“You have to be calm”: Vancouver Whitecaps preach patience in quest to fix offensive woes

The ‘Caps have struggled offensively as of late, as they’ve been shut out in 5 of their last 6 games. Ahead of their next match, against Toronto FC on Saturday, they took the time Tuesday to talk about those woes and how they’ve looked to fix them, as they look to find some magic at BC Place this weekend. 

When things go wrong, sometimes you’ve got to hit the restart button. 

For the Vancouver Whitecaps, who are winless in 3 straight games since returning to home markets for phase 1 of MLS’s return to play plan, they’ve had to get out the famed restart button this week, as they look to turn around their recent struggles. 

Losing streaks happen, yeah, but it’s not often you see one like this, in which the ‘Caps have failed to score a goal over those 3 games, as part of an extended drought in which they’ve been shut out in 5 of their last 6 games. 

Even more painfully, they’ve only generated 4 shots on target in those 3 games, and have overall just not looked good in the final third, making the losses all that the more frustrating. 

So when they got hit with a 10-day break ahead of their next game, which comes this weekend against Toronto FC, they took the time to get back to basics, hit the restart button, and tackled the problem at hand: scoring goals. 

“Yeah, we addressed a lot, of course, we spent a lot of time on our attacking play,” ‘Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos said on a conference call Tuesday. “How we could improve in the final third, how we could get more scoring opportunities, and there was a lot of film individually by groups and also with everybody involved.”

“And we made sure that in training, we were able to address a lot of the whys and how can we be more aggressive, how can we create more, that was important for us in the last three days.”

As we recently explored, the ‘Caps scoring woes go beyond an inability to generate shots on target, so it’s good to see that they’ve taken the time to look at what’s leading to those struggles, such as creating more service and being more ruthless in the final third. 

While they’ve gotten their teeth kicked in for possession numbers in the first two games of their return against Toronto FC, in which they held 24% and 32% of the ball in 3-0 and 1-0 losses, respectively, even when they had the ball, as was the case in their 3rd match against the Impact, where they had a respectable 56% of possession, their offensive woes remained. 

No matter how much you keep the ball, it doesn’t matter if you don’t do anything with it, as the ‘Caps have shown. 

Which considering that they’ve got a striker of the calibre of Lucas Cavallini, their record-signing who made a living off of terrorizing goalkeepers in Mexico and Uruguay before moving to Vancouver, finding a way to get him the ball more wouldn’t be the worst idea, either. 

“Yeah, the important thing is not to focus only on (Lucas) Cavallini, because that would be unfair, it’s to focus on what’s happening around Cavallini, so balls arriving in the box, situations arriving in the box, crosses arriving in the box, and that hasn’t been good enough.” Dos Santos said. “Sometimes we take two or three touches before playing a ball and we’re not pragmatic enough, we’re not humble enough in the last third, to be more aggressive, to play more balls in.”

“So in the last three days, I could tell you that every day, we had a video session with all the forwards and the attacking players in our team. Every day there were exercises to maximize and work on that, and (we had lots of) individual meetings. We’re doing something every day with the attacking players with the team, being video and on the field. So we hope that all this quantity of work could translate into something happening in the games.”

It’s something that Cavallini himself admits he’d like to see more of, but he also made sure to preach patience with his teammates, whom he said he’s gotten a good chance to work with at training as of late. 

“We’re working hard each day as the training progresses,” Cavallini said on Tuesday. “We keep getting better and better, obviously I’m trying to find good chemistry with my midfielders, but we have a good group of guys here, our young players are bright and they’re willing to keep getting better and trying to offer me more for service, so hopefully Saturday will be a better day.”

Speaking of which, you do have to wonder if this slow start is getting to Cavallini, who hasn’t had to face something like this in his career. 

Yet to open his account with the ‘Caps, even despite having 2 penalties in his first 5 games, both of which were saved, it feels like it’s going to take something magical to get him going, with all goalposts, defenders and goalkeepers seeming to conspire against him. 

Despite all of that, he’s generating chances, which considering how poor the ‘Caps have been at creating consistent service, is huge, as he leads the team in non-penalty Expected Goals with 1.34, which means that even when you take out the missed penalties, he’s still making things happen. 

Based on what we’ve seen from him throughout his career, and what we saw in the preseason, where he went on a run of 4 consecutive games with a goal to close out exhibition play, it feels like a matter of when, not if, that he’ll go on a run, something he echoed on Tuesday. 

