Magnificent Max: Maxime Crepeau’s heroics helps Vancouver Whitecaps salvage a point in Houston

The Vancouver Whitecaps took on the Houston Dynamo in a high-stakes MLS Western Conference battle on Wednesday night. Here’s our recap from that one. 

It took a bit of magic, scratch that, it took a lot of magic, but they managed to get something out of it. 

For the Vancouver Whitecaps, it might not have been the victory they craved ahead of their important matchup with the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night, but to pick up a 0-0 draw is still quite positive, especially considering the circumstances that this game was played in.

“I’m happy,” ‘Caps interim head coach, Vanni Sartini, said after the game. “I know Tab (Ramos) (Houston’s head coach), is going to be pissed, because in his mind he deserved to win, and that’s probably fair.”

“But I would say considering the circumstances, I’m very happy with the performance, especially in the second half.”

Having travelled a decent distance down to Houston to play this midweek game, the ‘Caps were always going to be in tough for this game, and that quickly proved to be true, as the Dynamo grossly outplayed their visitors in this one. 

Despite that, though, the ‘Caps held strong defensively, doing what they needed to do in order to keep the Dynamo off the board across 90 minutes, picking up a gritty point. 

In the midst of a tight MLS Western Conference playoff picture, it wasn’t the 3 points that they’d hoped for, but with Houston sitting a fair bit outside that race, the ‘Caps could afford to share the spoils in this one. 

“Yeah, if you look at this week that we’ve had so far, flying four and a half hours for a midweek game, I don’t know if most teams are doing that right now in the season,” Caps defender, Jake Nerwinski said. “So I think coming out with a point, especially you know in this humidity, and I think it’s a good result. I don’t think we played the best that we’re capable of, but to come out with a point and a clean sheet, I think that’s always a positive.”

“If we won, we would be very happy, but it’d be a robbery, like ‘Money Heist’ on Netflix,” Sartini added, jokingly.

Now unbeaten in 15 of their last 17 games in MLS play, and in 8 straight on the road, they’ve just found a way to grind out results as of late, and this was the latest example of that, helping them stay alive in the playoff race as the season dwindles down here. 

So even if this game might have been one to forget in terms of how it went down across the 90 minutes of play, it could be an important point in the overall context of the season, and the ‘Caps are well aware of that. 

To start the game, though, Houston would come out of the gates strongly, as they looked to give their home crowd something to cheer about early on.  

As a result, they’d come close to scoring right in the 8th minute, as Sam Junqua would whip in a lovely ball to the back post, where he’d find an open Darwin Quintero, but the mercurial forward couldn’t steer his volley on target, sending it well wide. 

Just a few minutes later, Houston’s Fafa Picault then had 2 great looks at goal, as he first found himself 1v1 with ‘Caps goalkeeper, but he sent his low shot off the post, before he had another chance in the box off of a cross just 2 minutes later, one he just sent over the goal from in-close.

Then, the game died down a bit, but when it livened up again, it’d continue to be all Houston, as Quintero had a good look from distance in the 24th minute, but his shot would be deflected well over the crossbar, much to the relief of the visitors. 

Soon after, Quintero would then get a chance in the box in the 29th minute after a nice cross from Junqua, but he drove his shot too far into the ground, making it too easy for Crepeau to save the shot.

At the other end, the ‘Caps then slowly started to find a bit of life, as they looked to get something out of this game. 

First, Lucas Cavallini actually managed to put the ball in the net in the 34th minute, but it was ruled that the crosser of that ball, Javain Brown, was actually offside before he delivered the ball. Right after, Cristian Dajome had a decent look at goal, but his shot wouldn’t find a way to threaten Michael Nelson in the Houston goal. 

Other than that, though, it’d prove to be a pretty quiet rest of the first half for both sides, who’d end up getting to halftime without too much other fanfare. 

It might not have been pretty, but the good news is that with the score at 0-0, it was actually a good result for the ‘Caps, who had some firepower to bring in for the second half, as their goal was to survive the first half and let those guys run. 

So even though they certainly fought for that survival, they did what they needed to, and that left them in a pretty good position heading into the second half. 

“It was a big fight,” ‘Caps defender, Florian Jungwirth, said after the game. “I think in the first half, we were struggling o keep the ball, and to possess it, so at half time we said that we needed to be brave.”

But then, to start that half, Houston would come out strong, as they looked to make up for some of their misses in the first half. 

In the 50th minute, Houston’s Corey Baird found a bit of space and whipped in a low ball, where he found a wide-open Quintero at the back post, and Quintero got a great shot off. 

The problem with his shot, however?

It was no match for Maxime Crepeau. 

Despite staring down what should have been a sure goal for Houston, the ‘Caps keeper managed to stick both of his hands out and deny the attempt, keeping the game tied at 0, while giving his team the chance they needed to go find an opening goal. 

Soon after, Quintero continued to be lively, but also continued to find himself without a goal, as he had a decent look in the 56th minute, one that he sent well wide. Not long after, his teammate, Maynor Figueroa, also had a good look at goal, but he too sent his shot well over. 

Continuing their push for all 3 points, Houston then had the next good chance of the game in the 77th minute, as second-half substitute, Tyler Pasher, had a good look from distance, and he sent a good shot on target, one that was only kept out by the calm hands from Crepeau, before ‘Caps defender Florian Jungwirth reacted quickly and cleared away the rebound. 

