When you’ve been absolutely destroyed by a team, the last thing you really want is to have to face them again three weeks later. But that’s what Vancouver Whitecaps faced in Portland on Wednesday evening when LAFC came to town.
The last time the two sides met, LAFC ran rampant – 6-0 winners and four up by the 14th minute. It was the stuff of nightmares, and while nothing can really dispel the memories of that awful performance, the ‘Caps put in one of their performances under Marc Dos Santos’ tenure to dispel some of those demons with a well deserved 2-1 victory thanks to a double from DP Lucas Cavallini.
Dos Santos went with an unchanged starting line-up to the team that came from behind to beat Real Salt Lake on Saturday night. LAFC were missing some key personnel but were coming off beating conference leaders Seattle Sounders at the weekend.
That saw Fredy Montero and Lucas Cavallini leading the line again and the Colombian had the first real chance of the game five minutes in, blasting his first timer wildly over from a good position and the goal beckoning to be hit.
Russell Teibert should have had the Whitecaps one up in the 20th minute when a rebound came to him in acres of room inside the box but he took far too long to try and line a shot up, allowing Pablo Sisniega to come out and smother the ball.
LAFC were looking a shadow of the team from the last meeting, with Vancouver looking the far better side, and they got not another great opportunity to go ahead in the 27th minute when Cavallini did brilliantly to turn and fire off a shot from eight yards out, but Sisniega produced a fantastic stop to keep the scores level.
This was shaping up to be one of the best attacking performances by the Whitecaps from the past three seasons, but the worry was there that they would be made to pay for their missed chances. Thankfully they finally put one away on the half hour mark.
In a great attacking move, started by a beautiful bomb forward by Janio Bikel, Cristian Dajome and Montero showed their Colombia Connection combine once again, before Dajome sent a cross into the ball that Cavallini swept home to make it 1-0 Vancouver.
Fredy ➡️ Dajome ➡️ #ELTANQUE!
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) October 15, 2020
The ‘Caps continued to look the more dangerous side for the remainder of the half, with LA rarely posing any threat the Vancouver’s defence, but a second goal would have been the ideal cherry on a very excellent first half cake for the Whitecaps. That didn’t come and you knew a battle awaited them in the second half.
The Californians certainly upped the pressure to start the second half, without really testing Evan Bush. The next goal was always going to be massive and it came for the Whitecaps a minute before the hour mark, with Cavallini grabbing his second of the night with another lovely swivel in the box, this time firing it past Sisniega.
Stop what you're doing and watch this goal.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) October 15, 2020
The ‘Caps looked to be cruising, but nothing is ever so simple in Whitecapsland and LAFC, who seemed resigned to the loss, suddenly got themselves back into things in the 83rd minute when VAR correctly ruled that Jake Nerwinski had handled in the box and Eduard Atuesta hit home the spot kick at the second attempt, after Bush saved the first effort but had moved off his goal-line.
That goal brought an instant boost to LA who sensed they could get an equaliser, but the ‘Caps defence held firm and Vancouver held on for a massive three points that moved them up to eighth in the standings and back into the playoff places.
Mentally, this has been a huge five days for the Whitecaps. Back to back wins, coming from behind for one victory and holding on after a late comeback in the other will do wonders for a team that is far away from home, missing family and loved ones, and fighting to show that those sacrifices have been for something.
There’s five games left, three of them again teams around or below them and outside of the playoff spots. It’s been a tough season, more testing than anything anyone could have imagined at the start of it. Consistency is often a key for season run-ins, easier said than done with matches coming thick and fast and suspensions quickly racking up. But you feel this could be Vancouver best hope of making the postseason.
They need to establish successful connections in every aspect of the team. The attack is showing signs of it in recent games, but again it needs that consistency. But if they produce offensively like they did in this one, take more chances, and are able to keep tight at the back through a solid Erik Godoy and Ranko Veselinovic partnership, there’s life in this team.
If nothing else, the next couple of weeks are going to be very interesting.
FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 2 – 1 LAFC
VANCOUVER: Evan Bush; Jake Nerwinski, Ranko Veselinović, Érik Godoy, Ali Adnan; Cristian Dájome (Michael Baldisimo 88), Janio Bikel, Leonard Owusu, Russell Teibert (Ryan Raposo 75); Fredy Montero (Tosaint Ricketts 75), Lucas Cavallini [Substitutes not used: Bryan Meredith, David Milinković, Derek Cornelius, Theo Bair, Andy Rose, Patrick Metcalfe]
LOS ANGELES: Pablo Sisniega; Mohamed El-Munir, Dejan Jakovic (Erik Dueñas 71), Eddie Segura, Jordan Harvey; Latif Blessing, Eduard Atuesta, Francisco Ginella (Bryce Duke 78); Christian Torres (Adrien Pérez 46), Bradley Wright-Phillips (Kwadwo Opoku 71), Danny Muskovski [Substitutes not used: Kenneth Vermeer, Mohamed Traore, Alejandro Guido, Antonio Leone]
Possession: VAN 40.4% – LAFC 59.6%
Shots: VAN 13 – LAFC 12
Shots on Goal: VAN 4 – LAFC 1
Saves: VAN 0 – LAFC 2
Fouls: VAN 17 – LAFC 11
Offsides: VAN 2 – LAFC 2
Corners: VAN 3 – LAFC 4
MARC DOS SANTOS
On finding consistency:
“I saw a lot of flashes of what I saw in preseason. I don’t know if you guys had the opportunity of watching the exhibition games in the tournament in Portland especially and I saw a lot of flashes of that. One of the things that helps a lot is the fact that we’re able to add consistency. We’re able to the core, we’re able to build an identity. You don’t build an identity with changing the system. and changing the players. Unfortunately, MLS is Back in Orlando put us back five months. We had to start over again. It was hard to get going, but now we’re starting to find consistency and there’s a lot of principles of what I want to build and we’re still not even close to what I think we could become in the sense of some areas are going to become better.”
On Fredy Montero and Lucas Cavallini’s pressure:
“Fredy found pockets in certain areas that created a lot of things. I think he had an excellent game. How Fredy and Cava pressed together, midfielders can back off. We recovered in the first half six or seven balls in their half, it’s very hard to do that against LAFC.”
On the second half:
“Second half was not as good as the first half. We had to suffer a little bit more. Maybe some fatigue from games. LA also has a lot of quality, and they pushed. It’s the same group of guy guys that beat Seattle, 3-1 not long ago. We had to drop a little bit even if I didn’t want us to drop. I want us to be more consistent from the first 45 minutes moving on. But then we were able to score the second goal.”
On the goals and the three points:
“Our two goals are very good goals, excellent plays, great goals. When they get the penalty shot, it brings a lot of doubt because we know it’s a team that could score a lot of goals. We became unstable. Even if they had parts of the game in the second half especially that they were dangerous, I think it would be incredibly unfair if we leave this game which just one point. We deserve the three points tonight.”
On dealing with the mental side:
“What we’ve decided to do is this. In the mental side, it is really hard. And I’m very strong normally mentally, and this has been a phase of my life that I feel it much more. My wife along with the three kids. Freddy has the same thing, Cava has the same thing, Andy has the same thing. Phil, Vanni, Youssef. It’s hard but what we decided to do is if we are going to go through this, we’re going to go through this to make something out to go back home and said ‘look, we were away but look what we did, look what we achieved.’ It’s not easy. This story of ‘they’re paid to play soccer,” then we’re going now again to the hotel, it’s not easy. But what we said between us, the staff, and the team, ‘let’s do something about it. If it’s not easy, let’s do something about it. Let’s embrace it and try to achieve something.’ I said that we’re going to fight until the end, to be in the top eight, and then we’ll talk about it once we reach that. And we’re going to keep going. We’re going to keep fighting, these two games, we didn’t achieve anything. We won the two games but we still didn’t achieve our objective of finishing in the top eight.”
