It feels a bit early to be talking about must win matches two months, and eight games, into the MLS season, but here we are. Vancouver Whitecaps’ dire start to the season had them firmly rooted to the bottom of not just the Western Conference, but the entire league. With a four game homestand in May on both league and cup duty, this is the time when the ‘Caps season could be made or broken.
The first of those games came at BC Place on Sunday afternoon as Vancouver hosted a young and understrength Toronto FC side with struggles of their own. And so far the ‘Caps are one for one in their quest to start to turn their season around, coming away with a 1-0 victory thanks to Tosaint Ricketts’ 90th minute winner. It wasn’t pretty and VAR played it’s part, but it was an absolutely massive three points for Vancouver.
Vanni Sartini made six changes to the team that were taken apart by Austin 15 days ago, with Ryan Gauld back from his concussion and Erik Godoy getting his first minutes of the season after injury. The other big notable change was finally a switch to a back four, which may just prove to be a temporary fix but it was a much welcome one and the team seemed to reap the benefits from it.
The Whitecaps started the livelier, as you’d expect from a home team needing the points, and they got their first chance six minutes in when Deiber Caicedo pounced on some hesitation in the box from Lukas McNaughtan, winning the ball well, but his shot was saved and Alex Bono smothered the rebound before Cristian Dajome could get to the rebound.
Both teams were moving the ball without creating any real goalscoring threat but the ‘Caps had another chance to open the scoring in the 27th minute when Caicedo sliped in Gauld, but Bono saved again, this time at the feet of the Scot and the danger was cleared.
Michael Bradley had a shot from the edge of the box for TFC that wasn’t far away just past the half hour mark, but then the visitors were handed the perfect opportunity to go ahead when a video review saw Ranko Veselinovic penalised for the ball striking his arm in the box. No complaints, his arm was definitely raised, and it looked like a penalty in real time.
Up stepped Alejandro Pozuelo, but his weak effort was easily saved by Thomas Hasal and the ‘Caps breathed a huge sigh of relief.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) May 8, 2022
Bono parried a Caicedo shot and Jayden Nelson skied the ball over from a good position for TFC to round off the half but the teams headed in all square and goalless.
The Whitecaps came out strong for the second half, with Dajome blasting wildly over and a Gauld header being knocked off the bar by a juggling Bono in the opening minutes after the restart.
Javain Brown was having a lot of success tearing up the right wing and sending dangerous balls across goal. Brian White met one of those in the 56th minute, but his diving effort went wide when he really should have at least got it on target.
The Whitecaps were clearly in the ascendency, but the game was still very much in the balance and then the major postgame talking point came in the 66th minute, and it was a decision that was to delight Vancouver, anger Toronto, but was ultimately bittersweet for the Whitecaps.
TFC’s Deandre Kerr hit the byeline and sent a ball across goal. Hasal got a hand to it, but could only knock it into the path of Pozuelo. The Spanish DP hit a first time shot goalward but Hasal recovered to make another great save, but as the ball spilled, Nelson was on hand to fire the ball home and seemingly put Toronto ahead.
But not so fast! Referee Victor Rivas blew for a foul on Hasal as Nelson kicked the ball and there was nothing upon review that was deemed to overrule the decision on the field and the goal was ruled out. A harsh call on TFC as the ball was loose and fair game to go for in my opinion.
While that was good news for the ‘Caps, the bad news came with Hasal having to go off the pitch with an injured left hand, bringing Cody Cropper on for his Whitecaps debut. The team have x-rayed the keeper and are awaiting results.
After two huge stops by @thomashasal, he picks up a hand injury and Cody Cropper comes on for his Whitecaps debut 🧤
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) May 8, 2022
Cropper was called into action in the 72nd minute pulling off a stunning one-handed save to deny Jordan Perruzza, and will certainly be up there as a Whitecaps ‘Save of the Season’ contender.
The save could also be a very important one in Vancouver’s season with how the closing stages of this game played out.
With time ticking down and a share of the points looking the likely outcome, there was still time for late drama in the 90th minute.
The Whitecaps headed forwarded on transition and a nice five-pass move ended with Lucas Cavallini squaring the ball for Ricketts to tuck it away from three yards out. Gauld was involved in the move twice but Cavallini showed the good side of his game with his power holding off the TFC defence. It looked a tight call but Ricketts seemed just onside and the goal stood.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) May 8, 2022
The Whitecaps comfortably saw out stoppage time and a massive three points were theirs. TFC will certainly feel hard done by, and rightly so, but for Vancouver you can’t understate how important this win was.
Can they build on this now, not only in league but also in Canadian Championship play? We’ll find out in three days.
FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 1 – 0 Toronto FC
Possession: VAN 45.2% – TOR 54.8%
Shots: VAN 15 – TOR 9
Shots on Goal: VAN 6 – TOR 4
Saves: VAN 4 – TOR 5
Fouls: VAN 11 – TOR 8
Offsides: VAN 3 – TOR 0
Corners: VAN 5 – TOR 3
VANCOUVER: Thomas Hasal (Cody Cropper 70); Javain Brown, Érik Godoy, Ranko Veselinović, Jake Nerwinski; Russell Teibert, Sebastian Berhalter (Michael Baldisimo 86); Ryan Gauld, Cristian Dájome (Ryan Raposo 71); Brian White (Lucas Cavallini 71), Déiber Caicedo (Tosaint Ricketts 85) [Substitutes not used: Marcus Godinho, Florian Jungwirth, Pedro Vite, Matteo Campagna]
TORONTO: Alex Bono; Kadin Chung (Jordan Perruzza 46), Lukas MacNaughton, Shane O’Neill (Paul Rothrock 90+3); Kosi Thompson, Luca Petrasso, Michael Bradley, Deandre Kerr (Steffen Yeates 85); Alejandro Pozuelo, Jayden Nelson (Ayo Akinola 86); Jesús Jiménez [Substitutes not used: Greg Ranjitsingh, Quentin Westberg, Kobe Franklin, Themi Antonoglou]
On the win:
“I would have been happy for a million reasons and of course, the win is the reason why we are happy. The second thing is that I think we played very well. They had a couple of big chances, but we had more chances than them. I think we’ve been the better team on the field. And also I’m very happy that the protagonists of the win have been guys that came off the bench to remind everyone that the group is the leader. Cody made a great save as soon as he come inside and Lucas and Tos combining for the goal. It’s beautiful, it’s very beautiful, we’re very happy.”
On what the result means for the team:
“It’s really big, because we were losing and then we have these bunch of games at home, we have a game in two days and a half, basically. It was a very important game, either we win or not. It was very good to give them a boost of confidence and to try to have this next game. Well, the most important thing is three points and even the results on the other teams in these two weeks, after Austin we were eight points behind. Maybe we’re six points behind tonight and we have a game in hand so what more can you ask?”
On the upcoming Canadian Championship clash vs. Valour FC:
“We can be very clear, Wednesday is the most important game of the year. Why? Because if we lose we are out of the Canadian Championship. That is a competition that we want to try to win. It’s a competition that it’s like we have to win four games, not 34 like the MLS. We enter the competition and have to be honest in a way that we are the big guy, we’re not the underdog because of the CPL of course, the budget and everything, we need to have extreme respect for Valour. Go with all our guns there and try to win this game, because, the last two years, the last two Canadian Championship campaigns have been very disappointing for the club.”
On the win:
“I mean it was a pretty open game, it was back and forth, I think especially in the second half. Like, anything could happen. We could have scored a few, they could have capitalized on some but when you get a win like that, it kind of helps the team out a lot, because maybe we didn’t play our best today and maybe we didn’t capitalize on a lot of chances, but to still come away with three points, and a clean sheet is huge, and we’re going to build off that.”
On adjusting to a back four:
“Yeah, it’s not too much. I mean, the coaches made it kind of easy for us. We had two weeks to work on it, we didn’t have a game last week. So we were able to really, really work on it. It’s the same when we build up, it’s just in defence, we are more compact. I think that it did help us a lot. Maybe we were a little bit, not as aggressive in the first steps as we wanted to be. We sat back a little bit but I think as the game progressed we got used to that style of formation, and in the second half, you saw we were able to play the way we wanted.”
On his late match winner:
“Yeah, I mean, it’s always special against your ex-team and in scoring against your ex-team, you know, it’s always a special moment. Cava did great. You guys see him every week and his determination, his hard work, his effort to battle through everything. That’s what created the goal, he made it to the end line, put a good ball across and I was just thinking get in front of the goal. I know Cava, I know he’s going to do anything to get it there, and he got it there so I’m happy to secure that.”
On getting a result at home:
“It’s huge, our home form has been great dating back to last year. We get results at home and we continue to get results at home. With this four game, now three game home stretch, this is our time to make up ground, to get closer to that playoff line.”
I’m sure you have a lot of reasons to be disappointed in that result, and it’s a lot of reasons to be angry, I would think. What are your sort of emotions?
I feel bad for the group. You know, we go through a stretch where we are trying really hard just to keep everybody going forward. A lot of guys put big efforts out there today, and then to come away with nothing, and then with some of the different calls, yeah, I feel bad for these guys.
A reminder just that sometimes it’s unfair, and yet would he have got to keep a positive way. We’ve got to keep fighting together. I really want to make sure that they keep coming in and helping their teammates every day and realize that, look, if we stick together and do the right things, we’ll get through it.
But I’m really disappointed for the players today.
Wanted to get your comment on the decision to not award the Jayden Nelson goal:
Yeah, it’s a mistake, and obviously when you have VAR, that’s on the VAR to see it. It’s clear, everybody that’s seen it realizes that Hasal never had control. It’s too bad that I think they say he might have broken or dislocated his finger and that’s too bad. I don’t know exactly, that might have been then on the shot as the ball came loose.
So he never had control. It’s a good goal. And the system fails. You know, you can have a system but if the person responsible in that moment can’t see that, then the system doesn’t work. So we’ll see what Pro has to say about it, but for me it’s a clear mistake.
