Vancouver Whitecaps

Post Match: Skullduggery

The Vancouver Whitecaps defeated the Seattle Sounders 2-0 to recapture the top spot in the Western Conference. It was a game that almost defies analysis because of how much Seattle’s two red cards affected the outcome. But I will do my best. 

Before the First Red Card

Before the first Red Card, the game was very boring. This, in my view, is a good thing. Despite their low position in the standings, Seattle’s underlying data is as good as ever this season, and playing them away from home still represented a significant challenge. Seattle had the slightly better looks but never really broke Vancouver down and the Whitecaps didn’t look incapable of creating something themselves. For me, that’s fine. We saw a bit of a stress test of the “just play two fast guys and everything will be fine” theorem with Sam Adekugbe pressed into service as an attacking winger. It obviously wasn’t the most natural fit but I still think the way the ‘Caps formation is supposed to work shone through (of course Adekugbe would eventually pick up a goal contribution but more on that later). 

The First Red Card

In the 43rd minute, the game changed significantly when Jackson Ragen was shown a straight red, after a length VAR review, for a tackle on Ryan Gauld. Now, was this call a bit harsh? In my view, yes. However, I have a hard time feeling bad for Ragen or the Sounders because, at the end of the day, he did go through Gauld’s back, catch him with his studs, and get absolutely nowhere near the ball. If you play stupid games, you may win a stupid prize. 

Seattle attempted to shell up, subbing on a centreback (Xavier Arreaga) for a striker (Raul Ruidiaz). I think Vancouver handled this very well. The commentary team (and many people on my Twitter timeline) stated that Vancouver was keeping possession but not doing much to penetrate Seattle’s backline. While this was true, the sense I got was that this was more down to Vancouver being patient rather than having a lack of ideas (this is, of course, the sort of thing that is very easy to say in hindsight). I think having two wide centre-backs who were comfortable with the ball at their feet in Utvik and Blackmon was extremely helpful when up a man. This allowed Vancouver to recycle the possession but still have the ball in possession of players with the ability to break lines, and thus they had the capacity to get back on the attack quickly. Eventually, Vancouver would find a pair of goals, both the result of errors by Seattle while trying to play out of the back. First Yeimar passed the ball directly to Andres Cubas who then found Adekugbe on the wing. Adekugbe cut the ball back to Ryan Gauld to make no mistake and put Vancouver up 1-0. Then Xavier Arreaga was taken off guard by the blistering pace of Damir Kreilach, forcing him to turn straight into Brian White who stripped Arreaga of the ball and slotted home. The goal made White Vancouver’s top scorer in the MLS era. 

The Second Red Card

Shortly after the second goal Alex Roldan was also sent off. There was absolutely no question that this one was deserved, with Roldan catching Ali Ahmed with his studs and getting nowhere near the ball. This gave Vancouver a solid 15 minutes to pass the ball around and essentially play with their food. The game was a bit farcical at this point so you would not want to draw too many strong conclusions. That said though, Kreilach’s strength and off-the-ball movement continued to be very useful against a team that had shelled up. We also saw a debut for Jay Herdman. I thought it was interesting that Vancouver switched to a midfield three at this point, and allowed Herdman to be deployed in the attacking #8 role that initially got me excited about him as a Whitecaps prospect. Herdman has struggled a little bit in a wide role, where I don’t think his strengths are maximized, with WFC2 this season. Again, you wouldn’t want to draw too many conclusions from 10 minutes against a team down to 9 men, but he looked fine. A couple of decent touches in the centre of the park and a long-range shot which will mean he shoots to the top of the list when you sort by “per 96” on American Soccer Analysis. 

I would also be remiss if I did not point out that Yohei Takaoka pulled off a marvellous save in the dying moments of the match. After flagging late last season Takaoka has been back to his best to start this year. Vanni Sartini has mentioned he feels Takaoka played too many games last year and that certainly seemed to be the case from the outside. As the commentary team noted, we are 100 days away from leagues cup! (the crowd goes mild). So, my question is, when do we see Isaac Boehmer? Will it only be in the Canadian Championship? Do they trust him enough to give him a mid-week MLS game? Something to watch out for over the next month or so.

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