Second ‘Caps Thoughts: Vancouver Whitecaps not in ‘dark place’ but lights continue to flicker in loss to Earthquakes

In Second ‘Caps Thoughts, our day-after column looking at the Vancouver Whitecaps, we pick over the bones of a tough Vancouver loss on Wednesday against the San Jose Earthquakes. 

After a rough end to September, let’s just say that October hasn’t started out too great, either. 

The Vancouver Whitecaps current rough patch continued on Wednesday, as they fell 3-0 to the San Jose Earthquakes for their 4th loss in a row, continuing a slump that started late in September. 

While the results themselves have been all over the place, the root causes have been the same, albeit coming in different ways and forms each games. Inconsistency, individual errors and discipline have all found a way to cause problems in their own way, leaving the ‘Caps to scratch their head as they fall back down the Western Conference table. 

On Wednesday, much like in their previous game, a 3-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders, the Whitecaps came out strong in the first half, reaching the break all knotted up at 0-0, before falling apart in the second half, shipping 3 goals and picking up 2 red cards. 

Yes, the red cards were both spotty, but on the balance of the game, they were probably fair, much as the result was. 

Right now, the ‘Caps just aren’t creating their own luck right now, and that’s been reflected in this 4-game slump, in which they’ve probably played ~180 or so minutes of good football out of 360, yet have nothing to show for it. For every good bit of play has been accompanied by equally frustrating football, making for a tough few weeks. 

There’s no doubt that this team has talent, but they’ve been unable to put it all together on a consistent basis, leaving them where they are now. 

“We have the players to be successful in this league,” the second-longest tenured Whitecap, Jake Nerwinski, said after the game on Wednesday. “We haven’t put it together yet. We showed glimpses of it in the games that we won and in some games that we’ve lost that were close. Right now, we’re not putting it together. And we need to figure out how to do that in the remaining eight games.”

It’s been tough to gauge these ‘Caps all year, especially since the pandemic hit, as they’ve had to go through all sorts of adversity, but at the same time, it’s hard to imagine that anyone was expecting a slump like this. 

Right now, it just feels like any sort of luck and positive momentum would benefit this Vancouver time, and with only 7 games left on their schedule, that will have to come fast for them, because if not, their season could be over before it really got started, leaving fans to wait for next year, once again. 

But enough about the long term, as there’ll be plenty of time to ponder that. Let’s dive into some of what stood out from another tough ‘Caps loss on the latest stop in their American adventure. 

A strong first half:

Even more painful for the ‘Caps in this loss was that they actually started out strongly in this one, much like they did against the Sounders, only to fall off in the second half. 

More importantly, against a San Jose team that has typically kicked their teeth in during all 3 matchups they’ve had against them since Dos Santos was hired, the ‘Caps were actually pushing back, creating chances of their own in what turned out to be a pretty back-and-forth affair. 

While that wasn’t reflected in the Expected Goals (xG) map, which was 1.07-0.29 in favour of the ‘Quakes at half time, as San Jose’s chances all came from good areas in transition, whereas the ‘Caps were finding success off of crosses and set-pieces, it felt like a close game that was just one goal away from breaking open. 

But much like in the Seattle game, in which the ‘Caps kept the defending MLS champs at bay for all of the first half, even more so than they did against San Jose, things fell apart early in the second half. 

Obviously, with fatigue, travel and rotation all played a role in this, it’s certainly concerning to see the ‘Caps completely fall out of games in which they’ve started so brightly, losing all chance at taking any points. 

At the same time, however, that’s part of the reason why they’re the only team in MLS yet to draw a game through this point of the season, and that’s because when they fall, they fall hard. 

On the other hand, these last 2 games at least give Dos Santos a solid idea of how his team can play, at least in the first half, so he does have some sort of framework to build off of for their next few games. 

“I agree, that’s the rhythm, and the pressure and the amount of time that we spent in the opponents half, with numbers, it’s what I want us to be about,” Dos Santos said of his teams first half. “So what I told the guys (before) is that we have 8 games left, in the 8 games we have to try to play in this way, and who’s ready and who’s able to play in this way is going to play for the Whitecaps. Who cannot follow this rhythm, and who could not follow closing down what’s in front of them, won’t. I don’t want to be a team that spends all half and spend a whole game in our defensive third, I don’t want to be about that, so the answer from the guys with one day and a half of training with some clips was very positive.”

