Report and Reaction: Whitecaps catch lightning to advance at MLS is Back tournament as Fire burn out

Report and Reaction: Whitecaps catch lightning to advance at MLS is Back tournament as Fire burn out

Lady luck had deserted Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS is Back tournament to date, but she returned with a new found love in Orlando on Thursday morning after the ‘Caps claimed their place in the knockout stages of the competition in dramatic fashion.

In a match that had an 93 minute weather delay, a disallowed goal by VAR, another injury to a Whitecap, and a couple of Fire efforts that crashed off the woodwork there was finally some much needed luck for Vancouver, but it was also a gutsy and fighting team effort that executed Marc Dos Santos’ gameplan perfectly.

MDS had made it clear that the ‘Caps would be going with a slowly, slowly catchy-monkey approach against the Fife. There’d be know “kamikaze” attacking approach and the key was to not concede, get the first goal, then go for the kill as they looked for a two-goal victory they needed to advance.

By the 63rd minute, with the game goalless and stopped due to thunder in the area, it was delicately poised. When it did finally recommence goals from Yordy Reyna and Cristian Dajome in an explosive six minute burst gave Vancouver what they needed – a two goal victory and a place in the round of 16.

With everything the Whitecaps had faced in the build up to and during this tournament, it was an exceptional result.

Vancouver went with four changes to the starting line-up, one of them enforced, with Thomas Hasal making his first MLS start in goal for the injured Max Crepeau. Derek Cornelius came in to shore up the defence in a 5-3-2 formation, with young guns Theo Bair and Ryan Raposo leading a Canadian attack.

Chicago had the luxury of knowing that even a one goal defeat would see them advance, while getting the first goal of the game would surely kill off their opponents, and they went for it early forcing Russell Teibert to clear the ball off the line just three minutes in as Gastón Giménez flicked on a Fire corner from the edge of the six yard box.

Chicago controlled the play, implementing the high press, forcing a few corners, but ultimately not really testing Hasal in the ‘Caps goal.

Vancouver in reply were struggling to get anything going in attack, badly missing a creative playmaker and looking far from likely to get even one goal, never mind two.

The ‘Caps had a scare when Hasal came out of his box and missed the ball midway through the half but thankfully the flag was up for offside on Robert Beric anyway.

As if Vancouver’s injury issues weren’t already bad enough, centre back Jasser Khmiri went out of the game with a left knee injury in the closing minutes of the half, forcing a switch to the 4-4-2, but that was pretty much it for things of note in the opening 45 minutes.

In terms of not conceding, it was job done. In terms of looking like getting the two goals they needed, that felt a long way off, and when the Fire’s Przemysław Frankowski crashed a backpost header off the woodwork two minutes into the second half, it felt like maybe this was just going to be their day.

The same player whizzed a shot just past the post two minute before the hour mark and the ‘Caps breathed a sigh of relief again.

Then came the thunderstorm with 63 minutes on the clock. Under tournament rules, for any game not able to restart after a reasonable amount of time but that had reached the 60 minute mark, the result would stand. Vancouver needed the storm clouds to move away. They finally did just over an hour and a half later, and the Whitecaps returned to whip up a storm of their own.

Within two minutes of the action getting back underway, the Whitecaps went in front.

Ali Adnan, playing in an advanced midfield position, played the ball through to an advancing Reyna, who rounded Fire keeper Kenneth Kronholm and slotted in the vital goal Vancouver needed to give them hope with 25 minutes remaining.

Six minutes later and it was two.

Adnan and Reyna were key players in that goal as well, with the Iraqi heading the ball forward to the Peruvian, who chested it down beautifully, turning to play in Dajome, who stayed onside to drill the ball home and sent the ‘Caps into dreamland.

The Whitecaps had one foot in the knockout round but after the collapse against San Jose in the first game, the worry was could they hold on?

Chicago pushed forward for the goal they needed, but were more concerned with flopping to the ground than getting a shot on target.

Then, with eight minutes remaining, the Fire had the ball in the net, as CJ Sapong bundled it home. But, lady luck shone her rays once again with VAR ruling that the Chicago forward had used his arm.

The goal was chalked off, the ‘Caps kept their two goal lead, and after some nervy moments, and a fantastic last ditch tackle by Jake Nerwinski in the box, Vancouver held their nerve to see out the match move into the last 16.

