Points slip away from Vancouver, as they fall to Seattle in Cascadia calamity

Twice the Vancouver Whitecaps took the lead against the Seattle Sounders at BC Place Saturday night and twice they gifted the match back to their opponents, with a stoppage time winner for their southern rivals capping a 3-2 loss and a night to forget.

Ryan Gauld and Ranko Veselinovic got on the scoresheet for the Caps but it was Leo Chu who took over the match for Seattle, who fought to take advantage of some defensive errors and deal a blow to the self-confidence that Vancouver has built so far this season.

The Caps kept at it with their three-at-the-back experiment, but with a couple new wrinkles. Andres Cubas is day-to-day so Sebastian Berhalter earned a start, while Levonte Johnson earned his first MLS start at an unusual position — wingback. Brian White returned to the lineup as the tip of the spear alongside Ryan Gauld and Sergio Cordova.

Both sides started the match feeling each other out, though they both demonstrated signs of finding space. Vancouver found their pockets of opportunity in the center of the park, with Ryan Gauld pulling the strings, while Seattle had more success playing through the channels out wide.

While the Sounders found their way into more possession, it was only the fingertips of Stefan Cleveland to deny Sebastian Berhalter what would have been the goal of the week on a sweetly hit long range strike. Berhalter, fresh off scoring his first MLS goal earlier this season, channeled his inner Cubas on the hit.

They shrugged it off and grabbed an early lead on the back of a perfectly executed set piece. Johnson nicely won a free kick and Gauld delivered inch perfect delivery for Ranko Veselinovic, whose header made no mistake slotting into the side netting.

Johnson as a wing back is definitely a work in progress. He followed up a poor turnover right into the teeth of the Caps’ defensive third with a marvelous solo run that set up a Cordova shot. The resulting corner kick nearly saw the Caps get a second headed goal but Mathias Laborda was denied by the upright and Albert Rusnak simultaneously.

Seattle had a couple of pretty legitimate penalty shouts at the end of the first half, notably a pair of handballs in the box from Berhalter and Luis Martins. Both were deemed not to rise to a clear and obvious error after not being called on the pitch, though thought either could have been rightly given as a PK. An escape after not converting a couple of possible chances.

It was a second half set piece a bit out of nothing that allowed Seattle to equalize. A nice flick from Jackson Ragen found a totally unmarked Leo Chu, who bundled the ball across the line and past Takaoka. The defense largely held up against a paltry number of Seattle chances but this was a real collapse of set piece defending.

After the goal, Seattle seized the initiative and got the better chances. But immediately after Vanni Sartini reverted back to a more conventional formation with a pair of subs, Vancouver did exactly what Sartini had seemingly been seeking with a vintage route one goal. White flicked on a Takaoka goal kick to Gauld, who sprinted in behind a switched off Seattle high line to beat a helpless Cleveland and restore the advantage.

That advantage only lasted a few moments however, and it was another set piece defending disasterclass and another goal for Leo Chu. Ragen rose up to head the free kick (won after a poor giveaway from Tristan Blackmon) across the face of goal, where Chu sat unmarked.

Things got even more anxious for the Caps when Laborda was sent off for a second bookable offence on the stroke of full-time in what was a very dubious call, in my opinion.

In any event, Seattle wasted no time in taking advantage, with Chu once again creating havoc and Takaoka could only turn it away into a pack of Sounders, with Yeimar Torres credited on what would be the match winner.

Stray Thoughts

  • A match where the Caps largely executed their game plan undone by some absolutely catastrophic moments of defending … where have I seen this before? The Sounders knew Leo Chu was their linchpin in this one without Cristian Roldan or Jordan Morris and they used him super effectively, with Ryan Raposo largely unable to cope. This team badly misses Andres Cubas and while Seb Berhalter is a good piece, he doesn’t fill that role.
  • The sieve-like set piece defending continues to be a major impediment to this team getting results. Leaving the Sounders’ best attacking player unmarked not once, but twice? Underestimating Jackson Ragen not once, but twice? Shocking.
  • The upside from this one? Getting Brian White back makes a big, big difference in this attack, opening up space for Sergio Cordova and others to make runs and cook. His flick on the second goal was vintage White and is something no other striker on this team can bring to the table.
  • Leveonte Johnson continues to look like a useful piece, though I’m not sure it should come at wingback, where he was a mixed bag defensively (won some tackles, 4/4 on ground duels but misplayed some passes). Still, he was perhaps the most incisive player for Vancouver at times, with his speed and dribbling creating a lot of problems (100% dribbling rate and had numerous final third caries). The Caps don’t really use conventional wingers any more but Johnson could be an asset in a wider role, rather than just as a striker.
  • Make no mistake about it, however, this was a potentially season defining loss. The Caps remain barely above the playoff line, though they have a match in hand on most everyone. But it was the mental blow of going up twice, conceding equalizers, not being able to keep 11 men on the pitch (regardless of how soft the yellow was) and then immediately blowing the match. Three points would have given the Caps a real pathway to a home playoff match. No points? It raises questions about what this team’s ceiling realistically can be, given the pathway the rest of the season.

