The Caps earned a point on the road in central Texas Saturday, battling Austin FC to a 0-0 draw to preserve their unbeaten run against a key Western Conference rival.
It was not a banner attacking display, with the Caps unable to convert a few high-quality chances, but their defensive solidity shut down Austin’s high-volume but lower quality offensive opportunities.
A return to league play meant a return to what is (more-or-less) the Caps’ strongest XI at the moment. Luis Martins and Javain Brown reclaimed the fullback spots and Andres Cubas has shaken off his slight knock to accompany Ali Ahmed and Julian Gressel in the midfield. It was also the first match where Ryan Gauld, Simon Becher and Brian White will all share the pitch from the start, with Gauld drifting more centrally to feed the strikers.
Our 𝙎𝙏𝘼𝙍𝙏𝙄𝙉𝙂 𝙓𝙄 vs @AustinFC 🌳
Kickoff is set for 5:39pm PT on #MLSSeasonPass on the @appletv app 📺 https://t.co/WVq0PcxU3L #VWFC | #ATXvVAN pic.twitter.com/xJoGgO66hY
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) April 15, 2023
It was an eventful enough start to the match, as the Caps had a few successful forays forward and Austin whiffed on an absolute golden chance off a corner, with Max Urruti and Alex Ring getting in each other’s way to prevent an easy header into a wide-open net.
The mentality of the team seemed to move back to the counter-attacking posture, which was a frustrating reversion to a more passive tactical approach, except for the fact that it had moments where it worked. There really were pockets of space, either in the middle of the park, thanks to an over-extended Austin midfield, or due to the fancy footwork of Ali Ahmed.
Brian White had perhaps the best chance of the first half, latching onto a stray Jon Gallagher backpass but was unable to chip Brad Stuver. It was a largely dormant first half, otherwise, for the Caps, who were well-organized defensively, which Vanni Sartini clearly wanting to play more conservatively to ease into the away fixture.
Austin picked up the pace in the second half, with a poor giveaway from Luis Martins prompting an odd-man rush that Yohei Takaoka smartly brought to a half, when he denied Diego Fagundez from short range.
The Caps found an even better chance. Just when their lack of ability to get the ball into the final third would begin the frustrate, Vancouver would launch a well-worked break. White found himself on the business end of a 3-v-2 but was denied by Stuver, in the continuation of his trend of whiffing on Julian Gressel’s big chances created.
Takaoka was immense all match but saved perhaps his biggest save of the match until the 86th minute, when he denied Daniel Perreira, who launched a firm shot from range after the Caps defense backed off.
Indeed, it was the defensive backline and Takaoka who shone the brightest. Despite a couple hiccups, they largely took Sebastian Druissi out of the game and frustrated an Austin attack that has been struggling for confidence. Despite a disparity in the quality of chances, they were good value for the 0-0 end result.
- Vanni Sartini’s gameplan worked to a tee: Keep Austin from getting any really good licks in (mostly) and find a few high-quality chances on the counter. If Brian White can beat Brad Stuver on what was probably the best chance of the night for either side, the Caps walk away with three points because Austin seems to have no confidence offensively right now. White was saved and thus we’re stuck with a draw.
- This was an excellent match from the entire backline but I feel compelled to single out Javain Brown, who was rock solid against Emilliano Rigoni and Druissi and even put in some searching crosses (two key passes’ worth). I like what Mathias Laborda has offered as of late but this feels like Brown’s starting role to lose.
- Takaoka is such an upgrade, it isn’t even funny. This is a match where the Caps would’ve dropped points last year, in part due to subpar goalkeeping but Takaoka was level-headed, made some big saves and extended his run of clean sheets. The Caps are building momentum and it shouldn’t be forgotten that this is a big reason why. Anyone who thought he was a bad signing because he’s short is an idiot.
- Ali Ahmed was for much of the first half the only reason the ball entered the Austin FC final third. His presence in the midfield creates some tactical knock on effects (Luis Martins got burned for having to play more narrowly to compensate for Ahmed) but having someone with his pace in midfield is a game changer and helps to give the Caps some fluidity and space creation, even when other things aren’t going so hot.
- Not what I expected or wanted out of the Gauld/White/Becher front three, which I had high hopes for, but this might be an attacking band that needs some time to gel. Gauld still needs to figure out his positioning and interplay with the two strikers, me thinks.
- Overall though, this is a result you take — and it isn’t one the Caps pick up last season. I wouldn’t have minded a more aggressive gameplan but this is a point on the road that will probably look pretty good later in the season. Austin had a couple of bigger chances in the second half but, by and large, were not terribly threatening. I’ll take that.
Man of the Match
Brown, Tristan Blackmon and Ranko all deserve consideration and I feel like we could give this to Julian Gressel basically every week. But Takaoka was the guy in this one and kept the Caps from conceding the dumb goal that would have changed things considerably.
3 thoughts on “Whitecaps keep clean sheet streak alive with 0-0 draw against Austin FC”
Rusty is at the bottom of the depth chart and that’s where he belongs. He’s still a useful sub with all his veteran experience but for now he’d really have to up his game to get ahead of the 6 Caps above him. The subs I was hoping for, and it was just a feeling in the heat of the game, could have been the 3 South Americans, Dajome, Vite and Ciacedo. I thought a completely different look could have rattled the Austin defence. This was my 1st choice starting line up and they all played pretty well but fresh legs sooner might have gotten us the win. Maybe…? MOTM: Takaoka for sure.
POTM- no question it was Takaoka in goal- the thing i liked most was he FINALLY safely collected numerous cross balls (before he used to punch the ball out)
What happened to him ? – Ryan Gauld was basically invisible in the second half- placing him out wide really nullified his attacking game- why Vanni did this is unknown to me, but Austin had to be happy with this decision- gauld had his head down when he was subbed– if ryan isnt enjoying his game, we are missing the major key to success
2 Pieces of fools gold- both becher and white missed golden chances to score- what could this team accomplish with a true scorer ? they could be pushing near the top – we were all hoping we found it in becher, but ….
What did i like most– the defensive side of the game was solid and every player supported each other… like a link fence
Biggest surprise- Vanni didnt sub teibert in – and for that, Vanni gets a 7.0 tonight
“Biggest surprise- Vanni didnt sub teibert in – and for that, Vanni gets a 7.0 tonight” – LOL.
It’s true. With Ali rocking the joint I don’t see any place for Russ except as a high energy sub.