On how players make their teammates better:
“I’m seeing the normal Cava. Maybe many people didn’t believe in him, but for me it’s normal. We always believed in him, I know what we got. Cava is a player that when he is involved without the ball, it’s like something in his brain clicks, then he’s even more aggressive in the box, and he’s more engaged with the game. In the games that he’s disconnected without the ball, e loses connection even with the ball. He’s a player that needs to be involved both in the defensive side and the offensive side and when he does that, he’s very alive in the game. But, of course, something has to be said with how Fredy is helping Cava, and playing around him, and taking decisions around him. A team is composed of people that make the next one better. Fredy makes Cava better, and Cava makes Cristian better, and Cristian makes Bikel better, and Bikel makes Leo better, Leo makes Baldi better, and that’s how it goes. I have so many things to say about how the guys addressed this game mentally, we had a belief, we knew what we wanted to do. This is the type of team and identity that we want to have here so we have to definitely build on that.”
On bouncing back from the previous match versus LAFC:
“When we scored the 2-0, I felt that we were closer to the 3-0, than the 2-1 happening. We just suffered for nothing. But at the end of the day, we played LAFC four times. We won twice, one at BC Place, the other one in Portland, and then we lost two away. It’s just that the two away were heavy. You have to work with the group of totally forgetting the last game. It was a different game, different players on the field, different scenario. They have to fly in and out. It shows that when I go back to that game in LA, I just felt that the first 15 minutes, it’s not normal. I was never involved in it as a coach in 15 minutes like that, that I had to go to halftime and say to the guys, ‘now you know it’s 5-0, let’s stop the bleeding and defend.’ It was very awkward and long game, that one. But then, it was very clear that that game had nothing to do with this one here. This one was a different day, it was reset, let’s go again. And I think that we were very mature mentally to accept it, to understand it, and to do something about it. We went against a team that has a lot of quality and a team that when everybody comes back, it’s the team that I think could be there for the MLS Cup.”
On Cristian Dajome:
“Cristian is a player that we’ve watched at Independiente del Valle, we watched him a lot in the Sudamericana where they won against Colon in the Final. His work load, his speed, his humility. Cristian, if you ask him to play right back, if you ask him to track a player, if you ask him to make runs in behind, it’s always ‘yes, coach’. Incredible humility that kid has. But when he arrived and he went to preseason, the documents for his wife and for his three daughters didn’t arrive. It was a process, then we went to MLS is Back, he was seven months without seeing his three daughters and wife, and he stayed strong. Now they’re in Vancouver, I think as soon as they arrived, a couple of days later he had to go to Portland and stay in a hotel, so it’s not easy but what I think is happening with Cristian is settling in. You see a lot of stories of players in MLS that have a tough time right in the first year, in the first six months. Some are able to come in and make a difference right away, others, it takes a little bit more. I just think that Cristian right now is slowly settling in and creating good connections on the field.”
On the midfield:
I think you can’t get too high with two wins, and too low with two losses because the reality is that the game I’m starting to think about in my head is LA Galaxy. So I really think that in life, you have to be like that. Because life throws you a lot of curveballs, not only in sports but also in other areas. When I think about Janio and Leo, I automatically think about Baldi. That is a player that also can bring something to this team like he showed against RSL. Like any type of sectors on the field, you need to create habits between players. Players that know what the player next to him likes to do and type of runs and we haven’t had that because of the type of season we’ve had. And now we’re able to have a little bit of that. With Janio having his fifth yellow card, now it’s another opportunity for Baldi to start in a big game. We have a player like Patrick Metcalfe that could also knock at the door but we have to make sure that we keep some connections. I made two subs at the 75th minute thinking more about the long term, and thinking more about LA Galaxy. Now we’re forced to make some subs because of being careful with that. I think in every type of position, there’s connections that players start to know each other better. And that only comes with habits and it comes with consistency.
