One of the reasons Axel Schuster gave for the dismissal of Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos was for it to act as a wake up call for the team for the rest of the season. A spur to make the playoffs. The danger was it could just set off alarm bells ringing instead.
The first test came on Sunday evening at BC Place and on the basis of this one, the Whitecaps are wide awake and raring to go.
A first half own goal from Marcelo Silva had given the ‘Caps a half time lead. Tallies from Brian White, Ryan Gauld, and Florian Jungwirth had Vancouver four up and coasting, and not even a last minute consolation Anderson Julio could dampen the Whitecaps joy, as interim head coach Vanni Sartini celebrated his first victory in charge of the team.
Sartini said he wasn’t going to make too many changes for this one, but made a couple of key ones defensively, with Bruno Gaspar coming in at left back and Jungwirth making his first start as a Whitecaps in the middle of the defence. With Gauld also getting his first start, Sartini went with a 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation and it worked wonders.
Perhaps that was helped by RSL giving away presents, with Silva turning a Gauld corner into his own net in the 33rd minute for the go ahead goal.
It was no more than Vancouver deserved from their aggressive early play but they were handed another gift as half time approached, with Justin Meram blasting over from a few yards out after Max Crepeau had produced a great save to turn a free kick off the post.
That was about all that the visitors could muster and the ‘Caps took complete control in the second half.
White pounced to put Vancouver two up in the 53rd minute after a fumble from RSL keeper Andrew Putna. It was the striker’s third goal in three straight league games, and showed how dangerous he can be from within the six yard box.
And talking of danger, Gauld’s aerial threat has been very evident in the games he’s played so far. And the Scot headed home another in the 64th minute, after being left wide open to get onto a superb pinpoint Javain Brown cross.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) August 30, 2021
The goals weren’t finished coming, and Jungwirth grabbed his first goal since July 2018, rising to head home a Gauld corner in the 69th minute.
His first as a Whitecap in a very strong overall performance, and it’s hard to see him drop out of the starting line-up now at this point.
The only real blemish for the ‘Caps came in the last minute. Sub Patrick Metcalfe was unfortunate to deflect a cross off the bar, with the rebound falling to Julio right on front of goal and he made no mistake.
The clean sheet would have been the cherry on top but the three goal victory certainly helped the Whitecaps’ goal difference and the three points saw them finish the weekend one place and one point outside of the playoff places.
How much we can read into the ‘Caps win will be seen down the line. RSL were poor without their talismanic Damir Kreilach, who was missing due to yellow card accumulation. Austin next weekend may not be the sternest test either, but this is exactly what Vancouver need right now.
The postseason is looking very much a possibility. After the year it’s been, that is a victory in itself.
FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 4 – 1 Real Salt Lake
Possession: VAN 48% – RSL 52%
Shots: VAN 11 – RSL 8
Shots on Goal: VAN 5 – RSL 2
Saves: VAN 1 – RSL 3
Fouls: VAN 10 – RSL 13
Offsides: VAN 2 – RSL 0
Corners: VAN 10 – RSL 1
VANCOUVER: Maxime Crépeau; Javain Brown (Patrick Metcalfe 72), Ranko Veselinović (Marcus Godinho 85), Florian Jungwirth, Bruno Gaspar; Leonard Owusu (Ryan Raposo 85), Janio Bikel, Tussell Teibert; Cristian Dájome, Ryan Gauld (Déiber Caicedo 75); Brian White (87.Tosaint Ricketts 75) [Substitutes not used: Thomas Hasal, Andy Rose, Érik Godoy, Michael Baldisimo]
SALT LAKE: Andrew Putna; Noah Powder, Justen Glad, Marcelo Silva, Ashtone Morgan; Nick Besler (Anderson Julio 67), Pablo Ruiz (Everton Luiz 79); Jonathan Menendez, Albert Rusnak, Justin Meram (Maikel Chang 61); Rubio Rubin [Substitutes not used: Jeffrey Dewsnup, Donny Toia, Erik Holt, Justin Portillo, Toni Datkovic]
On the team’s performance tonight:
“I think it was very good in the sense that we tried to be always on the front foot, to press them really high, to not let them play. The three guys up top that were three players of quality, White, Gauld, and Dájome, they lead the press and they lead the defensive effort. And the others guys followed. We played in a way that can be even simple sometimes, but if you don’t have the stamina, the will and the mental disposition to do it is really hard. All the players they had it today so I’m really pleased with the performance to be honest.”
On whether he thought the team would be at the playoff line a month and a half ago:
“The team has improved a lot. I want to say again that it’s improved a lot and also thank you to the former coaching staff that improved the team in a way that now is ready to play this battle. Of course, there was also huge investment with the new DP by the club. And the third thing that makes me excited for the club is that we play at home. Even tonight we’re feeling the fans chanting. Having the support of the city, it really makes a difference. You don’t have to forget that we played away for more than one year so playing here, it really makes a difference.”
On whether him and Pablo Mastroeni had any words:
“We just say that world of soccer is crazy, because Thursday we had completely different jobs, the both of us and then we were there, now leading the team. So, as I said, this situation is kind of unusual, but that’s how it works, we need to adapt or die. In Italy we say either we swim or we drown. So, let’s swim, and let’s see how much longer we can swim.”
