Vancouver Whitecaps and LAFC will be sick of the sight of each other by the end of the 2023 playoffs, if they aren’t already. A 1-1 draw between the two teams at BC Place on Saturday evening set up a best of three postseason series between them starting next week. If that series goes all the way, the two sides will have played eight matches against each other this season across three competitions. Crazy stuff.
It could have been very different after a dramatic Decision Day in the Western Conference saw a few twists and turns, with all the results going against Vancouver, and while the Whitecaps finished the evening where they started it in 6th place, LAFC dropped from 2nd to 3rd after dropping two points.
Denis Bouanga set LAFC on their way with a 34th minute opener before Ali Ahmed tied things up for Vancouver in the second half. Ryan Gauld missed two penalties on the night, one in each half, and both sides had chances to win it, but they’ll get set to do it all over against, starting down in LA.
Vanni Sartini went with a 3-1-4-2 formation for the 15th time this season and with Andres Cubas still missing, there were three changes from the team that started the last match against Seattle.
LAFC came out all guns blazing and forced a couple of early saves from Yohei Takaoka, first from Carlos Vela at his near post in the 3rd minute and then keeping out a long range effort from Bouanga seconds later.
Vancouver settled and started to launch some attacks of their own, earning their reward when Richie Laryea was sent crashing to the deck inside the box in the 12th minute after a challenge from Ryan Hollingshead.
Referee Fotis Bazakos initially gave a corner but after a video review he pointed to the spot. Up stepped Ryan Gauld but his penalty to the bottom right corner was expertly turned away by former ‘Caps keeper Max Crepeau, who was getting it tight from the home support all night.
🧱 Maxime Crépeau said NO. 🧱 pic.twitter.com/ZyL0PZ8OM1
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 22, 2023
Gauld came within inches of putting the Whitecaps in the lead in the 20th minute when his 25-yard shot whizzed by the left post, but the visitors finally broke the deadlock in the 34th minute.
Ilie Sanchez pounced on a Sebastian Berhalter pass forward just inside the ‘Caps half, playing it to Bouanga, and the MLS Golden Boot winner showed some nifty footwork as he took his tally for the season to 20 with a fantastic 20-yard strike that beat Takaoka and nestled in the bottom corner.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 22, 2023
The ‘Caps were lacking much oomph for spells of the latter stages of the second half and needed something to spark them into life, as their hopes of a top four finish quickly faded.
They certainly came out after the restart looking like a far different side and took control of the game, putting the visitors under pressure and two minutes after Timothy Tillman flashed a shot wide, Ahmed tied things up for the ‘Caps with a fantastic team goal and sublime finish.
Laryea and Pedro Vite linked up superbly and played a couple of one-twos, ending with a pinpoint delivery from the Canadian international into a wide open Ahmed in the box and he finished with aplomb.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 22, 2023
Crepeau produced a leg save just past the hour mark to keep out a Brian White header from a corner, as the ‘Caps pushed.
With the game very much in the balance, and with the ‘Caps just edging things, they were handed a chance to take the lead in the 72nd minute when Laryea was once again sent crashing to the deck in the box, this time by Diego Palacios, much to the anger of LAFC. A couple of yellow cards and three minutes later, Gauld stepped up to the spot once again but this time he crashed his effort off the bar and the teams remained tied.
Gauld had previously missed just two penalties in his entire career, and now here he was, doubling that tally in the one night.
Bouanga nearly made the Whitecaps pay with a free kick moments later that didn’t miss by much and it was LA who had the best chance to win it in the close minutes, with Mario González forcing a save from Takaoka.
The deadlock couldn’t be broken again and both teams had to settle for a point that will have disappointed each side. For LAFC, they dropped a spot and missed out on a guaranteed Champions Cup spot by finishing second. For Vancouver, a win would have still seen them finish 6th, with RSLhaving the tiebreaker on most wins.
Now the two teams with battle it out again over the next two to three weeks, starting with a game down in LA next weekend. It’s not an ideal draw for the ‘Caps but one in which if they get through it will make them feel unstoppable for the rest of the postseason. And with the matches we’ve seen between the two sides this year, anything is possible in this one.
FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 1 – 1 Los Angeles FC
34’ – LAFC – Dénis Bouanga (Ilie Sánchez)
58’ – VAN – Ali Ahmed (Richie Laryea, Pedro Vite)
Possession: VAN 57.1% – LAFC 42.9%
Shots: VAN 10 – LAFC 12
Shots on Goal: VAN 2 – LAFC 7
Saves: VAN 6 – LAFC 2
Fouls: VAN 14 – LAFC 18
Offsides: VAN 0 – LAFC 0
Corners: VAN 5 – LAFC 6
VANCOUVER: Yohei Takaoka; Javain Brown (Luís Martins 67’), Ranko Veselinović, Tristan Blackmon; Sebastian Berhalter; Ryan Raposo (Sam Adekugbe 67’), Ali Ahmed (Junior Hoilett 79’), Pedro Vite (Alessandro Schöpf 80’), Richie Laryea; Brian White (Simon Becher 87’), Ryan Gauld
[Substitutes not used: Isaac Boehmer, Mathías Laborda, J.C. Ngando, Levonte Johnson]
LOS ANGELES: Maxime Crépeau; Ryan Hollingshead, Jesús Murillo, Giorgio Chiellini, Diego Palacios (Sergi Palencia 78’); Timothy Tillman (Filip Krastev 85’), Ilie Sánchez, Mateusz Bogusz (Kellyn Acosta 67’); Carlos Vela (Nathan Ordaz), Dénis Bouanga, Cristian Olivera (Mario González 67’) [Substitutes not used: John McCarthy, Denil Maldonado, Stipe Buik, Aaron Long]
On his team’s overall performance vs LAFC:
“I think the first 15 minutes, I didn’t like it until we got the first penalty. We were a little bit, I don’t know, sleepy. We were a little bit not intense enough, we were arriving always a little late, and they create two, I would say, half a chance. A long ball that was easily defended, and then we got the penalty. And I have to be honest, I think missing the penalty woke us up, and we played much better from then on and we did, I think, a very good game. We did 75 minutes where we’ve been the better team on the field. We conceded a goal because they have players of extreme quality, so in one of our play, okay, they win the ball back on a maybe bad pass but, that may be the only bad pass Sebastian did the entire game, but anyway we defended very well and Bouanga invented a goal. But we kept playing, we kept going, we stayed in the game without making any mistakes. You saw immediately at the beginning of the second half we were pushing, pushing, pushing and in fact we got the chance after the goal, where Maxime made a good save. Another big chance for me is when Sam played the ball to Richie in front of goal. If he controls the ball like he normally does, it’s a goal. And then of course we had another penalty and it’s almost impossible. I told the guys on the bench, its okay to miss a penalty now if we score all the penalties and chances next Saturday. I think we’re going to see at least two fantastic battles in this next two games, also because even if we were playing very well, their quality, at the end you see, they almost scored. Yohei made a great save. What this team has is because of the quality of their speed, they can create a chance from nothing. And that’s what they did at the end and they almost won the game. So that’s a big thing that we need to focus because we need to be perfect on both ends of the game, if we want to qualify, because if you want to qualify, we need to win a game in Los Angeles and its going to be quite hard, I would say.”
On Richie Laryea’s performance:
“Richie today made a Richie Laryea masterclass. That’s the reason why he is here, the one v one, dribbling inside, playing. The play that we did on the goal between him and Pedro, it’s a play that we drew, it’s a play that we try, but it’s simple to draw the play, it’s not that simple to make everything perfect like we did. So yea, he did fantastic even defensively, I think we was very good helping, I think he was very good helping the side centreback.”
On the lessons learned vs LAFC for the playoff series:
“It feels like we’ve played them maybe 15 times already this year, but I think, you know, we know the experience they have on that team, guys who have played at the highest level. We know they’re a good team, so I think we’ve just got to really lock in next week in training, really bring our A-game, and prepare really well. I think you see in their first goal, you make one mistake and they’re a team that two seconds later are celebrating. So I think we’ve just got to be careful, learn and defend their transitions a little better.”
On his own performance and scoring the equaliser:
“I think that that goal is big for me. I think that I’ve been having some solid performances, but something you look back at the stats and I don’t have too many goals, so I think, we’re going into the biggest time of the season, so for me to get one right before the playoffs, it’s definitely big for me mentally going into the playoffs, and hopefully I can start putting more into the back of the net and backing up those good performances.”