Leaving it Late: Strong 2nd half rescues the Vancouver Whitecaps in huge 2-1 road win vs Austin FC

The Vancouver Whitecaps took on Austin FC in MLS action on Wednesday night, picking up a huge 2-1 win. Here’s our match recap from that one. 

It wasn’t how they drew it up, but they got there in the end. 

For a Vancouver Whitecaps side who came into their road clash with Austin FC on Wednesday having not won in 15 games on the road, and with just 1 win in their last 14 games total, it felt hard to imagine them winning this match. 

On a run of games that had seen them draw 5 straight games, and 7 of their last 9, heading into this one, it felt like they were destined for another tie, one that would keep them mired at the bottom of MLS’s Western Conference standings. 

So to see them then come out and pick up a 2-1 come-from-behind victory against the league’s newest expansion side was a big result, as it was a much-needed one for these ‘Caps, who with the victory, now sit just 4 points outside a playoff spot, even despite their latest dry run. 

As they get set to finally return to Vancouver to play games at BC Place this weekend for the 1st time since September of 2020, and for the first time in front of fans since February of 2020, it was a nice boost for the ‘Caps, as they get set to take on an LAFC side sitting just 3 points ahead of them, and just 1 point behind a playoff spot. 

“We’re really happy,” ‘Caps full back Jake Nerwinski said after the game. “It’s been tough to be away from home for so long, it’s been over a year, and we know that it’s finally coming to an end, and we get to play in front of our fans, we get to play in BC Place. We had those 5 straight draws, which are always good to get on the road, and now we get to go home with 3 points and huge momentum”

Thanks to a big second half from new DP #10 Ryan Gauld, who looks ready to start that home game after his play here, the ‘Caps will like their chances ahead of that one, as things are finally starting looking up for this team. 

Returning to the game, though, to start, it’d be a pretty lively first few minutes from either side, as they’d combine for some good end-to-end action for the many fans that filled Austin’s Q2 Stadium. 

Deiber Caicedo would get the first good look at goal for the ‘Caps in the 3rd minute, as he did well to cut inside on his left-foot and unleash a shot, but his deflected effort sailed just wide. 

At the other end, Cecilio Dominguez had a good chance for Austin in transition in the 12th minute, but he sent his shot right at Maxime Crepeau in the Whitecaps goal. 

Not long after, Austin continued to ramp up their offensive effort, as Diego Fagundez did well to sneak behind the Vancouver defence in the 17th minute, but his shot would be denied nicely by Crepeau, who did well to stop Fagundez even though he’d be later be ruled offside by the sideline official. 

A few minutes later, the ‘Caps would then find a good chance in the 28th minute, and it was from an unlikely source, as a bouncing ball settled nicely for Russell Teibert, and the ‘Caps captain hit it well, with his volley deflecting just over for a corner. 

But then, almost against the run of play, Austin would open the scoring in the 37th minute. Off of a corner, Alex Ring rose highest to a lovely curled ball in, looping a header into the back post to kickstart proceedings, giving the home fans plenty to cheer about. 

It was a deserved tally for Austin, who had certainly held their own through the first 37 minutes, but it was a tough blow for the ‘Caps, who had some good chances to score beforehand. 

Despite that, however, they’d keep their heads up in the chase of an equalizer, and nearly found one a minute later, as Caicedo had a nice chance from outside of the box in the 40th minute, but his curled shot sailed just wide, much to the relief of Brad Stuver in the Austin goal. 

Right after, Fagundez also had a great chance from outside of the box in the 39th minute, but he too sailed his curled effort just wide, as the game really started to open up right at the end of the half. 

That would continue right into the 45th minute, as Cristian Dajome managed to find Brian White with a lovely through ball, but the ‘Caps striker would slide his shot just wide, keeping Austin’s lead intact. 

And that’s how the half would end, as neither team would manage to create any other chances before the break, leaving Austin to enter the half with a slender lead. 

