Whitecaps looking to use Minny goal outburst as fuel for York United Can Champ clash

It was a test of patience in the battle between the eye test and the numbers – how long would it be until the Vancouver Whitecaps would score a goal? 

According to the eye test, it had felt like it’d be a long time, but if numbers were to mean anything, it felt like Vancouver was due for an offensive outburst, as frustrations mounted after they were shut out in two straight games. 

Sitting with just 11 goals in nine games, five of which were scored against a struggling Montréal side that was reduced to 10 players after an early red card, it felt like a dam was due to burst, as the team also sat near the top of the Expected Goals (xG) chart.

Turns out, the game to do that for Vancouver was a stingy Minnesota side of all teams, as they found a much-needed 3-2 victory. Despite going up against one of the best defensive teams in MLS heading into this match, the ‘Caps got the scoring outburst they so desperately needed, scoring early and often for just their second multi-goal outburst in league play. 

“It’s a very well-deserved victory, and that’s what we needed,” head coach Vanni Sartini noted with a big exhale after the match. 

Plus, importantly, they got goals from striker Brian White, who doubled his MLS total from two to four on the night, after he’d spent most of the season lamenting missed chances in front of goal. 

Entering this game with the second-most xG in MLS, despite not having attempted a penalty, he needed a game like this, badly. 

That was shown in the effort he put in for both goals, as well. 

On the first one, he made a bursting run, before making the confident decision to shoot the ball through the legs of Dayne St.Clair, instead of trying to go around him. A bold decision, it ended up paying off, as his gamble yielded immediate reward. 

Then, for the second, he laid it all out there. Literally. 

Perhaps thinking of the fantastic save St.Clair had on him earlier in the game to deny him of a brace, he put his body on the line when the next opportunity presented, thrusting the ball over the goal line, with, well, his “thigh” (his words, not mine). 

It ended up being quite the sacrifice, as not only did he take the ball to an uncomfortable area, but he also took a knee to his actual thigh from St.Clair, one that forced him out of the game early. 

Yet, for Vancouver, that wasn’t a bad thing. 

Instead, it gave an opportunity to Simon Becher, and as he tends to do, he took it, scoring what stood as the winner with his first touch of the ball.

All of a sudden, with Becher now having scored his sixth goal in 300 first-team minutes for Vancouver since making his debut last season, and with high-priced winter striker singing Sergio Córdova back from an injury, the Whitecaps have options beyond White now, too. 

Therefore, if White is out for any period of time, they’ve got bodies to step up, and even if he’s healthy, that competition is going to provide fuel for him, especially the way that he and Becher have quietly been jostling for the team lead in goals over the last month. 

“We’ve got good players in good positions, so there’s always going be competition to play,” White said of Becher. “That’s what brings out the best in players, and it’s good to have three healthy forwards and see how goals we can all get, and hopefully it’s a good healthy goal competition.”

Safe to say, for a coach, it’s a nice luxury to have, one that he’s quietly been able to have at other positions in the roster, too. For example, with the return of Alessandro Schöpf in midfield in this game, that meant that Ali Ahmed, one of the team’s best players over the last month, sat as an unused substitute in this game. 

Not a bad option to have, so when presented with the Becher conundrum, it’s one that Sartini hasn’t really been bothered by, saying it’s what makes his team special. 

“Yeah, but it’s not tough because I think that Simon is an extremely good weapon to have on the bench, especially when the game goes vertical, and is sometimes also a good option to start, so that’s a good thing to have,” he explained. “We also had Déiber Caicedo and Sergio Córdova on the bench today, but again, that’s why I’m saying I’ve been saying it like a broken record – this year is going to be special because we have a very good team.”

If these Whitecaps are going to be anointed as special, however, one big task they must undertake? Lifting silverware, especially after they were unceremoniously swept aside by LAFC in the quarter-finals of the Concacaf Champions League.

The good news? Their next shot at a trophy begins today, when they begin their journey into the 2023 Canadian Championship, starting with a trip to Toronto to take on Canadian Premier League side York United in the quarter-finals of that competition. 

Sitting as the current holders of that tournament (which is why they were able to get a bye to this round), it’s a big chance for Vancouver to get some more silverware, as they chase a trophy they’ve won just twice in their history. 

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Plus, while history would suggest a clash against a York team that has struggled in CPL play might be a good way to begin that campaign, it’s not an easy matchup. Vancouver has never beaten a CPL team on the road (they’ve drawn Cavalry FC twice, and lost to Pacific FC once), and hasn’t won an away game in this competition in almost a decade. 

Therefore, the ‘Caps are approaching that game as a big match. That’s why they rested someone like Ahmed against Minnesota, as he’ll play a key role in this York match given that Vancouver needs three Canadian starters in the lineup (they had zero against Minnesota), but still want to go with a full strength group. 

Knowing how unique it’ll be to face off against a York team that’ll be hungry for an opportunity like this, facing turmoil off the field to pair with their struggles on it, they don’t want to get caught in a trap, as they look to return to the heights of last year from this tournament. 

“It’s going to be a little different, for sure,” Sartini explained. “First of all, we need Canadians, and that’s why we didn’t start any Canadians today, I didn’t want to risk someone getting something and not being able to play, as we want to field a strong team against York.”

“We know that in the cup, when you play away or even if you play at BC Place, it’s different against CPL teams. When you go to their turf, it’s a battle every single time. We know that last year, when we went to Calgary it was very difficult to win that game, so I told the guys, congrats for today, but on Wednesday we have a very, very important game. Everyone remembers how magic the final was last year, and in order to arrive at those heights, you need to start making the first step, which is beating York.”

The only MLS team to be eliminated by a CPL team in this competition, an honour they picked up twice, they avoided that trap by getting past three of them en route to winning last year, but don’t want to fall into old habits. 

Because of that, look for them to use that Minnesota result as a springboard toward that game. 

A much-needed offensive outburst, they know that they’ll need similar energy in front of goal today, as well as the defensive stability that saw them concede just three goals in their last seven MLS games before this one, as York will be expected to be organized off the ball and eager to burst forward in transition. 

From there, they feel that should be enough to get them over the line, allowing them to move onto the next step of their journey as a team, which includes retaining this trophy once again. 

Seeing how much it meant for them last year, they have no plans on relinquishing it anytime soon, and that starts with a big performance against York. 

“Yeah, we know it’s a big challenge,” Sartini finished. “We have to do a cross-country flight for five hours, York is a good team, and the situation that they unfortunately are in is going to give them extra motivation to play against an MLS team, as they’ll try to make something special despite that difficult situation. When we played them here during the semi-final last year, they were extremely organized defensively, so I think it’s gonna be hard.”

“Of course, I think we are going to have more of the ball than them, and we are going to probably be on the front foot more than them, but I don’t think it’s going to be easy, we need to be very careful because in this game everything can quickly go on the wrong side and then it’s going to be a disaster, so it’s better to not do that.”

(Image Credit: Vancouver Whitecaps)

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