The Vancouver Whitecaps took on Minnesota United in a massive game in the race towards the MLS playoffs on Wednesday. Here’s our recap from that one, a big 2-1 victory, one that has the ‘Caps on the cusp of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Once again, with their backs up against the wall, they just continued to find a way.
Faced with what was arguably their biggest game of their 2021 MLS season, a clash with Minnesota United at BC Place on Wednesday, no one knew how the Vancouver Whitecaps would handle the pressure that awaited them as they prepared for that occasion.
As the race towards the MLS playoffs continues, it was about as big as a game that there was on the schedule Wednesday, with Minnesota sitting just 1 point ahead of the ‘Caps in the 7th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, making this a must-win game for both sides.
So to see the ‘Caps then come out to a big 2-1 victory over the Loons in front of their fans was massive, as they picked up their 3rd win in their last 4 games, all coming part of a 23 game-run where they’ve only lost 3 times, which has allowed them to crawl back up the standings, helping them finish the night in 5th in the West with just 2 games remaining.
They might just sit only 2 points above the playoff line, meaning that their work isn’t done yet, but thanks to that, they can also now clinch a playoff spot in their next game, which comes against LAFC, showing how close they are to the promised land right now.
Thanks to some timely scoring from Brian White, a resolute defensive performance from the ‘Caps back 5 and goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, and a gritty overall team effort, all backed by the raucous noise of the fans, the ‘Caps took a big step towards where they want to be on Wednesday vs Minnesota, and they’re well aware of that.
“We knew the importance of this game coming down to the end with the playoff push,” White said after the match. “I think maybe it wasn’t our best first half, but credit to the guys, we got a goal, we held strong and then didn’t concede in the first half so that was good.”
“And then we came out, I think we had a better second half, and got the second goal. Credit to all the guys to really hunker down and see that game out.”
It might not have been their best performance, nor might it have been the most beautiful, but the ‘Caps just did what they needed to do on the night, and that’s what allowed them to make this result happen.
“(It was) very good, especially the second half,” ‘Caps head coach, Vanni Sartini, said when asked what he thought of this game. “I was very happy on the defensive performance on the first half, but I wasn’t happy on how we were playing with the ball.”
“In the second half, we did much better and we did the thing that we tried during the two trainings to beat this team and it was fantastic. I think with the performance of the second half, we basically deserved the win
But while the game itself ended up being quite the grind for the hosts, it’s worth noting that the ‘Caps nearly got off to a dream start right in the 6th minute, as the ball fell nicely to Leonard Owusu just outside of the box, and he made great contact on the shot, but his attempt would be deflected wide by a defender, keeping the game tied.
At the other end, Minnesota then got their first chance of the game in the 9th minute, as Franco Fragapane did well to tee up Emanuel Reynoso at the edge of the box after a run, and Reynoso elected to hit the ball first time, but he just sent his shot over the goal.
Less than a minute later, Fragapane then tried to get in on the action himself, as he managed to hit a half volley on his left foot after a wide set piece, and he made decent contact on the shot, only finding himself denied by the hands of Maxime Crepeau in the ‘Caps goal.
Soon after, continuing what was a lively start to the game for both teams, the ‘Caps then came close to scoring in the 15th minute, as Ryan Gauld did well to cross the ball into an open Javain Brown at the back post, and he made good contact on his header, only missing the net by a few inches.
Then, Minnesota responded with another good chance of their own at the other end less than 2 minutes later, as Reynoso did well to tee up Robin Lod on his preferred left foot at the edge of the box, and he unleashed a wicked strike, one that only curled just wide of the post.
And continuing their hunt for a goal, they then got yet another good chance in the 26th minute, as Reynoso found a bit of space at the edge of the ‘Caps box in transition after a nice ball from Fragapane, but he sent his shot just wide, much to the relief of the ‘Caps.
After that, though, the game would quiet down for a while, but then, in the 38th minute, Reynoso got involved once again, as he had a good crack at goal off the volley from the edge of the ‘Caps box, but much like with his other chances, he sent the attempt well over the goal, keeping the game tied.
But then, the ‘Caps would push the other way, and that’d pay off for them right in the 45th minute, where they’d manage to open the scoring. After a nice through ball over the top from Russell Teibert, Brian White then found himself all alone in behind the Minnesota defence, where he’d then try to chip Tyler Miller in the Loons goal.