Based on the overall balance of the game, it was a fair result, but the ‘Caps certainly felt like they’d missed an opportunity to snatch the lead, leaving them to ponder how they could change that heading into the 2nd half. 

And to begin the 2nd half, the ‘Caps would find a bit of offensive life, buoyed by the insertion of half time substitute Ryan Gauld in midfield, as their new DP #10 instantly gave the ‘Caps an offensive spark. 

That’d be evident in the 52nd minute, as he helped set up Dajome for a nice half-chance inside of the box that Stuver did well to punch out, and that’d be later proven on the ensuing corner, as Gauld then whipped in a peach of a ball. 

From there, White did well to nod down the ball at the back post, and Jake Nerwinski slotted it home, putting the ‘Caps back into the game, tying the match at 1. 

For the ‘Caps, it was the equalizer they desperately needed, and based on how they were playing to start the half, you could only wonder if it’d be the start of a spirited comeback. 

If it were to be up to Gauld, he certainly seemed to believe so, as he then had a good shot from distance in the 57th minute, but his shot would be saved by Stuver, who’d deny the Scotsman of his first tally in MLS. 

Inspired by that early ‘Caps push, Austin then had a good look at goal in the 58th minute, as Tomas Pochettino found himself open in a pocket just outside of the Whitecaps box, but he sailed his shot just wide, keeping the game tied. Less than a minute later, Jon Gallagher found some space in the box and got up for a header, but the Austin man then sent his chance just wide, much to the relief of Crepeau in the ‘Caps goal. 

That pressure would continue into the 65th minute, as Pochettino did well to dispossess Russell Teibert in the ‘Caps midfield before launching a counter-attack, but his shot from outside of the box would once again sail wide, in what was seeming to be a theme on the night from the Argentine. 

Continuing the end-to-end action, Nerwinski then came close to snatching his 2nd in the 70th minute, as he got good contact on a floated cross, but his looping header fell comfortably into Stuver’s arms, denying Nerwinski of a brace. 

And with that pressure, the ‘Caps then found their go-ahead goal in the 74th minute. After a nice run in behind the defence, Gauld did well to meet a through ball from Caicedo and slide it across the box, finding White at the back post for a tap-in, giving Gauld his first MLS assist, and it was a big one. 

Plus, for White, it was also a big goal, as it was his 2nd in a ‘Caps shirt, and his first since his debut 11 games prior, as he finally got a big monkey off of his back with the tally. 

And the ‘Caps wouldn’t stop there. Gauld continued his rampage through the Austin defence into the 80th minute, as he snuck behind the backline again, but this time he went for the shot, which Stuver did well to kick out to keep the ‘Caps lead at 1. On the subsequent corner, Gauld then whipped in another lovely ball, but second-half substitute Tosaint Ricketts couldn’t get good contact on the ball, nodding it just wide. 

Right after, Gauld then had a good shot from outside of the box in the 83rd minute on his right foot, one that seemed destined for goal, with his shot only being kept out thanks to a nice dive from Stuver in the Austin goal. 

Continuing the end-to-end action that had persisted all night long, Austin continued to push despite going down, and had a fantastic chance to tie things up in the 85th minute, as Nick Lima whipped in a lovely ball for Gallagher, but his header would sail just over, keeping the ‘Caps in the lead. 

But after that, the late Austin push would die down and the ‘Caps would hold on for the rest of the way, allowing them to pick up the victory. 

It might not have been the prettiest victory, especially based on how they played in the first half, but they showed good spirit to claw their way back in, and that’s all one could ask for them at this stage of the season. 

With their long-awaited return home finally just a few days away, it was also nice to see them head into that game on a high note, hopefully allowing them to come out inspired on Saturday when they take on LAFC. 

After a long grinding few months, where victories were at a premium and it felt like the ‘Caps would never return home, this victory feels like a bit of light at the end of a long tunnel, one that the ‘Caps have long been waiting to reach the end of. 

