Second ‘Caps Thoughts: Vancouver Whitecaps unable to overcome fatigue in tough loss to Galaxy

In Second ‘Caps Thoughts, our day-after column looking at the Vancouver Whitecaps, we look back at a tough ‘Caps loss to the LA Galaxy from Sunday, seeing what Vancouver should try and take away from that one. 

While it was never going to be easy, it definitely felt like a missed opportunity. 

At the same time, you did expect that the Vancouver Whitecaps, winners of back-to-back games, facing a team that had lost 6 games in a row, the LA Galaxy, to finish stronger than they did on Sunday. 

It’s never easy to beat the Galaxy at home, no matter what their team looks like, but considering that the LA-based side was fresh off of losing back-to-back home games by a combined score of 10-4, the last thing you expected was for the ‘Caps to lose 1-0. 

But alas, that’s MLS for you. The beauty of the league is that you can never seemingly make a prediction without running a big risk of falling flat on your face, and that was proved once again on Sunday. 

Yes, the ‘Caps were the expected favourites, and should’ve at least showed a bit more cutting edge than they did throughout the 90 minutes, but at the same time, the underlying numbers did suggest that the Galaxy have been a bit unlucky this season. 

On the other hand, considering the run of form the Galaxy have been in, it felt like if the ‘Caps had put a little more pressure on them, LA wasn’t far off a complete meltdown, but instead, they got a victory that has the potential to be season-saving for them. 

The good news for Vancouver? 

A loss doesn’t completely tank their playoff hopes – in fact, they still remain in the playoffs as of writing. 

The bad news? 

In their last 4 games, they play the top 2 teams in the West, the Portland Timbers and the Seattle Sounders, as well as the San Jose Earthquakes, a team they haven’t beaten in 2 seasons, before ending off the season against this same Galaxy team in what could very well be a ‘win-and-you’re-in’ type of game. 

Luckily for them, all 4 games are at their ‘home’ base in Portland, where they’ve played some of their best football all season, but looking at that run of games, things won’t be easy for them. 

Before looking too far ahead, however, let’s take a quick return back to this Galaxy loss while it’s still fresh in the mind, and see what the ‘Caps can take away from that one. 

A lack of cutting edge in the final third proves deadly: 

Unfortunately for the ‘Caps, they struggled mightily in the final third against LA, and that was reflected in the statistics. 

Despite having 54% of possession, and 5 shots on target, the ‘Caps only generated a woeful 0.33 Expected Goals (xG), as they just didn’t get to the good areas offensively enough in this one. 

After looking full value for their money in victories over Real Salt Lake and LAFC, the ‘Caps failed to build on that positive momentum in this one, and that was reflected in those numbers. 

But despite that, they had every chance to win, as they came out strong in the first half, controlling over 60% of possession and getting a handful of chances, looking like they were well on track to send the Galaxy to a 7th defeat in a row. 

If you’ve watched the ‘Caps, however, you may recognize what happened next, as they failed to turn any of their chances into goals, the Galaxy grew into the game, paving the way for an eventual winner. 

Against a Galaxy team that felt vulnerable, to see that lack of cutting edge is tough, as the ‘Caps had every chance to get an early goal and mount up the pressure on their opponents. 

Instead, they allowed them to crawl back into the game, and the rest was history. 

“It’s heartbreaking,” ‘Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos said after the game. “Everybody in the locker room feels that we deserved to go back to Portland with at least another point. We knew the game would break after 65 minutes. Both teams looked tired and far from each other but we knew it would be one moment offensively from one of the teams.”

“We had a lot of the possession, especially in the first half but we lacked a little bit of clarity to create chances. It was a lot of possession but not enough chances created. Even though if we had some that were dangerous, we still could have done better.”

At the same time, while it felt like the ‘Caps faded out of the game physically after the 60th minute, to see them stay right in the mix until the 90th minute has to hurt even more if you’re Vancouver. 

A point away in MLS is never something to be scoffed at, so while it’s tough to see the ‘Caps seemingly settle for trying to only grab a point at the end, as they threw numbers back, you understand why they’d go for that. 

Ultimately, however, they had every chance to at least grab a point, if not more, and they just unfortunately squandered it at the end, leaving them to ponder how things could’ve gone so wrong when they were so close to something good. 

“No. It’s hard to say that because again you have to take it in context right where the other team knows that you’re throwing everything forward in the last ten minutes then the game is gonna get stretched,” ‘Caps goalkeeper Evan Bush said of the late goal. “Like I said, playing for a tie in the last 10 minutes when the situation is what it is with the table, on where we were in the game and all those things, play for a tie in that moment, could have opened us up for three points if we would have kept our shape and stayed compact.”

“And then, we could have hit them on the counter and taken three points. Again, it’s not all about just throwing numbers forward and bringing out a bunch of attacking players and trying to get three points. Those are the types of things that, they were at home, they were certainly going to be pushing, pushing to get the goal. And then they were going to be exposed. And they took advantage of those spaces and we didn’t.”

Tired legs unable to navigate rocky waters:

But while the ‘Caps lacked that cutting edge in the final third, that sort of thing can happen on any given day, so that wasn’t particularly shocking to see them lose via their struggles in that department. 

What was surprising, however, was to see the ‘Caps fade out physically as they did, as they seemed to get hit with a bout of sea legs at around the 55th or 60th minute, making for a sluggish end to the game. 

Maybe it shouldn’t have been that shocking, especially considering MLS’s new game-day rules, in which the away team must travel in and out on the same day, but seeing that the ‘Caps have never looked that sluggish in previous away games this year, it was a bit of a surprise to notice. 