A few minutes later, Picault then managed to get in behind the ‘Caps backline, and he got a shot off, one that’d find the back of the net. Continuing his bad luck, though, he was then ruled to be offside on the play, denying him the goal, and keeping the ‘Caps alive. 

Finally, though, the ‘Caps then found a rare chance in the 83rd minute, as ‘Caps sub, Ryan Gauld, had a nice pop from distance, doing well to force a save out of Nelson, who was ready to get his hands to the shot. 

But as had been the case all night, Houston then had a really good look at the other end right after, as they pushed for a winning goal. Having done well to find an open pocket in the ‘Caps box, Griffin Dorsey got a good shot off, one that he put right in the top corner of the net. 

That didn’t faze Crepeau, though, as he managed to dive and put a hand to the effort, deflecting it over the bar, keeping his team alive against all odds. 

“I’m happy (about his play)” Sartini said. “Max is a very good goalkeeper and a fantastic leader.”

Boosted on by the play of their goalkeeper, the ‘Caps then had some good looks in the 87th minute. First, Deiber Caicedo nearly tested Nelson with a deflected strike that looped just wide, before Cristian Dajome had a nice hit off of a volley on the subsequent corner, where he too sent a deflected shot just wide. 

Other than that late push, though, that’d be all this game would have to offer, as both sides ended up settling for a draw, leaving them to split the spoils. 

Overall, if you’re Houston, that’s a devastating result, as they were by far the better team, but for Vancouver, you’re ecstatic, especially considering how heavily you rotated the squad. 

Could a win have been massive for the ‘Caps playoff hopes? Absolutely, but among the games that lie ahead for them, this is one that you could actually get away with drawing, so to go down in midweek and pick up a point in a tough environment isn’t a bad thing at all. 

What it does, though, is put emphasis on them needing to win their next game, a crucial 6-pointer against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday at BC Place, which after this result, is a match the ‘Caps probably won’t be able to afford dropping points in. 

But in the midst of this good run of games, they’ve always seemed to find a way in those sorts of matches, and they’ll need to do so once again on Saturday, a game which would massively boost their playoff hopes, should they find a way to win it. 

“It’s one point gained,” Sartini said of this game. “Ties on the road are good, because the standings didn’t seem to move that much, and if we win Saturday, (it feels) like 4 points (if we pick up) another 3 points.”

Player of the Match: Maxime Crepeau

Crepeau looks on ahead of a ‘Caps game earlier this month (Keveren Guillou)

But returning to this game, the ‘Caps owe this result to one player, and one player only, Maxime Crepeau, who was fantastic once again on Wednesday. 

After a heroic performance against FC Dallas this past weekend, where he saved a penalty right at the death to conserve a 1-0 lead, he made some massive stops in this one, helping the ‘Caps steal a point. 

That’s just business as usual for Crepeau, though, who has quietly been one of the best goalkeepers in MLS all season, and has just been proving that in a big way as of late, much to the relief of the ‘Caps. 

“He just proves every game that he’s one of the best goalkeepers in the league,” Nerwinski said. “There’s nothing more to say, he’s an integral part of our team.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Andy Rose

Rose looks on ahead of the ‘Caps clash with Dallas this past weekend (Keveren Guillou)

Otherwise, we highlighted Rose as a player to watch beforehand, as he was the lone fully healthy centre back on the roster heading into this one, putting the pressure on him to have a big game. 

And coming off of a player of the game performance against Dallas, he continued that form into this one, helping his team keep the clean sheet. 

He might not have been as involved in the game as he was on the weekend, but he did what he needed to do in order to help his team keep the clean sheet, making some key interventions along the way. 

So as long as the ‘Caps continue to suffer this injury crisis at the back, Rose will need to keep up this form, but based on what he’s shown the last few games, he and the ‘Caps should be alright if he keeps playing like this. 

Heatmap of the Match: 

Moving on, the ‘Caps had probably one of their worst performances of the season in this section, which is a bit of a step back after how good they’ve mostly been as of late. 

But at the same time, teams are allowed to have bad games every once in a while, so as long as this is a bit of a blip, instead of a long-term problem, the ‘Caps should be alright. 

xG Plot of the Match:

Lastly, much as with the heatmap, this was probably the worst ‘Caps performance in the xG plot department, because they got their teeth absolutely kicked in by the Dynamo. 

After turning the corner in the xG department as of late, it was a tough step back, but as mentioned in the heatmap section, as long as they avoid making this a trend, they should be alright long term. 

Looking Forward: 

Now, the ‘Caps will fly back to Vancouver, where they’ll have a short turnaround ahead of their next game, a clash with the San Jose Earthquakes at home on Saturday. 

With San Jose sitting 1 point behind the ‘Caps, at least as of writing, this is a massive game for both teams and their playoff hopes, and they’ll be aware of that. 

Especially after this draw, the ‘Caps can’t afford to drop any points at home, so if they want to make the most of this tough road result, they’ll need to win on Saturday. 

But in the midst of a good run of form at home, where they’ve won 4 of their last 5 games, they’ll look to keep the good times flowing then, allowing them to continue their surprising push towards a playoff spot, of which they sit just 3 points back of as of writing. 

“It would be too much to say we deserved the win today, that’s not the case,” Jungwirth said. “But we fought hard and had a clean sheet, and in MLS, every point on the road is very valuable. And when you win your games at home, it’s even more valuable, and we’re aiming to do that on Saturday.”

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs San Jose Earthquakes, Saturday, October 2nd, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (BC Place, Vancouver)

Cover Photo via: Houston Dynamo/Twitter

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