And even more frustrating for Dos Santos? His team’s lack of finishing, which has seen them fail to score from open play these past 4 games, making it harder for his team to stay in games knowing that just one defensive mistake will undo their chances at winning. 

Had Fredy Montero or Andy Rose found a way to deliver on their chances in the first half, this game could’ve changed, but alas, things just aren’t going in for the ‘Caps right now.

“We could’ve easily came at half time with a positive result,” Dos Santos continued “There’s even this dangerous free kick just before the half that could’ve went in another direction, their goalkeeper makes off of a corner kick an incredible save, a very, very good save on Andy (Rose), and then there’s our trick play that went from Fredy (Montero) to Andy, and it was also a great opportunity.”

Lack of training time hurts the ‘Caps:

So to continue off of the last point, there’s some good news and bad news for the ‘Caps. 

As Dos Santos mentioned earlier this week, with a lack of training time due to the compressed schedule, it’s been hard for him and his staff to get the time needed for his players to be able to fully build off of the ideas they’ve been trying to implement. 

It’s a fair concern, and is partly why in the Western Conference, the top 5 spots are all held by teams with coaches who’ve been in charge since before 2018, as teams with an already established identity are currently ruling the day in this strange season. 

In a league where 7 of the 8 coaches who’ve been on their job since 2017 or earlier hold places 1-5 in the West, as well as spots 1-2 in the East, with the lone outlier being Ben Olsen’s DC United, who sits in last in MLS, consistency has ruled the day in this chaotic season. 

For the ‘Caps, that’s not promising, at least in terms of their playoff hopes this year, but at the same time, given that two of their biggest struggles have been finishing and basic defensive errors, two skills that should be a little more correctable than say, intricate patterns of possession, this team does feel like it has more to give. 

With only 5 points separating 6th and 12th in the Western Conference, it’s not all dead for the ‘Caps, but at the same time, they’ll have to at least start cleaning up little warts, keeping their playoff hopes alive. 

It won’t be easy, but in this season where this famine has favoured the experienced, the ‘Caps will have to do what they can to push themselves ahead of their fellow underdogs, allowing them to make a playoff in which anything can happen. 


Lastly, the big worry for Vancouver on Wednesday was the two red cards they picked up, bringing them to 4 for the season, tying them for most in MLS with the Montreal Impact. 

After starting the season out so brightly in that area, only picking up 1 and drawing 4 from opponents through 12 games, they’ve picked up 3 in their last 2 games, as discipline has started to be an issue. 

While the validity of both red cards against San Jose could be challenged, the Andy Rose one did feel fair, and even though Erik Godoy’s was hard to pick out, Michael Baldisimo could’ve arguably picked up one of his own not long before. 

This is tough to gauge, as these ‘Caps don’t seem that undisciplined, at least compared to some of their past iterations of this team, but they’ve been very sloppy in recent games, and that’s been reflected in the red card tally. 

It’s something to keep an eye on, no doubt, but you feel like it’s something that should disappear once they tighten up other facets of their game. 

Looking Forward:

Now, the ‘Caps will look to get out of this slump by taking on the team they last beat, Real Salt Lake, at ‘home’ on Saturday. 

While it feels like the team is in a dark place right now, it feels like they’re not that far from the light, so what better way to get out of a slump than winning their first ‘home’ game in over a month (aside from that ‘home’ game in Portland against Portland, which doesn’t really count).

As Dos Santos said after the game, things could always be worse, so his focus is on getting what he can out of that one, and see what that brings to his weary side. 

“We’re disappointed, we’re upset that we lost, but we’re not in a dark place,” he said. “We trust in our ability, we have a game Saturday that we want to win, and we’re going to go for it again, and we’re going to bring a lot of energy Saturday, and we’re going to be ready for the game, there’s no doubt after the talk I had with the guys, now I feel that we’re going to go for it.”

“Dark place is people that lost family members with COVID, dark place is if something happened with one of my kids, that’s a dark place, we’re not in a dark place, we’re ready to go and very excited for Saturday, and we won’t allow this game to bring anything down, we will review it, we’re going to reinforce on what we’re going to be about from that first half and continue growing on that.”

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Real Salt Lake, Saturday, October 10th, 19:00 PST (Providence Park, Portland)

Cover Photo via: Matthew Stith and Jared Martinez/MLS

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