On how he personally felt after the win:
“Well, it couldn’t go better. I’m very happy right now and I’m like a little kid when he’s happy and I want everybody to know that I’m happy. Unfortunately, in Italy it’s 6am now so I can’t call anyone. But I’m really excited. Before the game if you asked me, I was everything on the scale. I was excited, scared, preoccupied, inspired. I was every objective and now I’m just happy.”
On the battle for the playoffs:
“Obviously our number one goal right now is to get above that line and qualify for playoffs at the end of the year. We know there’s a lot of games left to play and we’re focused on the next game. Just the game we’re in, then the next game, and not looking too far ahead and not worrying about what other teams are doing and just focusing on us and getting three points.”
On his goal:
“I think anytime you put the ball in the box, it’s going to be issues for the defence. We have guys that are attacking the ball, putting dangerous crosses in. We just put in a lot of crosses, made them uncomfortable and that led to the goal. So that’s what we need to keep doing, what we need to do in the future and just keep going.”
On the battle to make the playoffs:
“We know it’s going to be a constant battle ‘til Decision Day probably. But we know we’re capable of making the playoffs. And today, we’ve shown what it takes. That must be the norm, you know, we have to provide that every week, in every game, every minute, that we are ready, that we execute the tactics well, that we are really nasty in our duels. I think we won so many duels today, especially in the second half. We played really quick on top, and a lot of crosses, good chances, and that’s the way. It’s on us. If we can manage to continue that, the way we play now to the end of the year, I’m 100 per cent convinced that we are going to make the playoffs. But that’s really upon us, how are we going to continue to work.”
On defending his teammates:
“I think when I came here, that’s the way I am, that’s the way I play I. I give it all for the team when I’m on the field. I’m a wild dog. I go in every duel, I don’t mind what happens, I go for it. When someone attacks my teammate, I am going to protect them in every way I can. Like I said, it was Bruno, so someone attacks my teammate and I’m going to defend them. I think I have the experience, I’ve never received a red card in my career. So I know which kind of buttons I have to push on my opponents. Like I said, that’s the way I play, this the way I performed for years, worked out well for me and I hope the fans and the coaching staff like that.”
REAL SALT LAKE
On moving on:
“I think there’s way too many variables to begin to try to dissect this and find some pertinent information on the fly. This game has to be won on the human level, and by that I mean you have to have the right mentality when you approach any game. When you win that, especially on the road then you can start to talk about the way you want to go about it from a tactical perspective. I feel like we didn’t have the right mentality. Physically, I think they were first to most balls and picked up all the loose balls. It was a very difficult match, and there were two of the strangest goals I’ve seen in a long time. When you concede an own goal, or essentially two own goals, it’s going to be difficult. So given that and the circumstances that the players experienced this week, it wasn’t easy, but I find solace in the fact that they kept going and found a goal. It’s something that when I addressed them, it was that, let’s focus on what we’re doing moving forward and what we’re going to do approaching Dallas. Hopefully we’ll have Aaron [Herrera] and Damir [Kreilach] back and have the mindset at home to really get after it.”
On the first full week in charge:
“It’s been one of the craziest weeks and I’m sure the players haven’t seen too many like this as well. It’s really about getting back to where we were prior to this, and that’s training the right way, having the right mentality, and more importantly finding the solution to what is now an issue with our set pieces. We’ve been great for the first 20 matches and now we’ve conceded in the last 3, so I think we’re not giving ourselves much of a chance to get into the game when we’re conceding soft goals. In the beginning of the year, we were stalwarts in that department, so a couple of things, but at the end of the day, it’s one of those games where you just have to move on. Like I said earlier, it’s not a game that you can get much out of given the circumstances.”
On zonal marking against set pieces:
“We were looking to change it up, but given that we had no time and yesterday we were training at the Vancouver facility, I felt that it was best to stay with what we had versus having a lot of doubt going with a hybrid. It would be silly to be married to something that at the moment isn’t working. We will look at a couple of different things this week now that we have a bit of time to do that, but that is definitely a focus moving forward.”
On the match:
“It went wrong pretty much everywhere. First goal conceded was a set piece again. Last two games we’ve conceded twice from set pieces, and tonight two more. The first goal is important in every game. The second goal, it’s an individual mistake, then another set piece goal later on. We shot ourselves in the foot and it’s not the first time this season. It was our worst game of 2021.”
On missing key players:
“This happens, injuries and suspensions happen. The next man that is coming to play has to be ready. I don’t think this game is to be blamed on individuals, I think this is a collectively bad performance and a loss. At this stage of the season every game is crucial. It’s a frustrating one. I can’t stop thinking about the goals that we conceded. It’s tough because you work so hard to create a chance or score a goal and then on the other side we give up sloppy goals. It was a tough one tonight.”
On the turf and looking ahead:
“I don’t think the turf played a major part in the loss, but we probably won’t take anything from this game to Dallas. Maybe we will watch a video at the start of next week, but that’s that. This is one of those games you don’t take anything from into the next game. Maybe in the last 5-10 minutes there was some good stuff there, but personally, I don’t want to take anything into the next game.”