You feel harsh in pointing any sort of blame at the players, who were playing their 5th game in just under 16 days, but for whatever reason, they just couldn’t find their legs at the end. 

At a crucial part of the game, where things really started to stretch out, they just couldn’t take advantage of the space, with fatigue playing a big part in their tough end to the game. 

“I knew at the minute 65, more or less 70, the game would open a lot,” Dos Santos said. “Of course when you play every three days and you travel, it’s normal. It’s very humid here today and it’s normal that that could come in and be a factor but I still think that we had the chance to win the game here.”

Substitutions, or lack thereof, a big talking point: 

When considering that, however, that’s why seeing Dos Santos only make 3 substitutions out of his possible 5 so curious. 

Yes, the ‘Caps were tired, but Dos Santos had the chance to swap out 5 of those tired players for fresh legs, yet the only subs he made came in the 71st minute, 80th minute and 92nd minute of the game. 

While there can be a whole debate about the usefulness of making substitutions just for the sake of making substitutions, it was tough to see the ‘Caps stick with a couple of horses that just seemed long out of the race, especially as the game dragged on. 

Would it be nice if the ‘Caps make more half time substitutions in general? Absolutely, but in this game, even a trio of 60th or 65th-minute changes could’ve really livened things up. 

Especially when you consider the positive offensive impact that Ryan Raposo had in 20 minutes, Cristian Gutierrez had in 10, and Theo Bair had in 2, it felt like having those legs on earlier could’ve made a difference that could’ve possibly seen the ‘Caps grab 1 or 3 points.

Instead, the ‘Caps ran a lineup that essentially had played 3 games together in 8 days right into the ground, leaving them to burn out when the team had a chance to snatch points. 

When asked about it after the game, Dos Santos said that he just felt like the guys he had on had the quality to break things apart, but they just didn’t find a way to get that breakthrough that they were hoping for. 

“We just felt that the game was so open that the quality of Fredy (Montero) or (Lucas) Cava(llini) could have brought something in the final third, especially when it was opening up,” Dos Santos said. “They took a lot of the space in behind, their centre backs are not centre backs that push the line very high so they stay lower so that’s why we thought that we were still getting into spaces, we’re still getting into some moments there.”

“(Cristian) Guti(errez) gets into a good spot, but the cross comes back and even another one with Ali (Adnan) that almost gets Cristian Dajome, then there’s a ball cleared almost on the line. At the end, even after we conceded the goal, their goalkeeper makes a mistake and we almost score there. After the game, you always think about possible subs but we just felt that it was a game that we would be able to get something out of it and unfortunately, it’s always hard to lose in injury time.”

On one hand, you do feel for Dos Santos, as in normal circumstances, he would’ve been able to run with his guys, but on the other hand, with the compressed schedule and tough travel rules, you do have to factor load management into gameday decisions. 

It’s tough for the ‘Caps, who wanted to build on what this lineup had achieved in the past 2 games, but alas, the tank just ran out at the end. 

Luckily for the ‘Caps, their next game is Saturday, leaving them with a bit of a break, so at least they’ll get a bit of a rest ahead of then, giving them a chance to return to this lineup, if they so wish. 

With their last 4 games all coming in Portland, over a much more modest span of 22 days, this should be a good period for them physically, at least when considering how tired some players looked at the end of this one. 

Deriving the positives:

All feels doom-and-gloom after that game, and understandably so, so let’s finish with some of the positive stuff. 

As mentioned earlier, the ‘Caps have a favourable schedule to end the season, especially considering that they’re yet to lose to a non-Portland opponent when they play in Portland this year (preseason included). 

Along with the increase in days in between games on average, there will be more time to train and recover, which for a tired Vancouver team, is excellent news. 

Lastly, the team finished the night in a playoff spot despite the loss, as they sit in 8th place with 21 points, 3 points behind the San Jose Earthquakes, their next opponent. 

While a loss to San Jose could possibly spell the end of their playoff hopes, or at least put them on life support, considering that they have a week until the game to rest and prepare, that has to also be good news. 

With how fast things can change in a year like this, they just have to eliminate the sting from this loss as soon as possible, look at what went wrong, and correct it ahead of Saturday. 

A win then keeps things wide open, and considering what they showed last time they were up against the ropes, when they beat RSL in a game where a loss could’ve easily all but ended their season, they’ll be hoping for some similar magic in this one. 

A quick nod to Rusty:

Lastly, we’ll give a quick nod to Russell Teibert, who made his 180th MLS appearance on Sunday, becoming the Vancouver Whitecaps all-time leader in that category, surpassing Jordan Harvey for that honour. 

On a Whitecaps side that has seen so much turnover, to still have a face leftover from the expansion days is impressive, especially considering how much change the league has gone through. 

But alas, that’s what Teibert has made a living out of, adapting, as he’s found a way to stay useful in a rapidly-changing MLS landscape. 

It wasn’t maybe the way he wanted to celebrate, especially against a Galaxy team that he’s had some memorable games against in the past, but you can only tip your hat to his long and arduous journey to this point.  

Looking Forward:

So with all of that in mind, enjoy a rare week without a mid-day game, before settling in for the ‘Caps game on Saturday, which with how things are shaping up so far, promises to be a big one. 

Up next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs San Jose Earthquakes, Saturday, October 24th, 2020, 19:00 PST (Providence Park, Portland)

Cover Photo via: Matthew Stith/MLS

All Expected Goals numbers taken via: American Soccer Analysis

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