Talk about being brought back down to earth!
After a passionate and exciting 1-1 draw in their opening home match, which included playing with 10-men for over an hour against Cavalry, a crushing 0-5 defeat followed to an Atlético Ottawa side who had been chasing their first win of the season. With the stadium a little emptier than on its opening weekend six days earlier, a few less Vancouver FC fans had to sit through a worrying display which reminded us all that they are still a young, expansion side in the early days of their existence.
Rocco Romeo’s sending off resulted in a two-game suspension, the first being this humbling defeat to Ottawa, and his absence was felt in multiple ways. Firstly, his leadership and control of the defence. Without it, you could see gaps appearing and a lack of understanding from Mamadou Kane and Eugene Martínez. It also became evident of how he organises the defence around him with young full backs in Ibrahim Bakare on the right and Tyler Crawford on the left. Secondly, his absence highlighted a real lack of depth in the squad. The 19-year-old Kane, who arrived as a forward from York United and FC Edmonton, was asked to serve as an emergency replacement at centre back and was directly at fault for two of the goals with his inability to get into the right starting position. Bakare, equally, was brought into the centre of defence, where he played in England before arriving at Vancouver. Bakare is also the only right back on the roster at the moment, with Kadin Chung having moved into midfield. Finally, Nathaniel St. Louis was given a start in midfield in their 1-1 draw with Halifax Wanders on April 29, although he was subbed out after 34 minutes with his side struggling to control the game in the middle.
Overall, These issues leave Ghotbi with a very thin squad of players he can rely on, particularly in key areas. What we need to remind ourselves though is that this is an expansion side, and they are still a growing group. Ghotbi also needs to identify those players who will be a long-term part of the club, and who are not living up to expectations. Changes will occur as the roster develops and the club identify their areas of strengths and weakness.
One area of strength, though not highlighted in this match, has been the forward trio. After moving to a 4-3-2-1 formation, Gael Sandoval and Gabriel Bitar have formed a great connection with Shaan Hundal at the striker position and their chemistry continues to build. Hundal has three goals in five games and the 23-year-old seems a reliable striker for the team. Bitar went off with an injury and we will have to await the length of time he could be sidelined, which will hurt the attack while he is out.
While a number of changes were made for this game which led to disaster, this experimentation needs to happen at times for Ghotbi to discover his best side, his players’ best roles, as well as how they work together as a group. On the day, Ottawa was a far better team, and they played well all over the pitch. Ollie Bassett and Jean-Aniel Assi two standouts for Carlos González’s side. It is a result which hurts for the Eagles, but which they must move on from quickly, although it won’t get easier any time soon with a tough matchup against Forge FC on Friday, May 19. This will be the last match without Romeo, so damage limitation may be the name of the game for Ghotbi and Vancouver FC.
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