When Vancouver Whitecaps 2021 schedule came out that first month of matches looked like a tough task. Even more so when you factored in missing players and the inability to properly prepare with a full squad for a full preseason. I’m not sure what everyone’s expectations were, but the ‘Caps results must have surely exceeded them.
Three derbies from four games to kick off the new campaign was daunting, but has ended up yielding seven points, two victories, and two clean sheets, the latest of which came on Saturday afternoon in Sandy, Utah when Vancouver recovered from a sluggish first half performance to come away with a 2-0 victory over CF Montreal.
A Cristian Dajome double, one of them from a penalty he earned, saw the Whitecaps get over the line, with the Colombian having a huge impact on the game, aided by another strong performance from Max Crepeau against his former side.
Marc Dos Santos went with an unchanged line-up from last week, albeit with some positional tinkering, with Caio Alexandre dropping back to a deeper lying role and Dajome moving back up front. Mason Toye was still missing for Montreal, with offseason signing Bjorn Johnsen getting his first start of the year up front to partner the always dangerous against the Whitecaps, Romell Quioto.
It was a sleepy start by both sides in the early kick off, with very little to write home about in the first half hour, but as that 30 minute mark approached it was Jake Nerwinski who fell asleep, playing a sloppy ball back and into the path of Quioto, who slipped the ball inside to Johnsen, forcing a big save from Crepeau to keep the game goalless.
Montreal’s offseason acquisition should have done much better, but hit the ball straight at the ‘Caps keeper with far better possibilities awaiting if he had taken a split second more to weight them up.
Quioto flashed a shot past the far post as the half came to a close, but aside from those two chances, that was it. A very poor half of football, with very little excitement or creativity from either side. Montreal will have gone in the happier, but it was going to take something special to snap this game out of it’s sleepy lull you felt.
Montreal were enjoying the better of the possession and continued on the front foot at the start of the second half, with Crepeau forced to kick away a dangerous cross into the six yard box three minutes in.
Vancouver then started to have a couple of forays forward, looking to test a possibly tiring Montreal defence with their pace. They were looking to force a mistake and they got it in the 55th minute.
Lucas Cavallini was taken out of the play as he broke forward, the ball came to Dajome at the edge of the box and the Colombian did well to check his run for a split second, drawing contact from Kamal Miller and referee Rosendo Mendoza pointed to the spot.
This week there was to be no VAR overrule and Dajome converted perfectly past Clement Diop to fire the ‘Caps into the lead.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) May 8, 2021
Montreal responded by bringing on Lassi Lappalainen, which added an immediate spark for the visitors, but despite raising their tempo, Montreal couldn’t create any clear cut chances and Vancouver doubled their advantage in the 71st minute.
And once again it came from a set piece play.
This time it was a corner, as Caicedo sent in a pinpoint delivery onto the head of Dajome, who rose unchallenged to powerfully head home Vancouver’s second.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) May 8, 2021
Raposo had a chance to make it three for the ‘Caps, before Montreal had a couple of half chances to pull one back, but Vancouver were looking fairly comfortable with their two goal lead.
A great challenge by Cavallini set up a two on one breakaway for the ‘Caps, but the DP was a bit too selfish, choosing to fire a shot in from an unlikely angle instead of squaring to Dajome in the middle.
Lappalainen thought he’d given Montreal a lifeline with two minutes remaining, but the goal was rightly called back by VAR for a handball by former Whitecap Erik Hurtado in the set up.
Vancouver easily saw out the rest of the match to secure a big three points against their Canadian rivals ahead of three tough away games on the bounce coming up.
There’s still some big concerns around scoring against open play, but with seven points on the board thanks to five set piece goals, this is an output from the Whitecaps that not many would have expected and is a great base to build upon for when they finally get all their expected starters ready to do just that and have an attack fully clicking with a creative midfield.
It’s been gritty rather than pretty at times, but in this league getting points on the board any way you can is all that really matters.
FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 2 – 0 CF Montreal
ATT: A big fat zero
VANCOUVER: Maxime Crepeau; Jake Nerwinski, Ranko Veselinovic, Andy Rose, Cristian Gutierrez; Deiber Caicedo (Ryan Raposo 74), Janio Bikel, Caio Alexandre (Leo Owusu 80), Russell Teibert; Cristian Dajome (Derek Cornelius 90+1), Lucas Cavallini [Subs Not Used: Thomas Hasal, Bruno Gaspar, Patrick Metcalfe, Kamron Habibullah, Theo Bair, Tosaint Ricketts]
MONTREAL: Clément Diop; Aljaz Struna (Ahmed Hamdy 67), Rudy Camacho, Kamal Miller; Clément Bayiha (Mathieu Choiniere 58), Amar Sejdic, Victor Wanyama, Mustafa Kizza; Djordje Mihailovic (Joaquin Torres 73); Romell Quioto (Erik Hurtado 58), Bjørn Johnsen (Lassi Lappalainen 58’) [Subs not used: James Pantemis, Samuel Piette, Joel Waterman, Emanuel Maciel]
Shots: VAN 10 – MTL 16
Shots on Goal: VAN 4 – MTL 4
Saves: VAN 4 – MTL 2
Fouls: VAN 13 – MTL 14
Offsides: VAN 3 – MTL 0
Corners: VAN 6 – MTL 3
MARC DOS SANTOS
On the game:
“Look we knew coming in that every ball lost, every mistake in the midfield would lead to dangerous transitions. In the first half, we were able to contain them, we were able to take care of the things we needed to do. In the second half, we were able to contain some more transition moments where we were able to be more dangerous on the transition. Dájo drew the penalty on the transition and then in the second goal, Caio switched the ball and we pressed and got the corner from there. It was far from the perfect game but we did lots of things right to get the three points. At the end of the day, I think we were the team that deserved the three points.”
On the upcoming games:
“What I think is important in this league is to go game by game and we managed the sub thinking how can we get the three points against Montreal, that’s what we focused on – winning this game and not getting too far ahead. We have two important games coming up, of course, so the depth of the squad will be very important this week.”
On Maxime Crépeau’s performance:
“I speak so much about his performances. Max is ready, he’s not a surprise to me. Max made one important save that really kept us in the game when it was still 0-0, the save on Johnsen was really important. He’s doing a really good job because of the competition he has. Thomas and Evan are really good in training too, that pushes Max to be even better. That’s why Max is here and that’s why we signed him.”
On Caio Alexandre’s performance:
“He has quality in his pass, he finds little pockets, little spaces. He needs to get more and more adjusted to MLS but I know what it takes to adapt to another place, another environment, another country. Caio, when he gets more adapted, he’s only going to become an even better player.”
On the first four games of the season:
“I was afraid of the first four games cause when you look at Portland, Toronto, Colorado, Montreal, I wasn’t sure how ready we were based on the month of March. That was incredibly challenging, so for the guys to show the commitment and work we do during the weekend, it’s been incredible. But I’m going to remind everyone, it’s MLS, I’m going to remind the guys too. Wednesday is in four days so already we’re turning our focus to Minnesota. It’s a positive start but it’s a long season. There’s 30 games left, we won’t allow ourselves to get too high or too low.”
On the win:
“The first half, the two teams were assessing each other, was a midfield battle to be honest, and then their threat came off transition and us, we went behind them a few times. In the second half, we got to two goals on the set plays which is massive for us. We work hard on this and we try to nail it in training to transport into games. And so, after that, they had some chances to try to come back. The team responded well to be honest, everyone was committed to get the win.”
On playing in front of fans soon:
“All the guys at breakfast and during the week after training, in the gym, we’re all saying hey, we’re going to play with fans soon, even if it’s not our people. We will play with attendance which is amazing. This is a big part of the adrenaline of the game day during the season and so we’re all excited. We are looking forward to it, it might be a factor as well so we’ve got to be smart about managing our energy, and their energy as well.”
On getting a win against his former club:
“I won’t lie to you, it feels really good, feels really good because all my friends, all my family, I’m born and raised in Montreal, I’ve been through this system since I was 15 to 23 years old. I’ve been in this organization and so I know a lot of people, and it feels good just because at some point, this is my roots, and I haven’t gotten the three points against them the last time we were in Montreal, and so now it’s definitely a good feeling to have the three points.”
On the penalty kick:
“I was just thinking about being calm. Sometimes you’re thinking about a million things in your head about the game, but you just have to become focused on the task at hand and put the ball away calmly.”
On having his family in the stands:
“I’m very, very happy, super thankful to God for having my family close to me, and for them to be able to enjoy the game. And especially when we get to three points.”
On a short week, playing Minnesota on Wednesday:
“I think now is the time when every teammate has to be ready, be prepared to get on the pitch whenever they’re called upon so they can play. We’re already thinking about the Minnesota game. The game today, it’s in the past now. And now we’re just focused on Minnesota and going there and getting the three points.”
“I am preoccupied with the fact that we are not scoring. But we are still creating chances. They were clear chances, and we need to score. The guys know it. We work in front of goal. Now we have to do it at the right time. There is no easy goal, but we still have to work on that. It’s work that will make us improve on this. There are still many games to reverse this trend.”
“I’m really happy to come back from my injury. It was a long process but I’m glad to finally have my first minutes. I already played on the right side, so I still had my bearings on the field.”
“We haven’t scored in the last two games but scored six in the first two, so we know we are a team that can score. I don’t consider this a drought. We are confident as a team and are confident in each other. We need to focus on Miami, work on the final third in practice and hopefully we come out with the result. We have a big squad with a lot of guys that can contribute. We are professional athletes, and we will be ready for the next game.”