“To be the best you have to beat the best.” Or so the modern colloquialism goes. Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club have started their 2022 campaign by taking on the reigning Major League Soccer title holders of the previous two seasons. Matchday 1 saw the British Columbia side travel to Ohio to take on the 2020 champs and Columbus Crew put on a dominating performance in a 4-0 win. This afternoon at BC Place, the ‘Caps looked to bounce back playing host to the 2021 victors, New York City Football Club. And bounce back they did, well at least in some aspects.
Whitecaps coach Vanni Sartini made three changes to his starting XI from the debacle versus the Crew. The Italian also switched from the new “secondary” 3-1-4-2 to last year’s main setup that led to the remarkable run to a playoff spot, 3-4-1-2. Florian Jungwirth came into the side for the suspended Jake Nerwinski in the left side centreback role. Nerwinski was serving his one game suspension after being sent off for a second bookable offense in the opener. Cristián Gutiérrez came in at the wingback position to replace the underperforming Javain Brown. Finally, it was Leo Owusu taking the spot of Matthew Baldisimo in the heart of midfield.
NYCFC’s Ronny Deila maintained his teams favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, but still made two alterations from the starters that were unfortunate to lose 1-0 away against LA Galaxy to a 90th minute strike from Chicharito. Thiago Andrade for Santiago Rodríquez on the right wing and Keaton Parks for Nicolás Acevedo as the right sided holding midfielder were both straight swaps. Many expected more rotation to the City Football Group team as they were playing their fourth competitive match of 2022 and have reached the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions’ League. The general sense is that the New York club has serious aspirations to add a continental trophy to its newly minted cabinet.
Before the match, football was laid to the side as the clubs, the league, and all those in attendance took time to recognize the tragic situation taking place in Europe – namely the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. The Caps’ players wore “We Stand With Ukraine” shirts during warmups, club captain Russell Teibert not only wore a Ukrainian flag armband, but also led his team out waving the country’s flag. The Ukrainian national anthem was played before the match and funds were collected for the Red Cross Ukrainian Humanitarian fund. It was one of those reminders that there are much more meaningful things in life than football. May peace reign in this situation and throughout the earth.
— AFTN (@aftncanada) March 5, 2022
As the game got underway, the most intriguing element of Sartini’s tactical and formational approach was how right footed Cristian Dájome lined up as the left wingback and left footed Gutierrez lined up as the right wingback. The intrigue wasn’t only that they started as inverted wingbacks, but that they kept swapping flanks with each other. It was somewhat reminiscent of Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben at Bayern München in the last decade or Ryan Giggs and David Beckham at Manchester United in the one before that. However, before this unique approach could pay dividends it was the visitors with the first real opening of the match.
In the 7th minute the lively and creative Talles Magno tried to slip in a pass to the on-rushing Thiago Andrade on the right. Jungwirth did well to slide in to intercept, however his touch brought the ball back to Magno, who was following up his pass. The Brazilian took one touch before taking aim at the far bottom corner. Thomas Hasal did ever so well to get down and get a strong right hand to the low drive. One could sense that if last week was detrimental to the young ‘keepers’ confidence, this early quality stop did a lot to raise it.
There was another nervy moment early in the half when the guest’s big centreback Alexander Callens rattled his header off the crossbar from the second phase of a broken corner. That 15th minute chance seemed to spark some life into the home side and they began to create some opportunities going forward. In the 17th minute the ‘Caps quickly countered off a corner. Tristan Blackmon with the clearance found the talismanic Ryan Gauld bursting forward. The Scot brought the ball under control before playing in Déiber Caicedo. Unfortunately for the home fans the Colombian was caught by the chasing defenders and had his shot blocked.
In the 21st minute Deila had to replace one Homegrown player for another when rightback Tayvon Gray went down with a left quad or hamstring issue. Andres Jasson took his place and shortly thereafter the ‘Caps chose to attack the newcomer. Gutierrez had switched it his preferred left side of the field and had a couple of good interchanges with Leo. The Ghanaian then played Lucas Cavallini in out wide on the left. The striker put in a respectable cross but Caicedo couldn’t make good contact on the volley and the chance was wasted.
Only moments later came the Whitecaps’ first shot on target of the new season. Blackmon connected with Dájo on the right. He passed to Rusty who laid it off for Gauld. His in swinging left footed cross found the head of Cava, but the Canadian Designated Player’s header was too central and easily saved by NYCFC captain Sean Johnson. A few minutes later, with Dájome switching back to left, he connected with his fellow countryman Caicedo, whose cross was narrowly missed by Cava’s scissor kick attempt. The ball fell to Gutierrez, but his shot ended up grazing the roof of the top of the net.
Cava was quite involved in the first half. He had poorly timed and/or questionable challenges in the 9th and 32nd minutes before adding his name to the referee’s book in the 39th minute. This time it was a poor decision to needlessly take down Keaton Parks in the attacking third. In the fifth minute of stoppage time in the first half, Cava was fortunate not to be sent off as he ran through the back of Callens. It appears as though the talented striker is still coming to grips with how play on the edge in MLS.
If the first half had a sense that both teams were up for taking all 3 points, the second had a vibe that seemed both sides might be willing to settle for a draw. Brian White made his season debut replacing the somewhat subdued Caicedo in the 64th minute, but his partnership with Cavallini was short lived as he was replaced by Brown in the 72nd minute and Gauld got pushed more forward.
