Vancouver Whitecaps were unable to keep their winning ways going as they dropped a 1-0 result to the defending MLS Cup Champions Atlanta United at BC Place on Wednesday night.
A first half penalty by last season’s goalscoring leader in the league, Josef Martinez, would be the difference but it could have been a lot worse if not for the heroics of Max Crepeau, who put in another fantastic performance in the ‘Caps goal.
The opening 25 minutes saw the Whitecaps control possession and make some darting runs into Atlanta’s end but they were unable to create anything of consequence.
Atlanta had their moments in that period and similarly to the ‘Caps were unable to bother Crepeau too much.
That changed just before the half hour mark when Crepeau was forced to make a diving stop on Martinez from left side of the box.
Unfortunately for Vancouver they weren’t able to clear the ball which led to Lass Bangoura fouling Pity Martinez in the box and a penalty conversion by namesake Josef to give the defending champions the first goal, and what proved to be the eventual match winner.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 16, 2019
The remainder of the half continued to see the Whitecaps make their runs but producing nothing that bothered Brad Guzan, who didn’t face a shot in the first half.
The half was highlighted by two off the pitch talking points – another supporter walkout in the 35th minute in protest at the Whitecaps’ handling of historic abuse allegations and the rare sight of rain pouring in through the open roof.
After the break Atlanta United pushed for a second goal and almost got one in the first five minutes when Florentin Pogba’s header was caught by Crepeau.
The home side finally got their first shot on goal 10 minutes into the second half, though Bangoura’s shot was handled with ease by Guzan.
Minutes later it looked like Vancouver would be punished when Hector Villibala broke free and was in alone on Crepeau.
That led a spectacular sequence of saves by Crepeau who first denied Villibala, then got across the six yard area to stonewall Eric Remedi quickly followed up by a final stop on a Pity Martinez header. Outstanding stuff.
Not one, not two, but THREE saves!
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 16, 2019
The ‘Caps number one did it again six minutes later as he made a reflex save off of a Josef Martinez header from in close.
The final ten minutes saw the home side look dangerous especially after Joaquin Ardiaz came on, and he was inches away from connecting on a cross along the six yard area and then sent a shot wide of the net from within the box.
But despite their pressing the lack of quality in the midfield and finishing proved too much of an obstacle to overcome, and the Whitecaps two game winning streak came to a sudden halt.
There’s no disgrace to losing to the defending league champions, especially ones who are in some sublime form right now. The victory made it five straight wins for Atlanta, and six from their last seven matches. All six of those victories came without conceding a goal, so falling a goal down was always going to be a long way back for Vancouver, and so it proved.
What the match did highlight, however, was the gulf in class between the Whitecaps midfield and that of the top teams in MLS. The inability to create enough clear cut chances, and finish the few they do get, is a lasting concern and the squad depth is simply not there right now to make any real difference with players coming on off the bench.
The ‘Caps need to pick themselves up quickly. They face a Sporting KC side who are on an unwelcome streak of their own, a six game one without a win. There’s signs they can go there and get something, but they’ll need to be a lot more clinical and creative to do so.
FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 0 – 1 Atlanta United
VANCOUVER: Maxime Crépeau; Jake Nerwinski, Érik Godoy, Doneil Henry, Ali Adnan; Inbeom Hwang, Felipe Martins (Joaquín Ardaiz 78), Russell Teibert (Andy Rose 69); Lucas Venuto, Fredy Montero, Lass Bangoura (Victor “PC” Giro 64) [Substitutes not used: Zac MacMath, Derek Cornelius, Scott Sutter, Brett Levis]
ATLANTA: Brad Guzan; Brek Shea, Florentin Pogba, Leandro González Pírez, Franco Escobar; Jeff Larentowicz, Eric Remedi; Justin Meram (Julian Gressel 64), Gonzalo Martínez (Miles Robinson 82), Hector Villalba (Dion Pereira 69); Josef Martínez [Substitutes not used: Alec Kann, Romario Williams, Mikey Ambrose, Jon Gallagher]
Possession: VAN 54.3% – ATL 45.7%
Shots: VAN 7 – ATL 17
Shots on Goal: VAN 2 – ATL 6
Saves: VAN 5 – ATL 2
Fouls: VAN 13 – ATL 15
Offsides: VAN 0 – ATL 0
Corners: VAN 5 – ATL 4
Duels won: VAN 54 – ATL 41
Tackles won: VAN 11 – ATL 6
MARC DOS SANTOS
General thoughts from the game:
“They came with a plan to hit us in transition where they have players that are very dangerous, they are quick to attack the space. I thought that when we had possession, we spent a lot of time in their half, but couldn’t find any kind of opening. I have to give credit to Atlanta, I think they did a very good job in their defensive organization, it showed as this is their fifth game inarow they did not concede. The disappointing part is that I thought overall the game was equal. Where it got broken was when we were down 1-0, and there was a 15 minute period in the second half where the transition moments were dangerous, and that’s where Max [Crépeau]kept us in the game.”
On the penalty:
“The disappointing part was that if we concede a goal in transition, or if they score on a good buildup, or Josef Martinez scores –a player that’s scored 31 goals last season –it’s okay, it happens, we are playing a very good team, we can forget that. What’s disappointing is the penalty shot that we gave away is very clumsy. It’s a play that is under control, where Pity [Martinez]gets the ball, but Ali is there with him, and then it’s clumsy, that’s frustrating to lose like that.”
On Atlanta’s defence:
“I think that overall Atlanta did a good job in their defensive structure, and you don’t go five games in a row without conceding agoal if you don’t know what you’re doing collectively. When you play a team like that, you need to be sure you have better solutions in the lastthird, and better plays, and I think that was difficult for us to find openings in tonight.”
On second half strategies:
“We spoke about more runs, more penetration, things that were not happening in the first half. We asked the guys to be much more pragmatic in the lastthird, because if you’re there against Atlanta and you’re always looking for the perfect play it’s not going to help you. There were moments we had to be a little bit more aggressive; put the ball into the box, try the shot, and I thought there was a little bit more [of that] in the second half, but I have to highlight the job that Atlanta did defensively.“
On Max Crépeau’s performance:
“When those three saves happened I thought, now we are going to score. But it didn’t happen. Max has been a keeper that has kept us in games, an important player to this team, and that’s why he’s with Vancouver Whitecaps.”
Reaction on the game:
“Disappointing for sure, we came into this evening in a really good form and it just goes to show, when you play against a top team, you have to finish your chances. We had opportunities and the difference between the twoteams was just that one little bit of quality in the box. Obviously disappointing to give up a penalty but against these teams you have to put the ball in the back of the net.”
On his purpose coming onto the pitch:
“At the time I came on, we stayed the same shape, so I was trying to get myself forward, into the box as often as possible, trying to give the team energy and to push the game, look for the equalizer. Then obviously when Ardaiz came on we changed more into a 4-4-2.”
On the challenges of Atlanta’s back line:
“It’s obviously a team that’s played together for a while, you can tell, there’s some continuity there, they sat quite deep and had a lot of pace in terms of their counter-attack. So they were very well organized, and for sure we found it difficult. At times, maybe we were a little bit too impatient. The more opportunities we got to possess the ball in that final third and then put quality delivering into the box would have helped. But for sure, they were a very compact and organized at the back.”
On making a number of key saves:
“This is the second game where I see a little more of the ball than usual but there’s some games that are quiet on my side, it can happen. Honestly, the first half I didn’t have much to do, just in the second, off the two transitions, that I have to respond to keep the team in the game. But honestly, we were good tonight going forward in the second half, we just missed a lack of opportunity. The boys work really hard up front, the pass across the goal andwe all just missed that little chance to get in and it’s one-one or two-one but the guys fought; right there all in front of me, they were exhausted.”