It was a tremendous win. Played to perfection, with some luck along the way. Now it’s knockout time and anything can happen.

All that really matters right now is that the Whitecaps’ Disney dreams are still very much alive.

FINAL SCORE: Vancouver Whitecaps 2 – 0 Chicago Fire

ATT: 0!

VANCOUVER: Thomas Hasal; Jake Nerwinski, Jasser Khmiri (Cristian Dájome 45+3), Ranko Veselinović, Derek Cornelius, Ali Adnan; Inbeom Hwang, Leonard Owusu (Cristián Gutiérrez 63), Russell Teibert; Theo Bair (David Milinković 62), Ryan Raposo (Yordy Reyna 57) [Substitutes not used: Jonathan Sirois, Patrick Metcalfe, Simon Colyn, Michael Baldisimo, Damiano Pecile]

Kenneth Kronholm; Przemyslaw Frankowski, Boris Sekulić, Mauricio Pineda (Elliot Collier 76), Francisco Calvo, Jonathan Bornstein (Miguel Ángel Navarro 60); Fabian Herbers, Gastón Giménez, Álvaro Medrán; Ignacio Aliseda (CJ Sapong 59), Robert Berić [Substitutes not used: Bobby Shuttleworth, Connor Sparrow, Brandt Bronico, Djordje Mihailović, Wyatt Omsberg, Nicholas Slonina, Andre Reynolds, Javier Casas, Brian Gutierrez]

Possession: CHI 61.1% – VAN 38.9%
Shots: CHI 24 – VAN 4
Shots on Goal: CHI 5 – VAN 2
Saves: CHI 0 – VAN 4
Fouls: CHI 14 – VAN 7
Offsides: CHI 2 – VAN 2
Corners: CHI 10 – VAN 0

Photo: Matthew Stith/MLS Soccer




On the weather delay and where this achievement ranks:

“First, when we came after the 60 minutes we were in the game plan. We were on the route of what we wanted to do. First we had to defend very well, we conceded the seven goals in the two games here so we had to make sure that we stopped that bleeding because if Chicago would have scored first then it becomes much heavier mentally for us. So we knew that then going into halftime we would make changes and the players that were on the bench, there was a reason also for that, and they came in to bring explosiveness to get in behind, and that’s what they did. But when we got to the 62 minute mark and there was the weather delay, it lasted for an hour and 20 minutes. So the first thing we did is, let the players breathe, let the players recover, leave them alone, put some music in the locker room, let them stay away from the game and that’s what we did. Then we went into the board, and we addressed things that we had to do in the last 30 minutes to give us a chance, number one, to win the game. And then number two, to advance. And when that happened first we went through that, but the message was very clear in the sense that we were still alive, with two losses in a row, with 60 minutes played, we were still alive, we were not knocked out yet, and we still had a chance. And this is when people are tested, this is when your limits are tested as a human being. This is when you you’re tired, you can’t go anymore, you feel everything’s against you, but you keep pushing. That shows a lot of the character that you have as a person. And I think we showed that today. When it comes to where does it rank, it ranks in another win, it ranks on how we want to build the culture in this club that is contagious, and it’s really hard to build the culture in a club. It takes time. And sometimes you don’t see results and it hurts you. But the players and the staff and everybody here in Orlando, we stuck together during all this process, all this time, and that’s I think the most rewarding part.”

On the move to bring in Gutierrez and move Adnan to left wing:

“Yeah, the idea is that Ali was able to play higher on the field and contribute to what he could bring offensively, because we all know what he could bring offensively. Gutierrez had so much legs in him, energy in him, that we knew with Ali there, and with Guti on the left we would create a lot of two v ones in those areas and that was the objective. Ali played the first ball to the [first] goal, then Ali also won the header that led to the second goal, so it worked. It worked. And it’s another option we have, and it’s good that in the roster you have a lot of options that can help the team.”

On subbing in Dájome and Reyna in the second half:

“It worked guys, it worked, and I say that with a lot of humility. That was the plan. The plan was that we knew that the explosiveness of Yordy and Cristian when it’s 9 a.m. could bring a lot to the team. Because the players get tired, they get sloppy, it’s humid. And the important thing was to keep the 0-0 first, and the plan was first – you have to go by parts, if you if you need to win a game 2-0, and you only think about the 2-0, you forget the process and the process was first we have to defend very well. And once we get that right, and we tire Chicago, we knew we had weapons on the bench to win. Now you also need to make the guys on the bench understand why they’re on the bench, and they need to have the right mindset to understand that to come in and make a difference. And we had that today. Today, it worked, and it doesn’t mean it’s going work everyday, but today it did.”

