“The Lowest Point in My Career”: Whitecaps vs Cavalry match analysis

“The Lowest Point in My Career”: Whitecaps vs Cavalry match analysis

After Tuesday’s match, the Whitecaps secured their progression to the semi-final of the Canadian Championship. That fact was the only solace anyone had from the game, in which a lively and fearless Cavalry FC side beat the Whitecaps 1-0, outplaying them right off the park in their own backyard.

Disjointed start from an untested lineup

It was certainly a shock to see that Cyprian Kachwele, fresh off a good vein of form for WFC2 and having already made his debut, was chosen to be the starting striker against Cavalry. It is not to say that such an appearance from him, given his good form and the injury to Damir Kreilach, was not a welcome surprise, but for him to be given the starting duties alongside Levonte Johnson and Giuseppe Bovalina was perhaps a step too far from head coach Vanni Sartini.

Bovalina, primarily a wingback, made his first start since coming in earlier this month, and, to his credit, he did his best in the lineup. He was energetic, dynamic, and often found acres of space to play in. His biggest issue was that he has not had enough time to fully immerse himself in the playing style of the Whitecaps to get involved enough. Or at least, that is the believed reason, since he was so often bypassed in the attack despite having plenty of space.

He was one of the few bright spots in the match, even with his lack of involvement. The attack floundering was to be expected given how thrown together and green it was. Johnson scored a brace in Calgary against Cavalry in the first leg, but is still not at the level to be the senior member in the attack and lead his line. Kachwele had moments, but, like Bovalina, needed time to understand how to work within this system to be more effective.

The biggest disappointment, though, were the players behind that front line. For the attacks’ woes were not just due to their lack of chemistry and inexperience. They also were not getting good service from the midfield and defence. Pedro Vite was not short of effort, but struggled to really impose himself as a connector in the first half. His frustrations earned him a yellow card and looked poised to earn himself a second had the half-time whistle not blown.

Sebastian Berhalter looked lost at times, with the game just going by him for large swaths of the match. Both central midfielders looked dominated by a physical Cavalry midfield that were used to bullying players much stockier and burlier than those two, making it easy for them despite the gap in technical skill and quality between them. Ali Ahmed was invisible at times, although he did come more alive in the second half and was one of the main threats then. Meanwhile, Martins looked tired after just 35 minutes. It was a good thing, in hindsight, that he was put in the less demanding left centre back role at half time.

Overall, it was a poor half from the Whitecaps, but not the worst that we’ve seen. It was definitely one that was recoverable, even after Ranko Veselinovic’s own goal went in. The expectation was that they were going to wake up and make up for it in the second half. As many saw, that was not to be the case.

A languid second half nearly costs the ‘Caps the Cup

“We need to apologize to our fans for our performance. That was shameful in the second half,” admitted a very blunt and frustrated Vanni Sartini in the post match press conference. “The first half, we tried at least, but the second half… when one team tries to win and the other team is very casual, that’s a recipe for the game that happened there.”

Never had many of the media members present seen Sartini so despondent after a match. It is one thing to lose because of a bad call, a bad plan or because the other team was simply better. It is a whole other thing to lose because you did not put the effort in. That was the message that Sartini delivered to the media after the match, and called it “unacceptable” and the “lowest moment of my Whitecaps career”.

On the surface it might seem dramatic, but after looking at the game, it doesn’t seem that far off. The defensive structure that had been so strong this season, barring the LAFC game, looked completely unraveled. Cavalry were finding plenty of space in behind and into the channels, threatening to add more had they a little more composure. The midfield looks even more disconnected, with players like Ahmed, Vite, and Berhalter trying to make up for their poor first start with individual runs, straying from the master plan.

Even the subs didn’t bring much rejoice. Ryan Gauld was the most dangerous man on the pitch for spells in the second half – a compliment for Cavalry to force the Whitecaps to bring on their best player – but even he seemed off the mark with his passes and decisions as the half wore on. Ralph Priso and Ryan Raposo did little to spark new life, as their passing was just too safe and too slow to truly kickstart something dangerous. All the while, Brian White had one of the most brutal graveyard shifts he must have played in all of his career.

The very fact that the Whitecaps didn’t lose the tie and get knocked out was partly thanks to the away goals rule still in effect (one which Sartini wishes to dispel off after Cavalry’s performance today) and partly thanks to a Cavalry side that has been struggling to be efficient in the box all season. On the basis of play, you could easily argue that Cavalry deserved more from their display, having beat an MLS side once again on their home soil.

But as is the case, the Whitecaps managed to progress by the skin of their teeth. With Inter Miami and Messi on the horizon, it is not a performance that they will want to boast about in the build up for it.

Huge improvements needed for Miami and semi-finals

After the final whistle had ended, there was only one thought that came to my mind. “The Whitecaps MUST show up on Saturday”. It was not a feeling of hopeful desperation, nor of bitter frustration. It was borne from a feeling of necessity. The Whitecaps simply cannot allow a performance like this to re-occur, nor influence the match against Miami.

“We have to close the page, close the chapter, close the whole book,” exclaimed an exasperated Sartini about last night. “We have to forget the night completely. I don’t know if tomorrow we can have the Men in Black show up, but if we think about tonight, a lot of bad things get into your mind.”

It is understandable that Sartini wants to move past it. Beyond the disappointment and shame that may come with it, there is still so much work to be done ahead of Saturday and not that much time to address it. He needs his players to bounce back from that loss immediately if he is to have any hope of competing against a high-flying Miami.

“We need to be in the right mindset and doing the right thing, because if not, you don’t need the players [in front of you] to be called Messi and Suarez to create problems,” explained Sartini. “Today, if you were called [Lleyton] Brooks, [Sergio] Camargo, [Tobias] Warschewski, they created a lot of problems because they are good players and we weren’t doing the right thing that we had to do.”

But the improvement has to come with a goal beyond Saturday. For the Whitecaps haven’t been in great form since that tie against the Red Bulls at the end of last month. They need to start to fix their serious issues of production in the final third, and re-jolt the defence to perform as they were doing earlier in the season. Not just to get back on track in MLS and rise back up the table, but also for their Canadian Championship hopes.

“Of course [the semi-final] will be in July, but we have a moral duty [now] to play the best semi-final we can play against whoever is going to be in that position, whether it’s a CPL team or a MLS team,” professed Sartini about looking ahead. “Because we need to deserve to be in the semi-final with a performance that we do in the semi-final, because we don’t deserve it on the performance today.”

Come the end of the season, this may simply become a blip in what may be a very good season for Sartini and his Whitecaps. But it is not given that that will be so. The Whitecaps need to put a real shift in on Thursday and Friday at training so that they can not only show up to Saturday ready and revving for Miami – but for the rest of this long and arduous season ahead of them.

Authored by: Felipe Vallejo

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