Second ‘Caps Thoughts: Vancouver Whitecaps fail to manage key moments in 2-1 loss against Dynamo, although progress continues to come

A few days after the most recent Vancouver Whitecaps game, which came against the Houston Dynamo, we dive into some of what stood out from that one. 

The progress continues to be there, at least. 

At the same time, the results are yet to follow. 

This, of course, is the story of the 2022 Vancouver Whitecaps, who continued their tough to the MLS season with a 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo this past weekend. 

And much has been the case for their first 3 games of this MLS season, their match against the Dynamo wasn’t actually a bad performance from them, but they just didn’t do enough to win, leaving them to lament what could’ve been. 

But that’s just been what this season has looked like for the ‘Caps, who opened the year with a 4-0 walloping at the hands of the Columbus Crew, before bouncing back nicely in a 0-0 draw with New York City FC, which raised optimism in the squad ahead of this Dynamo clash. 

In all of those 3 games, the ‘Caps haven’t necessarily been that bad (other than the first half of the Crew game), but they also haven’t been good enough to win, which is why they find themselves with just 1 point through 3 games. 

And because of that, it’s only bumped up the pressure as the ‘Caps campaign continues here, knowing that the longer that they go without a victory, the harder it’ll be for them to have any chance to make the playoffs at the end of the season. 

Plus, things are only going to get harder from here on in. The next 3 ‘Caps games, for example? Away to LAFC, home to Sporting Kansas City and home to the Portland Timbers, pitting them against 3 of the top teams in MLS’s Western Conference, only making the path towards that first win all that harder. 

Because of that, it really feels like this loss to a Dynamo side, one who is adjusting to a new coach, could loom large, as it might’ve been the ‘Caps best opportunity to grab a win amongst their first few games. 

That’s not to say that they have no chance of winning their next 3 games, of course, far from that, but things aren’t going to be easy, meaning that this team will really sink or swim here.

The good news, however? They did continue to show signs of improvement in this Houston game, much as they did in the NYCFC game, so if the ‘Caps continue to do that, they’re on track to win eventually, but they’ll just have to find a way to accelerate the growth curve that they’re on to assure that. 

But speaking of that Dynamo game, here’s a look back at some of what stood out from that one, as we look back on week 3 of action for the ‘Caps. 

‘Caps fail to seize the moments:

And to start, it’s worth looking at how much the ‘Caps were able to improve in this one, especially on the offensive end of things.

Of course, they struggled to hold onto the ball once again, which continues to be a worry, but the good news is that they made up for it by significantly increasing their volume of opportunities at the other end for the first time all season. 

So although you’d like to see them hold more than 41% of the ball, they did well to generate 17 shots, as many shots as they were able to put up in their previous two games, combined. Considering that they also held similar amounts of possession (43% and 29%) in those two games, that shows how efficient they were able to be in this game, which is a sign of improvement. 

The next step now is to improve the quality of said shots, as they had just 1.7 Expected Goals (xG) to show for those 17 shots (0.10 xG/shot), and just two of those shots even reached the target, but for a team that doesn’t shoot the ball often, it was an interesting change. 

Plus, while they struggled to turn a lot of their opportunities into quality chances, they actually did a better job of doing so than the Dynamo, as they had 2 big chances to Houston’s 1, which was nice to see, especially in a road game. 

Where the ‘Caps erred, however, is that they made two unfortunate mistakes at two bad moments, costing them the game. 

After doing well to pick up a crucial early goal via Lucas Cavallini, who scored the team’s first goal of the MLS season in the 14th minute, they should’ve found a way to hold on to that lead, but that eventually disintegrated. 

First, it came off of a bit of a disorganization mistake, as the ‘Caps defensive line was uneven at the wrong time, leaving Houston’s Corey Baird and Darwin Quintero all alone behind their backline for goal #1. 

Then, the second goal came off of a bit of passiveness, as they failed to close down the always-dangerous Quintero from distance, and he made them pay, scoring a wonderful goal. 

And that’s what’s most frustrating about this game for the ‘Caps. Not only did Houston create fewer big chances than them, the xG was also even (1.7-1.7), meaning that while they held a lot of the ball, the home team didn’t actually look to be the clear favourites to win. 

But instead, they made the most of two key moments, and that was enough to topple the ‘Caps, who otherwise did enough to at least grab a point, if not win.

Yet, that’s just the reality of MLS sometimes. You don’t always have to be the better team to win, you just have to win the key moments, and last year, the ‘Caps did a good job of doing that, but so far this year, they’ve yet to really seize those moments. 

So if they’re to bust their slump, that’s something they need to find a way to do, because if not, it’ll be a lot of huffing and puffing just to fail to blow the house down, leaving them to watch their own house to collapse on themselves as it did here. 

Cavallini busts slump:

But while the ‘Caps are yet to bust their own slump, one of their key players busted a slump of his own in this game, and that’s Cavallini, who scored for the first time since July 4th of last year. 

A run of 19 games, it was a tough time for the ‘Caps DP striker, who you know was itching to breach the net for the first time this season, making you wonder if that’d come this game. 