On goalkeeper Thomas Hasal’s first MLS start:

“Thomas has this very cold type of attitude towards things, not that he doesn’t care about it. Not that he doesn’t have a big heart, because he does, but he’s so tuned in and so focused. And if he’s the number three goalkeeper, the number two, the number one, we saw signs in him since preseason and going into San Diego, when we were in preseason and he played Dallas and he played Columbus, some minutes there. It was always like that. And this is a very good tool to as a goalkeeper. Sometimes there was moments that were a little bit shaky where decision making wasn’t good. But there’s a lot of good things that he did today, and I’m happy for him. I didn’t get to speak too much with him yet, but I’m sure it’s a dream start when you get your opportunity and you could tell everyone that his first game in MLS that he plays 90 minutes is a huge day for the Vancouver Whitecaps. Now guys, again, I said that in the radio, we all have to do a good job to develop this kid. Me, the staff, Raegyn [Hall] has done a great job in our academy, to help push up Thomas, Youssef [Dahha] has done a great job with him to continue the work that Raegyn did. But we all need to do, media, journalists, radio, coaches, a good job on understanding that he still has a lot of work to do. He’s still young, he still needs to put be put in situations. He’s going to do mistakes also, and we have to understand that.”

On if they will have Jonathan Sirois available on loan from Montreal for the next match?

“First I want to congratulate Jonathan. Jonathan became the first goalkeeper in the history, I think, to qualify with two teams in the same tournament. No goalkeeper, not even Gigi Buffon, did that ever in his life. So kudos for Jonathan to qualify, with two different teams in the tournament. But we’ll see, guys we’ll see. I’ll speak with the staff, we’re going to see what’s going to happen, we probably won’t have Jonathan for our next game. But I want to thank the Montreal impact to be open to help us in a moment like that, in being understanding of this.”

On keeping a clean sheet:

“First is the pride, you know the pride of keeping that clean sheet, it was clear in everybody that we needed first not to concede to make sure that we got confident in that side. We’re missing guys that help us there, Janio Bikel, Erik Godoy, Andy Rose, and the players that are here needed to step up a notch. The other thing was to start with three centre backs to make sure that we kept that clean sheet going. And yes we were much more defensive in the first half, but it was part of receiving a couple of punches to allow the game to open. And we did a good job there. I think Derek [Cornelius] had a solid game, Ranko [Veselinovic] had a solid game. Jake [Nerwinski] fought with everything he had. Like you said Guti [Cristian Gutierrez] came on. But when I talk about defence, I’m not able to talk about just one line, the goalkeeper, the back four. We all defend together, even if you look at the last 20 minutes or 15 minutes of the game, you see a commitment from our forwards, from our wingers, from our midfielders, from our backline, and that commitment is needed if you want to win games.”

On the emotions of the match:

“My emotions after the second goal … I learned with San Jose, it’s not over until it’s over and we were in the right track but for from celebrating. Now, when the ref whistled the end of the game, then our emotions were very high because guys we’re here and we went through so much. There’s a lot of players, one third of our roster is not with us. So you need to dig, you need to go deep. And it reminds me of stories of sports where the impossible becomes possible, then you really pushed, everybody was committed, there was belief. So, the win felt good, the three points for the MLS standings were very important. But then to win by two, to qualify, to get the three points, was huge for this group, was huge for the attitude that this group stayed with throughout the tournament. I am so proud of the guys and I still know that we still have so much, our margin to progress is still so big that it’s exciting for the future.”

On the short turnaround to Sunday’s knockout match:

“The next two days, practically there’s 10 percent that we could do on the field. The work is going to be done a lot on video sessions. And then we need to recover them, so the recovery, how we rehab, how we do all of it is huge right now. Using the pool, a lot of sleep, eating well, a lot of water. That has to be the focus right now, and then through a lot of video, make sure that we prepare the players for the next game. Then, what are we going to tell them as of tomorrow. Today we already spoke, we already sang in the locker room, we already partied enough and we celebrated. Now as of tomorrow our talk is if we’re here, if we’re in the last 16, why shouldn’t we dream about going further one game at a time. And that has to be our intention.”