The two biggest plays of the half were by arguably the two strongest performers on the home side. In the 86th minute it was Man-of-the-Match Blackmon with a sliding tackle to stop Thiago Andrade from having a clear shot at goal. Then in the 89th minute Hasal showed his quality palming a point-blank volley, also from the dangerous Thiago Andrade, over the bar.
The match ended in a goalless draw, but there were many positives for players, coaches, and fans alike to take away from this encounter. A clean sheet and overall much better team defensive performance from the ‘Caps.
Many people will point out that they shouldn’t allow a team like NYCFC to have 70% possession, but ultimately they did well to limit what they did with that possession. Vancouver were also much improved going forward and although Cava’s header was the only shot on target, they created a number of encouraging chances. It will be interesting to see what Vanni does now with the next couple of matches on the road. Does he stick with the 3-4-1-2, which seems to be currently more well suited and known by the players or go back to the 3-1-4-2? Tune in to TSN 1 (or 4) next Saturday at 3:30pm when VWFC take on Houston Dynamo to find out.
Are the Whitecaps the best in MLS? No. Are they the worst? Clearly not. That position is saved for 0-2 sides like the Seattle Sounders.
FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 0 – 0 New York City FC
Possession: VAN 29.9% – NYC 70.1%
Shots: VAN 10 – NYC 19
Shots on Goal: VAN 1 – NYC 4
Saves: VAN 4 – NYC 1
Fouls: VAN 17 – NYC 21
Offsides: VAN 1 – NYC 1
Corners: VAN 5 – NYC 8
VANCOUVER: Thomas Hasal; Tristan Blackmon, Ranko Veselinović, Florian Jungwirth; Cristián Gutiérrez, Russell Teibert, Leonard Owusu (Sebastian Berhalter 82), Cristian Dájome (Pedro Vite 81); Ryan Gauld; Lucas Cavallini (Javain Brown 72), Déiber Caicedo (Brian White 64) [Substitutes not used: Isaac Boehmer, Ryan Raposo, Michael Baldisimo, Matteo Campagna, Tosaint Ricketts]
NEW YORK: Sean Johnson; Tayvon Gray (Andres Jasson 22), Maxime Chanot, Alexander Callens, Malte Amundsen; Keaton Parks (Gedion Zelalem 64), Alfredo Morales (Thiago Martins 79); Santiago Rodríguez, Maximiliano Moralez, Talles Magno (Santiago Rodriguez 64); Valentín Castellanos (Héber 64) [Substitutes not used: Luis Barraza, Chris Gloster, Thiago Andrade, Vuk Latinovich, Justin Haak]
On the game:
“We got our foot on the ball, and that’s the key, try to press, winning the ball because they bring a lot of players up front and try to counterattack. I think we’ve been good a couple of times, winning the ball going inside and then attacking the space. We have to do much more if you want to win games. Today was enough, in order to not lose, but we need to do much more in order to win games. And again, we need to be a little more clean. I think a couple of times we had potential chances, like Déiber had a ball on the side and then he decided to come back. You know, on the side, the little thing that when you have to make the choice to play the simple part we tried to do two more I would say high-risk pass but it wasn’t the right choice. Hopefully, we will work on some of this next week, I think there’s a solid base to try to make quality opportunities if we keep playing like this.”
On Hasal’s performance:
“I think he was very good. I think he made two very good saves one after five minutes and one at the end of the of the game. He also I would say followed the gameplan in terms of build up, tried to play very simple, tried to not overplay, tried to be in charge of the defence. So I’m happy that he got this performance because, of course, he needs to be confident so Thomas was very, very good today.”
On the match:
“I think we could have finished with a win, no doubt, I got unlucky with my chances but personally I’m feeling good and taking it day-by-day, game-by-game, so a little positive energy for myself. Team wise, much better than last week for sure. We showed a lot of improvement but I think we’re lacking a little bit of intensity, high intensity and just capitalizing on our chances, which it shows, zero goals in our last two games. So I mean, still a long season and you know, we just got to believe in each other. A good group of guys here, everybody gets along well. So I’m happy to be a part of a good team like this.”
On Thomas Hasal’s performance:
“He had a very good day, I’m happy for Thomas. We’ve just got to give him all the confidence, I think before his injuries, he was unbelievable. I think personally that after his injuries, he hasn’t been the same, lacking that confidence, but that’s normal. Now he demonstrated who he was before his injury and he’s just getting better game-by-game, so we all have to support him.”
On the match:
“I think, especially with last week, we were able to come out with a different attitude, really, as well as collectively. You know, it’s always a tough task against the defending champions but the game could have gone either way. This is what we have to bring, we have to bring more and more of this, as this is the game we have to build off. So I think it was much better than last week, we got to keep going.”
On building his confidence:
“I think as a goalkeeper in the first part of the season, you want to build off different set pieces, performances in different games and 100 percent on clean sheets, to get a good home performance. That’s something I can build off and keep going with the rest of the season.”
NEW YORK CITY
“I think we were much better than them. We created six, seven, eight chances. We didn’t take our chances and we gave them one or two. That’s good when you are away. There was really good energy was a lot of fight in the team. We created enough to win, but we didn’t take our chances today. We just can keep on defending well and create chances. We know we have players that will start scoring.”
“We knew exactly how they were going to play so it was a lot about balance in the counter-attacks. It was about moving the ball well so we’d get it into the final third as much as possible. In the end of the game it opened up a bit more that’s why we introduced Thiago Martins into the field. We wanted a goal at the same time so we tried to get two strikers, but it wouldn’t go in today but that’s how football is sometimes. It’s about belief, continuing what we’re doing, create enough chances, and as I said before, we have players that can score goals.”