Yes, he feels the frustration of not scoring yet, but he also feels like the tide will turn soon, and that he can finally get on the run he’d dreamed to go on when he arrived in Vancouver back in December. 

“Obviously, it does, the kind of passionate player I am,” Cavallini said of his frustrations wearing on him a bit. “This is for me is the lifestyle, I live for this, and I live to score goals, so obviously it’s frustrating for me, but that’s the thing. You can’t really feel frustrated as a striker, you always have to be calm, just always got to try to stay positive, the ball will eventually go into the back in the net.”

“And once I start scoring, I know that I won’t stop.”

But while Cavallini looks to break his goose egg, there will be some fresh faces aiding him on that quest, as he alluded to earlier, as Dos Santos has given some youngsters more minutes due to some key absences. 

With Hwang In Beom’s recent sale, along with Janio Bikel’s injury and Leonard Owusu’s wavering fitness, Patrick Metcalfe and Michael Baldisimo both made their MLS debut’s on this road trip, to good reviews. 

Along with Thomas Hasal, who has started 5 consecutive games after making his debut at MLS is Back due to an injury to Max Crepeau, and Theo Bair, who made his debut under Dos Santos last season, that now makes 4 U21 Canadian homegrowns that have seen the pitch this season, which is a positive development for Vancouver. 

After living through the years where Russell Teibert was usually the only homegrown in the roster, aside from that 2 and a half year stretch where Alphonso Davies burst onto the scene, it’s been good to see some young Canadians play, and even more importantly than that, play well. 

If you throw in Ryan Raposo, the 21-year-old Canadian who the ‘Caps drafted in last year’s super draft, who’s been very impressive in his minutes as a rookie this year, it’s given the ‘Caps a solid quintet of young Canadians to build around for the future, which in a cap-driven league, is a huge plus for Vancouver. 

When you add in Georges Mukumbilwa, who made his debut as a homegrown last year, but is yet to see the pitch in 2020, as well as Simon Colyn and Damiano Pecile, the promising pair of 18-year-old midfielders also fighting for game time, and that list of U21 Canadians may only grow in the coming weeks.

In a season that hasn’t seen very many positives, to see some of the kids grit their teeth and prove themselves in the fire has been a big plus, and Dos Santos admits that it’s been a good chance to see what he has in some of his young players, even if it’s not under the circumstances that he would’ve like to see them. 

“With the type of season that that is in front of us, and with the type of uncertainties (we face) because we don’t know what’s after these three games, we don’t know how things are going to look like,” Dos Santos said. “We also see it as an opportunity for us to give chances to our academy players, give chances to young players, and see how they can grow, see how they can develop, this as an opportunity right now with the type of uncertainty in the season, that we can work with and see some of the players now.”

“We’re doing it with a few we can, it’s hard to do this and win at the same time if you’re not Ajax or Barcelona, it’s difficult. But at the same time, we have this opportunity of looking at guys like Thomas (Hasal), Patrick (Metcalfe), Theo (Bair), Ryan (Raposo), (Michael) Baldisimo,  they’re all kids who have an opportunity to show and grow inside the team.”

So even though things are not looking rosy in Whitecaps land at the moment, at least the kids are giving people something to cheer for, and hey, if they can figure out to score, they’re still very much alive in the MLS playoff race, and are still clinging on in the Canadian Championship battle. 

If the goals can start pouring in sooner rather than later, maybe they can change the narrative around this season, led by the likes of Cavallini, pushed by the kids, and supported by veterans such as Tosaint Ricketts, who in a patch like this, can be an invaluable resource to lean on. 

As the ‘Caps look to get back on the same page offensively, Ricketts is preaching patience, hard work and togetherness, so hopefully the ‘Caps take that, bottle it, and turn it into goals. 

“Together, we’ve just got to have the same ideas,” Ricketts said on Tuesday. “How we attack, how we want to build out of the back, how we want to create these attacking sequences, and it’s not a matter of it (being) all on the striker’s responsibility or on the midfielders responsibility, it’s a collective (effort).”

“We just got to keep working together, take every opportunity in training to get on the same page and really know each other’s movements and know what we’re trying to get out of our system and out of our team.”

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Toronto FC, Saturday, September 5th, 2020, 18:30 PST/20:30 EST (BC Place, Vancouver)

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