And to his credit, Miller would initially do well to save the shot, but then the rebound would bounce off his own defender, Michael Boxall, and into the net, giving the ‘Caps a massively important lead.
Obviously, there was a lot to process with the own goal, which ironically came from a former ‘Caps player, but overall, it was a deserved goal for the ‘Caps, who had a good half, but just couldn’t break the game open until that happened.
With that goal, however, that’d give them confidence as they got set for the second stanza, one where they looked to build off of what they showed in the first half, allowing them to pick up a key victory.
So it then wasn’t a surprise to see the ‘Caps come out strong in the second half, as they looked to add to their goal tally. Because of that, they had a good look in the 47th minute, as Ryan Gauld did well to set up Ranko Veselinovic on a corner, but the ‘Caps defender was unable to redirect his header towards goal, sending it just over.
But then, much as they did in the first half, Minnesota continued to push for their opener, and Reynoso remained central in those efforts once again, as he had a good shot in the 54th minute, but he was once again denied quite easily by Crepeau.
Seeing that, the ‘Caps then tried to then add that second goal in the 57th minute, as Gauld found a bit of space at the edge of the Minnesota box, and he got a decent attempt off, but he sent his shot just over the goal.
Not intimated by that, though, the Loons then went out and fashioned together their best chance of the game in the 61st minute, as Adrien Hunou found himself played behind the ‘Caps defence, and he’d do well to slip the ball through Crepeau’s legs on the 1v1, sending the ball towards an all but sure goal.
Except, it wouldn’t be, as the post would be the only thing that could deny him, and it did, somehow keeping the ‘Caps in front with 30 to go.
And sensing how close Minnesota were to equalizing, the ‘Caps then realized that it’d might be time to find a 2nd goal soon, and that they’d do in the 63rd minute, fashioning together a beauty of a tally to make it happen.
After a nice ball in behind from Dajome, that allowed Gauld to get the space to look up and play a dangerous low cutback, and he’d go on and deliver a peach, finding a wide-open White, setting up the striker for an easy finish to put his team up 2-0.
Again, much like the first half, it came at the perfect time for the ‘Caps, because while they certainly weren’t undeserving of a goal, they needed one right at that moment, and up stepped White again to help make that happen.
But while the goal would certainly be a massive one for the ‘Caps, who were cruising up 2-0, that didn’t stop Minnesota from chasing a goal of their own, and they’d come decently close in the 66th minute, as Boxall got a good chance in the box off of a corner, only sending his header just wide, unfortunately keeping him from avenging his own goal.
Soon after, Lod would have another good look at goal in the 74th minute, as he’d manage to get a decent shot off from a good spot, but his attempt would be easily saved by Crepeau, who continued his strong game with the stop.
And that’d pressure would pay off for the Loons right in the 91st minute, as second-half substitute Fanendo Adi would get a massive stroke of luck, helping his team finally find that opener.
After the ‘Caps Florian Jungwirth failed to clear the ball, Adi bundled the ball off the post, before getting first to his own rebound, and he’d make no mistake with that second opportunity, rolling the ball home to get his team on the board.
But unfortunately for the Loons, their late push would ultimately prove to be fruitless, as the ‘Caps would manage to hold onto the victory, allowing them to pick up a massive 3 points.
As mentioned earlier, it wasn’t their greatest game of the season, but much like they’ve been able to do over the past few weeks, they just found a way to win when they needed to, showing why they’ve been one of the best teams in MLS as of late.
“Well, what can I say,” ‘Caps defender, Ranko Veselinovic, said post-game. “The game was a direct opponent for the playoffs. We didn’t play our best game, especially in the first half. But what I liked is that we became a team that wins the games even when we don’t play 100 per cent.”
In what was arguably their biggest game of the season, they found a way to step up and get the job done, and that’s huge, as it’s allowed them to keep on dreaming with 2 games to go.
Now, they’ll have to shift their focus to that LAFC game, where they’ve got full control of their playoff destiny should they win, and based on what we saw in this game, if they play their best, it’s not hard to imagine them having what it takes to make that happen.
“I think there’s a real big belief in this group,” White said. “Obviously, we’ve had a good run of games recently and I think everyone’s kind of bought into Vanni (Sartini)’s tactics, his message, and we’ve all come together to try to achieve that goal of making the playoffs in this late push here so credit to all the guys that come out every day to training and every game to really push and I think you’re seeing the product on the field.”