On generating offence:
“People are going forward as Marc said.In the second half I think we could havebeen a bit more patient. It’s no secret that we launch balls forward, create 50/50sinstead of going around,so a bit more patience. But overall the guys wanted that one—wanted that one—because we are home. It’s difficult in this league and pretty much everywhere but especially with the time change and travel; it’s difficult to go away and get the result, so at home it is important to make an impact and to get those points. So the boys are disappointed, I could see it, I felt it inside. So now we turn, there’s no heads down there. [We go]in KC and Red Bulls, two good teams at home and it’s a turn around right away, we can’t put ourselves down.”
On the three saves in a row:
“You know, it is just ball watch, first action is the counter attack on the corner kick, Villalba was running at me and I just tried to close the angle well and the second save is just…ah, I don’t even know quite well, I’m just trying…I just remember that I focus one ball at a time, that’s it. I said often when I spoke to you guys but it’s one ball at a time, you focus and I’m happy that I kept the team in the game and give a chance to actually tag and win, but it’s disappointing to get out with no points right now.”
FRANK DE BOER
On how pleased he was with the win:
“I’m very proud of the team, it’s a long trip, short period in between those two legs. I think we started off a little bit sloppy. With passes lacking concentration, but after 20 minutes we took the control a little bit. In the second half we were even more concentrated, and at the end I think the best team won. But it was still tense at the end, as it was only 1-0 and we could’ve ended the game a number of times before.”
On the key to five consecutive shutouts:
“I think the spirit, the energyand the chemistry within the team. You can see the confidence is growing and everyone knows their role. They want to work for each other and they understand each other better, and it’s been fun to watch.”
On Pogba and Meram’s debuts:
“I think Pogba played a fantastic game today, he didn’t make a mistake. He was also very good in the buildup and defensively he was very good. It wasn’t easy, but you can see his experience and it was fantastic. Meram’s start was a bit difficult, but later in the game he improved and got more involved. So it was also nice to see. It’s nice that they’re ready to play when we need them, and especially Florentin the way he played, I was pleased.”
On setting an MLS record for consecutive wins by shutout:
“I think if you look at the last couple games, the chances that we are giving up, they’re not as clear cut chances as they were the first few games of the season. The first few games of the season we were spread out, we were exposed, turning the ball over in bad spots on the field that ultimately in this league you get punished for. They say the best form of defence is the attack, and I think that’s probably our strongest attribute. When we have the ball and we protect the ball and we take care of it, we’re patient, we find the simple passes, that’s when we’re at our best and I think that’s when we’re able to get at teams.”
On Pogba’s first start:
“It was very good. It started to rain a little bit into the game and that probably helped us in terms of the surface, and his ability to use his athleticism to track down balls over the top, win balls in the air. Even playing out of the back, something that’s obviously kind of new to our system, our ideas of wanting to play out of the back. It’s not always easy for guys to step in, so I thought he was very good tonight.”
On stopping the counterattack and getting a hand on Montero’s dribble in the box:
“I don’t even remember the build-up to it. I think Montero got into the box, I was able to close down the angle, he took a touch and I was able to take it off his feet. I think that was probably the most work I had to do tonight in terms of saving the ball.”
On how the team is gelling:
“I think you’re starting to see now the understanding of guys in terms of the spacing on the field, where we want to be when we have the ball, when we don’t have the ball. I think all those little things are now starting to click. And then on top of it you add the ability to have an understanding of where other guys are going to be on the field. Someone like Pity has come in the last few games, not only his work rate on the attacking side of the ball, but on the defensive side of the ball has been very good. When we defend with eleven guys, we’re difficult to break down, we’re difficult to beat, and we’ve got the quality and the ability to go the other day.”
On his first start with Atlanta:
“Yeah, I was waiting for this opportunity to get my first chance to play with the team, the first start. I think it went well, so thank God it did. I’m happy with how I played, and how the team played, because we were able to get the win, and that’s what’s important. Now we have to get some rest and focus on these games that we have coming up and hopefully I’ll get some moreopportunities.”
On any worries from not starting:
“No, because the team is winning. When the team is winning, it’s always difficult to change the team. But that’s football. We know what it’s like, you just always have to be ready when your turn is called, so that the coach can know that he can count on you.”