Second ‘Caps Thoughts: Young and inconsistent Vancouver Whitecaps taught a lesson in heavy 6-0 loss to LAFC

In Second ‘Caps Thoughts, our day-after piece looking at the Vancouver Whitecaps, we look back at their tough 6-0 loss to LAFC on Wednesday, and look what they can try to take away from that one, as they try to have short memories and bounce back in their next game versus the Portland Timbers this Sunday. 

Where do you start after a loss like that?

If you’re the Vancouver Whitecaps, it’s going to be a rough couple of days ahead for them, as they try and recover from the 6-0 spanking that LAFC laid on them on Wednesday. 

After winning back-to-back games last week, the first such time that they’ve accomplished that since May of 2019, they headed to LA trying to achieve the trifecta, which would be three straight wins, something they are yet to accomplish under Marc Dos Santos. 

And unfortunately, not only did they fail to get the trifecta, they failed to do much of anything, really, all part of a slow start that has them in the MLS record books, for all of the wrong reasons, as LA became the fastest team to score 4 and 5 goals in a game. 

But at the same time, while it may feel like the roof is caving in after a loss like that, the sky isn’t falling quite yet, because thankfully if you’re the ‘Caps, all losses count the same, so it didn’t make any difference that they got spanked compared to if they were to lose by 1 or 2 goals. 

Ultimately, this kind of loss does change the course of a season, either for the better or for the worse, so this loss will need to be judged in context later on in the year. 

At the same time, you can still pass judgement, because, without a doubt, that loss was probably the worst game the Whitecaps played this season, all due to that very slow start. 

While yes, LAFC is a strong offensive team, the Whitecaps had no reason to give them such an open invitation to their goal, and that cost them, as the scoreline reflected. 

The good news is that the Whitecaps aren’t likely as bad as they looked on Wednesday, as that result came down to a multitude of factors, but at the same time, they’ve yet to consistently show how good they can be. 

Ultimately, consistency may be their biggest downfall, which luckily for them, in a league like MLS, where the playoffs exist, they can get away with to a certain extent, but if they do want to win anything, they’ll have to find a way to be able to be a little less streaky than what they’ve shown this year. 

But before going into a long-term reflection about the rollercoasters this team has gone through, as there will be a time and a place in the offseason to talk about such adventures, let’s try and look at what was a memorable night for the wrong reasons at Banc of California Stadium on Wednesday. 

A start of nightmarish proportions:

And while the 6-0 scoreline looks jarring on the scoresheet, to give credit to the Whitecaps, they only conceded once in the last 60 minutes, mostly thanks to Bryan Meredith, who made some nice stops in the second half. 

But on the flip side, the fact that the Whitecaps gave up 5 goals inside 30 minutes and were lucky not to have given up 6 or 7 by that point is worrying, as they suffered from a slow start not often seen in the history of MLS. 

That’s why LAFC set the record for the fastest 4 goals to start a game (14 minutes) and tied the record of the fastest 5 goals to start a game (33 minutes), as Vancouver was just not in the game at the start, making it seem like a training session for LA. 

It’s obviously tough for the Whitecaps right now, stuck in the US for the next month and a half at the very least, and with new COVID protocols, they had to travel to LA and play on the same day, but at the same time, they definitely could’ve started off a lot better. 

This is the new normal for them, so they’ll have to adjust to this new travel schedule for the foreseeable future, so no reason to blame their struggles on that. 

“Let’s make every question tonight about the soccer side,” Dos Santos said after the game. “Because when it comes to fatigue and legs, and travel in and out, we’re going to have to find solutions [and] react because this is going to be the reality until the end of the year. We’re going to live off Portland, get in and out of places, where the home teams are always going to have an advantage and be better. And I think we saw it in a lot of the results tonight.”

At the same time, what goes through one’s mind when watching that slow start from the sideline?

“It’s so hard to explain the first 14 minutes. The first 14 minutes looked like it was going towards a huge nightmare,” Dos Santos continued. “We were late to everything. We were not focused. The first two goals from corner kicks were situations, easy to control. When you’re 4-0 down after 14 minutes, you have to make sure that at least you stop the bleeding. Because the reality was, we’re not going to win this game 5-4 now. We have to stop the bleeding, survive until the end.”

“And remember that at the end of this night, we lose three points. We didn’t lose nine points, we lost three points. But it’s very hard to explain the whys we looked like I told you, we looked late. We didn’t deal with the wingers that were in pockets, always in front of our centre backs, the one-twos behind us. They created a lot of problems. We weren’t lucid to get out of their pressure when we lost the ball. All things that had a very big effect tonight. Now we’re going to travel to Portland. Tomorrow it’s a day off, and we’ll react against Portland on Sunday.”