“We believe here,” Whitecaps head coach, Marc Dos Santos, said after the game. “For us to be in the top 7, there are just games that we have to accept the challenge in games, and just go for it, and this was one of those games.”

Player of the Match: Ryan Gauld

Moving on, there was a clear leader for this nod in this game, and that was Gauld, who despite playing just 1 half, was the easy choice for the player of the match. 

In just 45 minutes on the field, he was a game-changer for the ‘Caps, who looked like a whole new team offensively with Gauld pulling the strings, as he helped them turn around a game that could’ve easily slipped away from them. 

“We signed Ryan for that,” Dos Santos said.” To come int the pockets, to make the team play, to look for that last ball, to play in transition.” 

He added: “And I think he was able to do that tonight.”

For a ‘Caps team that has struggled offensively for much of this year, it was an exciting cameo from Gauld, who is nearing full fitness now too, meaning that he’ll be able to exert this sort of influence from a starting role very soon, possibly as soon as the LAFC game on Saturday.

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Deiber Caicedo

Otherwise, we pegged Caicedo as one to watch in this game, and he was mostly up to that recognition here, as he was quite active down the flanks for the ‘Caps. 

He might not have had his best game in terms of product in the final third, but he had several good chances in both halves, and had some nice link-up with Gauld, showing some good chemistry with him. 

Arguably one of the best ‘Caps over the last 15 games, he’s been a revelation for the ‘Caps as of late, showing why Vancouver invested a heft chunk of change in the 21-year-old Colombian, who at this rate, looks like someone who will terrorize MLS defenders for years to come. 

Heatmap of the Match:

Elsewhere, it was a decent performance from the ‘Caps in this section, mostly thanks to the play of Gauld in that 2nd half. 

It certainly wasn’t the best ‘Caps heat map, without a doubt, but it wasn’t bad considering how dire it was in the 1st half, so they’ll take it. 

Plus, with Gauld likely to start soon, you have to imagine things consistently get better from this point on, because as this map shows, he certainly has the tools to do that going forward. 

xG Plot of the Match:

Lastly, the Gauld effect is also very pronounced in this section, as he helped the ‘Caps complete an Expected Goals (xG) battering on Austin. 

After a tight first half, the ‘Caps blew the doors off in the 2nd half, finishing with an impressive 1.9 xG lead, making this a deserved victory for Vancouver. 

Thanks to that, they’ve continued their nice form in this section as of late, as they’ve quietly turned things around in the xG department after a rough start of the season, with this victory being just the latest example of that. 

Looking Forward: 

So now, the ‘Caps will have 2 short rest days before getting set for one of their biggest games of the season, a clash at home with LAFC, which will not only be that first game back in front of fans, but a huge 6-pointer in the overall scheme of the Western Conference playoff picture. 

After the ‘Caps scratched out a solid 2-2 draw in their last game out against LAFC, this is a good chance for them to prove what they showed down in LA was no fluke, where they were dominant despite blowing a 2-0 lead. 

In front of their home fans for their first time in over a year and a half, they’ll look to give their home support a return to remember with a victory. 

Spurred on by this result, they’ll look to build some momentum as they enter the 2nd half of this season, hopefully making it one to remember. 

With the playoffs now very much in reach, no reason why they can’t believe in now making an unlikely push towards the postseason, rescuing a tough start to this 2021 campaign. 

“We’re building something,” Dos Santos said. “We’re only a few days before our real home opener. (The victory) is what the fans deserve, and the fans want hope, and we want to give that hope to them, and step-by-step grow as a team.”

“We still have a lot of things we can become better and grow in, and deal with some things better, but these steps are important for what we want to be about as a club and as a team>”

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs LAFC, Saturday, August 21st, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (BC Place, Vancouver)

Cover Photo via: Vancouver Whitecaps/Twitter

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