Player of the Match: Ryan Gauld
And one player that played a big role in making this result happen for the ‘Caps was Gauld, who came up huge with an assist on the night, which if anything, doesn’t do his overall play justice when you consider some of the chances that he created in this game.
But that’s Gauld for you. Even when he’s not on his A-game, he just always finds a way to stamp his influence on matches, so it’s not surprising to see him be as dominant when he does play his best, as he did on Wednesday.
Plus, what’s most impressive is that his impact doesn’t just come on the offensive side of things. Yes, he had 4 key passes, but he also had 5 interceptions and 1 tackle, getting stuck in defensively, helping his team hold onto the result.
So while Gauld’s impact is most felt on the pitch when he scores or assists a teammate, don’t discount the work that he does off the ball, either, because as we saw in this game, it can also play a big role in helping his team win.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Ranko Veselinovic
Otherwise, one player that we said to keep an eye on heading into this game was ‘Caps centre back, Ranko Veselinovic, and he lived up to the hype, putting up a very no-nonsense game at the back for his team.
As part of a night that was very good for his defensive unit, goal against aside, Veselinovic helped lead the way, making some huge interventions defensively, including some late blocks that could’ve very well helped the ‘Caps pick up the victory.
If you’ve been following Veselinovic’s play as of late, though, that’s not all that surprising, as he’s been a massive part of the ‘Caps defensive solidity for most of the season, and this game was just the latest example of that.
Moment of the Match:
Elsewhere, it’s worth shouting out Vanni Sartini’s post-game celebrations, because he was very hyped up after this victory, and rightfully so.
As seen here, that excitement ultimately then led into one pure moment of joy right when the ‘Caps sang their victory song, ‘Stand by Me’, helping create our moment of the match.
With his team’s play on the field, and his passion off of it, Sartini has quickly become a fan-favourite these past few months, and seeing how happy he was to share this victory with the supporters, the love seems to be mutual, as well.
Heatmap of the Match:
Moving on, this section is interesting, as always, because in this case, the ‘Caps had quite the strange performance in this section.
On one hand, they had a hole in the middle of the pitch eerily similar to their 2019 days, and struggled to keep Minnesota out of their end, but on the other hand, they did threaten the Loons box a fair bit.
So while it’s ultimately not a great heat map, one that shows that the Loons might’ve been quite unlucky to not get more out of this, it shows how important that the ‘Caps stingy play defensively and clinical play offensively on the night was to their victory, as it allowed them to get something out of a game they probably shouldn’t have done so in.
xG Plot of the Match:
And lastly, that previous point is backed up by the Expected Goals (xG) chart, which shows that Minnesota most certainly should’ve probably scored at least 2 goals, as they did a good job of generating chances on the night.
Yes, most of their high-quality xG did come towards the end, where they were desperately throwing the kitchen sink forward to try and salvage something out of the game, but overall they were the team that did a better job of making things happen offensively on the night, and this plot shows that.
So all-in-all, you can certainly see that it might not have been the ‘Caps best performance, but seeing how important the result was in the overall context of their season, they won’t care.
Thanks to this win, they’ve made things very interesting heading into their last 2 games, especially considering that they’ve now put their destiny back in their own hands after this match.
As a result, they can now head to LA and clinch a playoff spot, which would be huge, as they’ve worked so hard to make their goal happen, and now it’s sitting right there in front of them.
Because of that, look for them to come out strong in that game, much as they did in this one, continuing their strong run of form as of late, continuing what has been quite the season for these ‘Caps, who just keep on finding a way to keep on pushing when the going gets tough.
The good vibes are flowing within the ‘Caps right now, and this game was a great example of that, right from the first kick, to Sartini’s passionate celebration, making it one to remember going forward as they continue their late push towards the postseason.
“I was very happy,” Sartini said. “And emotional for me is the normal state of my mind. So that’s how I live and when you see people come in and [be] so happy, we need to amp up the fans because it’s not our win, it’s not just a win for the team but the win of everyone, the win of the fans, the win of the city, the win of everyone who loves the Whitecaps.”
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs LAFC, Tuesday, November 2nd, 2021, 19:30 PDT, 22:30 EDT (Banc of California Stadium, LA)