And he’s very accurate in his assessment of the slow start. 

The Whitecaps were second-best in every aspect, and they failed to offer much resistance to LAFC, which against a team with that sort of offensive quality, is a recipe for disaster. 

In another game, they might have been lucky enough to only be 1 or 2-0 down after that start, but against LA, who are not ones to scuff at too many chances, that would not be the case on Wednesday.

Knowing that they’ll have to deal with this new reality of travelling into cities on game day, as well as the fatigue that these quick turnarounds between games offer, now the ‘Caps will have to start game-planning to avoid anything like this in the future, because if not, it’ll be a long next couple of weeks for them. 

“The message was to not hide from the problems of tonight,” Dos Santos said. “We can’t just throw this at fatigue and flying in and out, because if we do that we build a losing mentality and if we do that we hide from things that have to be better. So the message was, guys, we have to address this.”

“And we went through some things in general because we have to look at video and go back to things, but the last part of the message was at the end of the day we lost three points. We’re two points from a playoff spot, and we have to regroup. Think about the things we need to do better, and be ready for the game on Sunday.”

Young team faces growing pains:

While the loss itself was tough for many reasons, it was especially tough after seeing the ‘Caps win 3 of their last 4 games, which put them into a playoff spot, tied with LAFC ahead of this game. 

Some may have doubted the validity of 2 of those wins, as they came against 2 teams that went down to 10 men, but at the same time, the ‘Caps were full value in those victories, so that does nullify that idea a bit. 

But while they played good in both of those wins, for a team who hasn’t won many games over the past 2 seasons, you do have to wonder if that little taste of success might have gotten to their heads ahead of this one. 

When asked about it after the game, veteran Andy Rose, who has been around the block in both MLS and in other leagues, gave a very poignant response, admitting that this game was a very humbling moment for his team. 

“Well it’s a humbling league, and the second you start thinking you’re a really good team and you don’t have to do the little things, and pressure so hard as a group, and keep your lines tight, and be disciplined, then the league will come back and bite you,” Rose said. “And obviously that’s what happened. LAFC have shown over the last few years that they’re the top team in this league. Okay, results haven’t gone their way every week this season, but coming here is one of the toughest places to come and you have to have a real awareness that you’re probably not going to have a lot of possession.”

“So much of coming here is about concentration, is about discipline, is about ensuring there’s not a ton of space in between your lines. And look, for us, without a doubt there was some real confidence flowing through our group from the last two results. You cannot forget what got you there and all the fundamentals, the really hard work that went into those two results. Obviously, this game got away from us way too quickly those first 15 minutes, and it certainly needs to be a real learning experience for a young group of players.”

While there are also questions to be asked of the squad rotation, as the Whitecaps might have been wise to rest some tired players after a run of games in short succession, but you wouldn’t fault Dos Santos for trying to build some continuity in a season where there hasn’t been much of it. 

Unfortunately for him, that led to a flat start, so maybe he’ll have to ponder making more changes to his squad in these games on short rest, because that, coupled with the brutal travel schedule, could lead to more of these sort of results. 

Chalk that up to a lesson learned, among many others that his squad, which we do have to remember is the youngest in MLS, will try to take away as they look to bounce back from this defeat ahead of their next game, which comes on Sunday against the Portland Timbers. 

“Yeah, maybe when you have a young group like that and when they face different types of situations, different types of experiences, it is frustrating because you felt that, okay, we’re going in the right direction, but maybe I have to assess it a little bit better, the levels of energy of everyone in a game like that, and how ready we could’ve been physically after the game in Salt Lake, and the travels in the middle of everything, but it’s hard to assess everything in a situation like that,” Dos Santos said. 

“I have to be fair, I have to look at things in a very calm way, and know that Sunday it’s another one, at the end of the day, it’s like I told the guys, it’s so close for that playoff race and getting in those top 8, that we are there, and we are fighting, but we’re going to have to find a solution, we’re going to have to find an answer to what our days, and being where we are, and getting in and out of a city to play, and playing home games away from home, we’re going to have to find inner strength in us to battle that and be better in moments like that.”

Familiar defensive issues crop up once again:

Lastly, the defensive issues are definitely something worth highlighting for Vancouver, because after looking so good defensively in these last 2 games, they just didn’t look very good at the back on Wednesday, especially not in the first half. 

After only allowing just over 3 Expected Goals (xG) in their last 2 games, they allowed a whopping 2.96 xG against LAFC, and that number was only deflated by the fact that the Whitecaps scored on their own net twice, as own goals aren’t counted in xG, robbing of LA probably at least 1 xG. 