On Fredy Montero:
“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. Fredy has been very good. Since that break in the East, he’s been very good for the team. Good for him, good for the team.”
On the centre back pairing:
I think there’s some things we could still show Ranko and Ranko can do some things better, but we’re talking about a very young centre back. When he arrived here, two days later, we were in that quarantine and COVID arrived in the world or in Canada or North America. Like any other new player, he needs time, and especially at his age. But when we signed Ranko, a lot of people in Europe were asking us, ‘How did you guys bring him to MLS?’ He was on the list of good and solid clubs. It’s hard for me to speak about the pairing of Erik and Ranko and forgetting guys like Andy or Derek, that I know they could also help the team if we need them. It’s important that there’s some communication, there’s habits that are created that make the team grow, but saying that it’s not taking anything from Derek or Andy. I think the game that we played with Erik against Portland was a very solid game. And then in the game against Real Salt Lake where they were putting a lot of pressure and balls in, Derek came in to be the third centre back and I think he cleared two or three important balls with his head. I think it’s all the team. Players have to be ready to play and help the team. If they don’t understand that if player A B or C is only here for him, in here for him to do well, and if the team loses 4-2 and he scores two goals and he is happy, he is not going to be here at the end of the day. Teams have to be ready to enjoy what your teammate does and move on like that. And I think that it was a good day for the club. It was a good day for the Vancouver Whitecaps, but we still have a roller coaster and a lot of action that we’re gonna have, but if we continue like this, I promise you that we are going to be in the top eight.
Do you think this is the best the team has played all season? And what do you put that down to?
“We’re playing the same players. And we’re the same team. Same staff. The only one thing that’s changing is COVID, and the situation right now. So I think we are playing the same way when we are playing before COVID, if you guys remember the game against LA (Galaxy), the preseason, we are doing the same thing. After the situation, hard for every team, for everyone in the world. Now we just trying to do our best to come back like what we did before. How we prepared in preseason, we had a good preseason. And I think now, all the teams are coming back, we have all the players able to play right now and we need all the players. That’s how we can play as a team right now. And how we like this group, that’s great for the players on the field. There’s only one thing that is changing right now.”
Talk about your on-field relationship with Russell Teibert?
I don’t have any relationship with him outside the field (laughs). Yeah, you guys know, Russell is one of the, for me it’s my opinion, any coach in the world, any team, they would love to have one player like Rusty. He is very smart on the field and he has played for a long time in MLS with the Whitecaps. He knows very well what he did in the field, and that’s what I missed the last games. So, when you get an injury, and we missed him as a player. Now he’s coming back, he brings a lot for the team. As a person, he is our captain. He brings a lot for the team and as player too, he is a very tactical player, and he helped me a lot on the left. That’s true. And I need players to understand me well on the field that’s how I can do my best.
What has it taken to create the kind of chemistry that you seem to have with Fredy Montero and Lucas Cavallini?
Good evening yes we’ve spent many hours in the hotel so we’ve been really getting to know each other, as we’ve been watching the games that we have lost. We’ve been watching the games and seeing what works and what doesn’t. I’m really good at finding space and Cava’s great and making those post runs and Fredy is just the magician with the ball when he’s asking for it.
What has this year been like for you and your family? How do you feel now that they are in Vancouver?
I am much better, and I want to first of all thank God, but I also want to thank the club for everything that they’ve done. I feel really good because my family’s here. I feel a lot more confidence in my game, it’s very important to have them here supporting me, it’s, it’s been a big relief. And I feel like I’m playing better because of it.
How exactly does it feel to, to be playing on the wing now in a 442 where you’re able to have the targets of Montero and Cavallini in the middle?
It’s new for me because it’s a position that I that I have played, but the system is a little bit different. Right now, I get to start on the wing, and I almost come up, like a second striker while Fredy drops to get the ball, and then beats the ball through. You see that happening in that goal that we scored. It’s a good system, and it suits my skills. I’m really happy the way that we do it.