So to see it come so soon in the game was huge, as not only did it give the ‘Caps the lead, but it seemed to loosen Cavallini up, as reflected by his exuberant celebration, which consisted of him heading the ball into the ground in relief. 

If anything, though, it was just a due reward for Cavallini, who through the first 3 games of the season, has been one of the better ‘Caps despite their run. 

Heading into this season, it wasn’t sure if he’d start the season as the #1 striker for Vancouver, as Brian White had the upper edge on him after leading the team with 12 goals last year, but with White dealing with some injuries to start this year, Cavallini has got to lead the way in his absence. 

Once given that opportunity, Cavallini has not looked back, proving that even if White comes back soon, which looks to be the plan (it’s hoped he’ll be good to go at the beginning of April after the international break), there’s no reason why Cavallini can’t play with White, or even be ahead of him in the order. 

And this game is a prime example of that. Not only did Cavallini grab his goal, which was a source of much joy for him, but he influenced the game in other ways, finishing with 5 shots, 50 touches, 1 key pass, 15/25 duels won and 4 fouls won, proving to be excellent in his hold-up play. 

There are still some questions to be had in terms of how he exactly fits into this offence, as he is yet to develop the sort of chemistry that White has with some of his teammates, namely Ryan Gauld, but other than that, there is a lot to like with Cavallini’s game right now. 

So now, the key has to be for him to find a way to keep that going. Likely to head to international duty with Canada next week, if he can have a good camp there, and then keep that rolling once back with the ‘Caps, that’d be huge, allowing him to really build some momentum here. 

The one thing that really halted him last year was inconsistency, both in terms of minutes, his health and form, so he just needs to find a way to keep this form going now. 

Because of that, look for him to try and bag a goal this weekend against LAFC, as he has always been a streaky scorer, hopefully giving him that confidence to go shine with Canada and then keep the good times going into the middle stretch of the season. 

In his 3rd season in his club, this is just the sort of confidence boost he’ll need, as he looks to finally live up to his price tag as the club’s record signing, which unfortunately due to injury, COVID and timing, just hasn’t been the case so far for him. 

Tristan Blackmon continues to ball out:

But while Cavallini has struggled to get his legs under him since signing a few years back, the same can’t be said for Tristan Blackmon, who despite being one of the newest members of this ‘Caps side, has been arguably the team’s best performer through these 3 games. 

Playing on the right side of Vancouver’s back 3, a new position for him considering that he usually played as a right back at former club, LAFC, he’s not looked out of place whatsoever, bringing some stability to this backline. 

So although the ‘Caps have given up 6 goals in 3 games, it’s hard to pin any of those goals on Blackmon, who has been very solid, doing well to perform despite the ‘Caps struggles, which have mostly originated from the middle of the pitch. 

And this game is just yet another example of that. Be it defensively, where it just feels like Blackmon hardly missed a defensive intervention, or on the ball, where he did well to pick out his teammates with passes, he just has the right profile to play in this ‘Caps formation. 

Because of that, it’s not surprising to see that he finished with 3 clearances, 1 block, 2 interceptions, 2 tackles, 6 out of 10 duels won, as well as 47/51 passes (91%), including 7/8 long balls. 

Along with some good looks off corners, where he obviously grabbed one of the best ‘Caps chances of the game when he hit the crossbar with a header, it just felt like he hardly set a foot wrong in this one, especially considering both of the goals his team conceded originated from the other side. 

So as the ‘Caps now get set to take on Blackmon’s former side here, it feels right to highlight how good he’s been for his new team since signing, as just under $500 000 felt like a steal at the time, and feels like that especially so now (plus, Blackmon just signed a contract extension, making it more of a steal). 

But that’s why the team pounced to grab him when he became available after being selected from LAFC by Charlotte at the expansion draft, and they haven’t looked back since. 

It feels like any ‘Caps success that is on the way is going to come with Blackmon on the pitch, as he’s added stability to a position that just needed a bit of that after last year, and his play so far has shown why. 

Now, the ‘Caps just need to find a way to do the same in other areas of the pitch, such as in midfield and at full back, but at least they’ll know that they won’t have to worry about the right centre back position, which is a huge plus as they push on here. 

Looking Forward: 

But now, the ‘Caps will focus their attention to that aforementioned LAFC game, as they look to finally get that first win. 

Facing off against the familiar faces of Maxime Crépeau, Doneil Henry and Marc Dos Santos, it won’t be easy, especially given that it’s away from home, but the ‘Caps will look to bring a little magic with them down to Los Angeles. 

Considering that they took points off of LAFC in both of their away games against them last year, it’s not the same house of horrors it once was for them, but they just need to find a way to get more than a draw for the first time. 

As long as they continue to progress, however, they’ll certainly have a shot to do that, but they can’t take a step back, halting the progress they’ve made so far. They might not have a win to show for that yet, of course, but it feels like it’s coming, provided they can keep things rolling heading into what lies ahead. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs LAFC, Sunday, March 20th, 2022, 19:00 PST, 22:00 EST (Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles)

Cover Photo via: Vancouver Whitecaps FC

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