The Vancouver Whitecaps lost a frustrating contest, 3-1 on the road to St. Louis City. The defeat marked 1 calendar year since Vancouver won on the road. It also showed that Yohei Takaoka is kind of important.
Vancouver carried the play for most of the match. The ‘Caps had over 60% possession and won the xG battle. But, unfortunately, Thomas Hasal had a nightmare performance in the St Louis goal. A long looping free kick went over his head to give St Louis the lead and then a miscommunication with Tristan Blackmon put them up two just before halftime. The young Canadian looked so shaky that St. Louis seemed to just adopt a strategy of smashing the ball on goal and hoping for the best. This created the funniest shot map of all time:
But to St. Louis’s credit, this plan worked! Shortly after Brian White pulled a goal Hasal parried a long-range free-kick into the path of a St Louis player who cut the ball back to Manny Perez, who killed off Vancouver’s hopes of a comeback.
Would you believe that Vancouver’s underlying numbers in road games are actually quite good? They are! Sure, they have a negative expected goal difference on the road but almost every team in the league does. MLS has an extremely strong field tilt in favour of the home team. But Vancouver’s expected goal differential per game on the road is the 4th best in the Western Conference, sitting at around -0.11 after this game. Obviously, you wouldn’t expect a winning record with these types of underlying numbers but you would expect to win sometimes. Vancouver’s road record joins Brian White’s finishing on a growing list of statistically unlikely things going against the ‘Caps this season.
The result aside, the Whitecaps played very well. Defensively they gave up almost no clear-cut chances, all of St Louis’s goals were gifts. There was only one instance where Vancouver was carved open and it came early in the first half when some nice passing freed up Nicholas Giochinni in the box but the young American whiffed his shot. You really can’t ask for much better, especially on the road.
Offensively there was also a lot to like Julian Gressel continued to make dangerous things happen and Pedro Vite looked extremely lively. Simon Becher probably could have done better when he was 1v1 with Roman Burki but he got in behind a couple of times and ran hard which is what he is out there to do. Ryan Gauld and Alessandro Schopf didn’t have a ton of direct offence between them but I thought they did a good job linking play.
Sergio Cordova played again, and again he did not look very good. I have to believe that better things are coming from the Venezuelan. He was a reasonably effective striker on a much worse MLS team last year, so surely he will eventually figure it out (right? right!?). But if you didn’t have the piece of context, there would not be a lot in Cordova’s performances to convince you a turnaround was imminent. Where would the Whitecaps be if they had an extra player who played like a million-dollar-per-year player? One imagines they would be in an even stronger position. Hopefully, Cordova can become that player sooner rather than later.
Hasal’s bad day at the office creates a looming decision headache for Vanni Sartini. The Whitecaps need to start three Canadians in the Canadian Championship final against CF Montreal on June 8th. You would not back Hasal to start that game after this performance. Ali Ahmed is unlikely to be recovered in time, Karifa Yao is yet to turn in a particularly convincing performance in a Whitecaps shirt and Russell Teibert’s struggles are well-documented. This leaves Ryan Raposo as really the only dependable Canadian available for selection. Will we see Levonte Johnson get a start? Might Antoine Coupland or Kam Habibullah make their starting debut? Much to consider!