I couldn’t make it with the team. Playing some games and the other games, I wasn’t able to play for coach’s decision, but I think I finished the best way possible. Starting with the team, proving that that’s where I belong, and helping the team with good plays, showing them that the young players always need an experienced player to develop, and the new players that came to the league, showing them the path to succeed here, so I feel happy. I gave everything that I have in any adversity, or any moment that I was facing with the team, and I’m happy. I feel at peace that I gave everything.”
On how the strong finish affects his future:
“That’s all I want, to play and try to reach my level. I don’t know at this point. I just felt that finishing the season, the last game of the season with two goals, it’s good personally but if you’ll see in the locker room, the guys are happy. We finished winning against a good team. That’s gonna give all the guys that are gonna come back next year with a big motivation that they have to start from where we finished the last season. And for me, it’s about waiting. I honestly don’t feel any pressure about what’s gonna happen next year. I feel confident that something good is gonna come to me.”
On how he feels about the season:
“I think it’s a mixture of everything. I think tonight you saw that we have a lot of pride and we played with pride. We wanted to end the season on the right note. And we did. I think this was one of the better wins we’ve had or since I’ve been here maybe in two years. This was something really good to finish with, and to build off for next season. When you look at the standings, we were one win away or three ties away, we didn’t have a tie all season. So I think that made a big difference. But we were close, we had a lot of stuff that was going against us, and we kept fighting, it’s shown how close we came.”
On looking forward to seeing his family again:
“At the end of day, we’re definitely disappointed because when you see the last half of our season, how we played, and how many wins we’ve got in these games, we thought that we had more in us that if we just kept that going a little earlier in the season, we would have been in the playoff spot. But now that you know that it’s over, we ended on a high note, it’s gonna be really nice to go home to relax, to spend some time with my wife I haven’t really seen in maybe two or three months. So it’s gonna be a good time. I think you know a lot of guys are mentally and physically exhausted, just from all of the different things thrown at us this season. We dealt with them as well as we can, we’re happy with how we finished. And it’s time to rest now.”
On his offseason plans:
“I plan on going back to New Jersey to spend some time with my family. With the quarantine, I don’t want to be stuck again for two weeks alone in my small apartment. I’m going to try to go back to New Jersey. Rest a bit. It seems like we might have a longer offseason than previous years, so I think we’re going to be well-rested. We’re going to be chomping at the bit to get back.”
On finishing strong:
“It means everything. Like I said before in previous press conferences, with everything that we’ve been through, it’s been a hell of a year. We could have easily come out today with no passion, with no pride, and got blown out, but we didn’t. This was our best win of the year. It really shows what this group had inside of us and what we wanted to show the fans, and the league. What we had, and how we would finish.”
On the bonds made during the year:
“It ultimately brought us closer together. I became really good friends with Bryan Meredith and we were saying yesterday that it seems like we’ve been friends for three or four years, and it hasn’t been a full year yet but we spend every day together in the hotel, hanging out. Sometimes you don’t want to see the same faces every day, non stop, but it definitely helped with our chemistry on the field.”
On his individual improvement this season:
“Coming off last year, I knew I had a lot of things that I wanted to work on and wanted to get better at. One of them was being more of an offensive threat. I think I did a pretty decent job, I still think I have a lot of room for improvement. I was able to get a few goals this year. I also wanted to be better on the ball. I wanted to keep the ball better, I wanted to have more dynamic passing, and I think I was able to do that this year. I was able to take a step forward, and I’m definitely happy with that. I’m always learning, I’m still growing. Anybody that says that you’re a finished product at 26 is lying. I always want to get better year in and year out.”
On being happy to end the season now:
“I wish we made the playoffs, I really do. I think in a lot of ways we deserve to make the playoffs with the way we ended the season. I think that we owed that to ourselves, to make the playoffs, and I think that is something that we’re definitely going to be discouraged about. But now that all is said and done, we are eliminated, we ended on a high note, we won 3-0, it’s going to be nice to go home, to relax, to be with family. We were talking about it before, we’ve been on the road for almost 100 days in a hotel, which is just something that is unfathomable. I know a lot of people don’t understand what that’s like. But to be away from your family, guys being away from their kids, it’s rough. It’s tough. But we stuck through it. We fought hard. We had the points to make it to the playoffs. And unfortunately, that wasn’t enough.”
On any bitterness on the switch to the points per game format:
“I mean, personally I think there will be for a little bit. When you look at some of the standings where it’s not points per game, we’re right in there. To see that we did beat some of the Eastern Conference teams, it would have been good enough in the East. Yeah, it’s upsetting. But there’s nothing we can do about it now. You know we showed that we are a team that could have made the playoffs. If we did, who knows what would have happened, if they’re one game eliminations we could have went on a run, but we didn’t get that chance.”