While ceding 65% of possession to an LA team that knows how to hurt teams when they have the ball doesn’t help, you can still find a way to keep them out of dangerous areas even when you don’t have the ball, which they unfortunately did not do enough of on Wednesday. 

They struggled with routine set-pieces, allowing Dejan Jakovic to overload Cristian Gutierrez at the back post in a physical duel he was going to win 9 times out of 10 on the corner for the opener, before losing Bradley Wright Phillips, scorer of over 100 MLS goals, after a cross off a short corner for the second. 

When it came to limiting wide attacks open play, things weren’t much better, as they failed to close down the LA crossers on the 3rd, 4th and 6th goals, leading to a Wright Phillips bicycle kick, along with the Ranko Veselinovic and Andy Rose own goals. 

And in terms of guarding the middle, it was much of the same, as they allowed Mark Anthony Kaye to find Diego Rossi with a line-splitting pass for the 5th, and dodged catastrophe on a Kaye dribbling masterclass in the 19th minute that saw him cut through 4 ‘Caps defenders at the top of the box and hit a shot off of the post. 

All-in-all, it was a porous defensive performance in every area of the game, which for someone like Meredith, who was making his first MLS start in over 8 years, was the last thing he probably wanted to deal with in his return to action. 

Even more frustrating is that the ‘Caps always seem to take a massive step backwards defensively whenever they seem like they’ve figured things out, as they’ve only conceded 2 or fewer goals in 2 or more consecutive games twice this season, one time being a period of 3 games in a row in which they still lost twice, and the other being a set of 2 games in a row as part of their recent back-to-back wins. 

When they’re on their game, they can truly defend, but there’s a reason why they lead the league with 2.08 xG against a game, and that’s because when it rains, it tends to pour for them. 

Going forward, they need to find a way to stop having games where they bleed chances and xG, as they’ve now got a 0W-6L-0D record when they’ve conceded 3 or more goals, and have a 1W-5L-0D record when they concede 2 or more xG. 

While technically they could’ve won more of those games, it’s telling that when they struggle defensively, they tend to also struggle offensively, as those two stats seemed to be linked, because, in the case of the Whitecaps, they seem to play at their best defensively when the whole team is involved. 

As well as when we consider the defensive rest that attacking more offers, there is every reason for Vancouver to find a way to return to that blueprint on Sunday, especially against a Portland team who happens to be the second-worst team in terms of xG against per game with 1.91. 

Unfortunately for Derek Cornelius and the rest of his defenders, they took a step back on Wednesday (Keveren Guillou)

Looking Forward:

So ultimately, as said earlier, the importance of this game will be found out later, based on what it does to the Whitecaps season. 

These sorts of losses can end a season, much as it felt like it did in the case of the ‘Caps when they lost 6-1 to LAFC away in July of last year, but they can also put a season back on track, which if you’re the Whitecaps, is what you’re hoping is the case this time around. 

As a young team, it’s very much possible, but they just need to avoid dwelling on this result and only take away the important mistakes that they learned from this game, and try to avoid repeating them. 

They’ve got some time to watch the film, then get set to get back on the training ground, turning their focus to a big match with Portland on Sunday. 

“Well, it’s a quick turnaround and you as much as it’s so important to really think about what happened, to watch the film, to go through and analyze the goals, at the same time the way 2020 is set up and the amount of games we have coming in quick succession, you need to be humbled by it very quickly and quickly switch your concentration to Portland, which is going to be another difficult match,” Rose said.

“Without a dought, take tonight to reflect upon it. Individual performances, what could you have done better in key moments, did you press hard enough, did you run hard enough? It’s the simple things in the game that are so important that need to happen every single match. And then you have to be mature enough to put it to the side, and come back with a real willingness in training on Friday to rectify it, to come back and like I said, understand that it’s three points lost, nothing more than that. [It’s] an experience we certainly don’t want to go through again, and an understanding that we need to get these points back.”

And hey, the ‘Caps do face that same LAFC team in a matter of weeks, so what better way to show what they’ve learned and get one back on them?

But before looking too far ahead, they’ll need to keep a careful eye on Portland this weekend, and try to get back on the path that they seemed to be set out on last week, using this loss as a mere stopover, not a re-charting of their overall direction. 

If not, it promises to be a rough couple of weeks for them, so look for them to try and bounce back, starting with the game on Sunday. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Portland Timbers, Sunday, September 27th, 2020, 19:00 PST (Providence Park, Portland)

All Expected Goals stats via American Soccer Analysis

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