VANCOUVER, BC – It seemed only fitting that, for a club-first moment, Russell Teibert would score, as the Vancouver Whitecaps took down Valour FC 2-0 on Wednesday, defeating a CPL side for the first time in club history.
After falling to Cavalry and Pacific in the first two Voyageurs Cup tournaments featuring CPL clubs, the Whitecaps finally beat their demons and confidently handled the Winnipegers to advance to the second round and visit Cavalry FC.
Vanni Sartini made six changes to the Starting XI compared to the weekend’s win against Toronto FC. Most notably with Marcus Godinho and Ryan Raposo, the changes seemed costly for the Caps early.
After that win against Toronto, the Whitecaps were riding a tiny bit of confidence while mired in their worst start in MLS club history. While Sartini wasn’t a part of the first team in the 2021 loss to Pacific, he was Marc Dos Santos’ assistant in 2019 when the Caps fell to Cavalry in a shock defeat at the time.
Only four players from the 2021 match against Pacific started for the rest of the team, keeping the potential traumatic turnover to a minimum.
Godinho, who had not played MLS minutes since Vancouver’s April 23 loss to Austin, looked uncomfortable in the opening moments, turning the ball over to Valour’s attack, and forcing the Caps to defend corner kicks. Meanwhile, Vancouver’s backline appeared unprepared for Valour’s pace-filled attack, with William Akio bursting past Jake Nerwinski in the 12th minute.
For Valour, the most notable change was in goal, as starting goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois’ ineligibility to play forced Rayane Yesli into his first professional start. Despite his size at 6-foot-7, he looked every part of a rookie.
Despite their struggles in defence, the ‘Caps possessed the ball throughout the first half and played with more purpose than they have in MLS action. Teibert opened the scoring in the 19th minute, barreling in a rebound from a wonderfully set up chance and Ryan Raposo’s blistering shot.
Moments later, in the 22nd minute, Vancouver strung together another set of passes as they weaved their way through Valour’s midfield, finding a completely open Raposo eluding defenders on the right-wing. The former Syracuse midfielder finished his chance into a gaping net, scoring his second career Canadian Championship goal, and first as a professional, with his inaugural strike coming for Vaughan Azzuri against the HFX Wanderers.
“Ryan is a guy that even at the beginning of the season was so itself maybe very low in the depth chart, but he fought and learned a new position at wingback,” Sartini told media post-match. “He gives us a lot of quality on the right side, and I’m happy he scored today.”
While the Whitecaps continued their pressure through the rest of the half, four stops from Yesli held the lead to just a pair; however, Valour wasn’t able to muster any offence of their own through the first 45 minutes.
An apparent injury forced Michael Baldisimo out of the match in the 35th, but Sartini later clarified that he pulled Baldisomo due to personal reasons and “a tough week for the Baldisimo family.”
Much of the same theme continued through the second half, with Valour’s only legitimate chances coming through Akio and Sean Rea’s long strikes and not runs into the box, which would have been more threatening.
The Whitecaps continued to hold the run of play through the second half, but did not add to their lead en route to a 2-0 victory. “I told the players, we are prone to get sleepy when the situation is sleepy,” Sartini said. “We are okay when we are the like the pressure; we have to do it in the first half, but we got sleepy.”
With the win, the ‘Caps set up a busy rest of May, with four MLS matches and a visit to Cavalry for the quarter-final. “Of the next four games, the most important one is the one in Calgary [against Cavalry],” said Sartini.
Ryan Raposo stands out
Since he was drafted as a highly touted player out of Syracuse, Ryan Raposo hasn’t had a chance to settle into the Whitecaps lineup. Yet, in a contract year, the 23-year-old has impressed and turned heads in the match against Valour.
“In my first two years, I really lacked confidence in myself and my abilities,” he said post-match. “I know I deserved to be year and have felt that way this year, but in my last year of my contract, I knew it was like do or die.”
Against Valour, he continuously eluded defenders down the right-wing and fit well into Sartiniti’s fluid back three/back four. Getting up the pitch, he finished with 0.56 expected goals and drew three fouls.
While the goal and assist stand out, his consistent play to link the attack from the wing is a positive for the Whitecaps, as he continues to develop as a budget, young Canadian.
Odd substitutions and deep-lying Akio
In search of a goal late, Valour FC head coach Phil Dos Santos chose to bring on a defender in Tony Mikhael, not the type of player one would expect to score goals in big moments. While he later brought on offensively minded players in Jacob Carlos and Matteo de Brienne, the attacking plan was insufficient to push the Whitecaps backline.
However, the player he needed more from was William Akio.
Akio, who has been in good form in the CPL, had the speed to test the Vancouver backline, but Dos Santos’ shifted him into a deeper position in two stacked strikers after the early stages. Although Akio’s potential to burst from half or to distribute was there, it wasn’t the desperation move that Valour needed.
If Akio were to play more centrally and up top, it would have allowed Valour to shift a skillful Sean Rea into the middle, potentially creating more opportunities for Akio to run onto and giving Rea a chance to influence the game more significantly.
William Akio has the potential to play at a higher level than the CPL, but he wasn’t able to show it because of his deployment against the Whitecaps.
“I’m glad our guys got to experience this. I’m glad that everyone got to experience this,” Dos Santos said. “I didn’t come into this game planning to do to use all my as my substitutes I was able to do it by being forced to with some injuries, but I’m glad these guys got the experience.”
BTS Player of the Match: Ryan Raposo
Next Whitecaps Match: Whitecaps FC vs San Jose Earthquakes, Saturday, May 14