Deandre Kerr put in a really good shift for you guys today. What have you seen from him and how have you seen him grow and become more comfortable out there for you guys?
Yes, I’ve said it a few times. I think he had a very good preseason. Had a tough first 45 minutes against Dallas in the opener. Had a little bit of an injury or two that sort of set him back but in this last period, I think he’s been very positive.
His training has picked up with the situation that we have, missing some players, we’ve had to use him in different roles. He’s handled that well. But I’m excited to see the progress that he’s making in this last stretch.
What do you say to your team after this long stretch and such a frustrating loss to cap it off?
I feel bad for them today. I saw a lot of guys that really put a lot into it; that if we can manage frustration; if we can manage the challenges of having things coming at us in different ways, tough ways, between players and between some days where maybe either we make a mistake or we don’t take advantage of something, little football things.
But if the bigger part can continue; if we can keep finding the right ways to push word, I believe this team has it in them to get better. We always knew that in the first part of the season as we were certainly waiting to see how things might develop for the summer, there’s going to be opportunities for the young players. It’s been frustrating to see some of the guys that were getting chances miss games and not take advantage of this period.
So I just keep trying to find the part that reminds them that this is how teams grow. You know, if you look at — and I’m not going into details, and I don’t look backwards too much, but if you understand things that went on in the last year, and if you understand then some of the changes in the roster, then the work for this group to become a good team was always going to take some time and have ups and downs. This last stretch has been downs.
But we’ve got to have the mentality and be strong together.
Can you walk us through the halftime change? Did Kadin (Chung) pick up a knock or was that purely tactical?
I thought physically after playing the other day and turning it around, I thought Kadin physically was struggling in the first half. Felt like we had to deal with that. He gave us 45 minutes but when the games come fast, sometimes a player has not been playing regular minutes, you don’t want to leave him on in that moment. We thought we could make that change with Kosi there and still keep things going.
Wanted to ask about Shane O’Neill, he may be new to the club but he was playing in a back line with four different rookies. Can you talk about how he needed to step up as a leader today despite the result?
Shane is a really good guy, works hard every day, when we talk about getting some — there are some guys that have been here over the years that set a really high standards and then, you know, it was posh to get some MLS experience guys that also could come in and join the group of strong leaders and be part of that and be someone that works hard and sets a good example and changes all of those things.
You know, he’s just got a good way about hum every day. Well respected by his teammates, and so makes a difference for us.
Did you get a chance to see that Vancouver goal again and do you think it might have been offside?
It looks to me on the first pass to Cavallini, that Lucas is maybe even with him so that Cavallini is onside. And then on the final part when Cavallini is putting the ball across to Ricketts, it looks to me like Ricketts is even with the ball. So in that respect, I think it’s a good goal.
Just get your thoughts on your team’s performance, you went into the game with a very depleted roster and your third game in a week and you guys looked like you were going to win it and they scored in the 90th minute. Can I get your thoughts, and what the mood in the dressing room is like at this point?
Yeah, it’s tough. That was a really tough game. I thought we had a lot of control for most of it. Obviously the game was there to be won and I feel like we, yeah, if we had just raised our level a little, we would have won the game.
Obviously we had big opportunities, like the call that was not given, the penalty, Jayden had a big opportunity. So there was chances to win the game but it’s just so frustrating to give up a late goal like that.
Yeah, in those moments, and myself included obviously, we just have to raise our level just a little bit because that game, that was a winnable game.
Past couple weeks been asking a lot of the defense in terms of stepping things up. How did you guys fare this evening in your opinion?
I feel like guys were really committed. You know, Lukas made some big plays. Alex made some big saves in the first half like he’s been doing, and collectively, I thought we were a lot better. We were a lot better dealing with dangerous situations.
Obviously in the last minute, two, we started to really throw numbers forward and the game got a little bit heck in this case. Those are the moments where you’ve got to be really dialed in defensively, so to give up a goal like that is really, really frustrating.
Just wondering what kind of view, if any you had for the Nelson goal that wasn’t ultimately given?
Obviously I was pretty far away from it. Saw on the big screen and given a lot of the reactions since we’ve seen it coming into the locker room, it’s tough to see it.
And look, obviously we hope that the Vancouver goalie is all right and there’s no big injury there or anything like that, of course. But yeah, that was a tough decision.
Is it important to have a bit of a short memory as a professional athlete? A lot of people will be wondering about that game, but you guys have to sort of put it behind you and move on:
Definitely. Yeah. Look, obviously the last week has been challenging. It’s been a big challenge. It’s a mental test. That’s what it is, really. It’s a challenge of everyone’s collective spirit and our togetherness and how much belief that we have.
I thought today we took a step in the right direction because I thought we started the game strong and obviously the last few weeks we started games slowly. I thought we backed ourselves from the very beginning and we beliefs in ourselves and that’s extremely important. I know those are buzz words but at the end of the day it’s really important.
Now we’ve just got to find a way to raise the level when the game is tight in the second half because I think if we had done that we would have for sure won the game, and we created big opportunities regardless. We have to be happy with that aspect of the game.
Now it’s just about a little bit more when the game is tight.