On how big this is for the process of a young team:

“What I told them before the game was. I’m a big fan, in case you guys don’t know you’ll learn this today, I’m a huge fan of who I think for me is the biggest guy of sports is Ayrton Senna, Formula One driver, I love Formula One. And I read a quote from him saying, if you’re in sports or if you’re a driver and you don’t go for the gap that is there, you are no longer a driver. If you don’t go in life testing your limits, going to your limits, well you’ll never know how far you could go. I spoke to the guys about that. I said this is an opportunity for us to dig inside us and say, how far can we go. And it starts with the staff and everybody that is here. I can’t be around the players, not believing. I can’t be around the players [with] excuses, we don’t have this guy, we don’t have that guy. No, I think we always show the belief regardless we could do this, we could stretch our limits. So that’s what they learned today, they learned that man we could stretch our limits in such a way that is going allow us to go somewhere. And then with win like that, when you bring wins like that home. And then all the other guys join. You’re just getting stronger and stronger, and I really believe in the process. I believe in the culture that we’re creating. I believe in the guys that we have and this was an important step for sure.”

Update on Jasser Khmri’s injury:

“Not yet… We know it’s related to the knee. But the way he fell – I think, I didn’t see the images – but from the bench, he fell on his knee. But you always need 24 hours to let the inflammation go down to realize what exactly is there. That’s why I don’t want to pass to you information that’s not accurate. We’ll know much more tomorrow and then if you ask me that question tomorrow we’ll be able to give you more information.”


On his emotions:

“In the game, I was just thinking about the match and then now that we’re done of course the whole team is happy. Everyone’s celebrating, we put in a lot of work for this one so we’re all happy.”

On the weather delay:

“It was a weird game, it was the longest game I’ve played for sure. But during the break we got we just tried to stay focused, we got ready again for the game. The message from Marc was that one team can take advantage of this, and we wanted it to be us. We made sure it was us.”

On reaction to overturned goal:

“As soon as the goal went in, of course, you’re disappointed but straightaway we thought, this is how it is, we can’t change it. And we have another goal in us, we’ll go again but luckily enough VAR finally came to our rescue this time. And it was brought back and we knew we had to hang on from there.”

On the preparation for the match:

“The preparation was the same as it is every other game. I went through my routine, the same that I would do with the Academy, the national team, the second team. I didn’t look at it any different, and go on to the game, focused on my warm up, played it like any other match, we play to win.”

On looking forward to the next game:

“Well, we’re professionals, right now we’re, we’re happy with the win, we’re happy with what we accomplished but as soon as we get over that it’s preparing into the next game the same way we came to this one. We prepare for our opponent and we get our bodies ready to go again.”

On the team overcoming odds:

“It was special for sure. I’ve never been part of a group that was more excited, put in more work for this game to get a result like that so we were, of course, after the game, everyone’s dead. We were so excited and now we’re ready to get for the next game.”

YORDY REYNA (through translator)

On the match:

“It was a really intense game; it was really important because we had lost our first two matches, so it was a big deal. It was great to assist on the second goal as well. We had been under a lot of pressure; it’s been difficult but it is great that we get to move on.”

On the importance of the match:

“It was a very important game for us, we had let go of a lead before when we lost 4-3. But we were able to hang on and we are very happy and excited that we get to move on to the next round.”

On scoring and assisting:

“Very important of course, it gives me great confidence. The most important thing of course is to keep going with the tournament. We have another step coming up and that’s what I am looking forward to. But it was personally very important for me.”

On what head coach Marc Dos Santos said during weather break:

“Marc gave us the ultimate confidence and the message was to go forward and push forward. We knew we had to score at the restart and that’s what we wanted to do. He had a good chat in the locker room and instilled that in us to get out, move forward and go and attack.”

On how the team is feeling:

“The team is feeling great. We know we have to fight; we know we have to attack. It is a new stage for us, it is a new stage for everyone, so on we go.”

On the keys to the result:

“We had confidence, we knew our qualities and I am happy to help the team. Now we have a different focus, other teams are coming for us and we are on to the next stage. Let’s get it done.”

Authored by: Michael McColl

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