Man of the Match

Brian White and Ryan Gauld are the two obvious choices here and they are the correct ones. White, as noted above, was welcomed back with open arms and he helped restore the effectiveness of Vancouver’s attack. Gauld was again the playmaker and his passing was pinpoint, particularly off set pieces. Disappointing that those two great efforts went unrewarded points wise.

9 thoughts on “Points slip away from Vancouver, as they fall to Seattle in Cascadia calamity

  1. i can take some of the Cap players lack of ability, but i cant take laziness and lack of personal conditioning

    Vanni can tell us that Cordova is getting better, but nobody with any soccer knowledge believes it … so stop the con game – sergio is supposed to be a professional player and having to stroke his ego- coaching staff and few supporters- isnt working

  2. I was at the game. Very entertaining but, my pre match prediction was a 3-2 loss. Why, well with Cubas signing autographs out front and Gressel, Brown and Ahmed away to the Gold Cup. Blackmon injured, I thought White was out too, that’s just too many good players unavailable. With that in mind it was a valiant effort by those on the pitch but Seattle is a strong team and they showed it as they gradually took hold of the game. 1st half possession 61-39 in favour of Seattle. The Caps had to figure out a way to prevent Seattle’s easy penetration into our final third and they didn’t. It wasn’t the players it’s the system. I could also see Seattle’s intensity and quality rise as the match wore on and I wished for fresh legs (Becher and Vite for example) sooner rather than later. Laborda took a chance on his last foul and got caught. It was deliberate and denied an attacking opportunity and that’s a caution. Listen folks, referee’s are assessed every match and if they don’t make the correct calls then they’ll find themselves back in the USL. It’s a tough call but the right one and now Laborda’s gone for the next game as well. Perhaps the most difficult thing to coach in soccer: don’t get yourself sent off…..

  3. Vanni Sartini may be the friendliest guy in the world. He may have the most charisma of any manager to ever be involved in the game. He may be fun at parties. But if he’s the person making the roster decisions, he must go; sooner versus later. Better coaches have been shown the door.

    Professional sports is a business, not a personality contest, and the players suffer real life consequences as a result of poor decision making, whether the decisions are their own or management’s. Of course players should be held accountable for mistakes, but it’s important to look at the bigger picture to see how the mistake could have been avoided in the first place.

    Say what you will, Lucas Cavallini was let go for reasons most of us aren’t privy to, but at least he stayed physically fit, he seemed interested in the game and he scored goals, unlike his replacement.

    It’s a shame. Under the right leadership, there are several really good players on the team who have the capability of consistently winning games.

  4. We are a top heavy team. Our starting XI can compete with anyone (which is exciting and a huge improvement over pretty much every other MLS iteration of this team!), but we don’t have the depth to go all the way. Losing Cubas and Gressel is a death knell.

    The obvious weakness in Cordova’s game is that he can’t score, but it’s equally frustrating to see White and Gauld pressing their arses off only to have the opponent let off because Cordova is taking a rest. It would be great to have a third attacker with the work rate and mentality of White / Gauld to force more turnovers and not let the opponent get so comfortable.

    I’m getting tired of Laborda. He goes on these hero ventures up the field too often, leaving his other defenders out to dry, and gets sucked in way too easily in one-on-one situations. His second yellow was soft, but he had a horrible studs-up sliding tackle to the planted ankle of Ruidiaz in the box just preceding the multiple handball debacle that IMO should have been a penalty and a red. He seems to lack discipline in every aspect of the game.

  5. Gauld continues to be a tremendous leader and igniter of this team- sometimes, he is worth the price of admission – to me, he has been the best DP signing ever

    (cant ever say that about cordova who offers very little and is in weak physical condition that shows when he saunters back from a failed attack- he certainly ranks up there with Blundell and Ardaiz as a huge waste of money- my son ranks him up there with Jarju)

    once again, the set pieces and some poor decision-making on defence exposed us – BUT i am being entertained and if we only had 2 more quality pieces (Defender and Striker who can score), we would make a serious rise in the standings

    the referee didnt cost us the game, but he reminded me of the old NASL refs who went out their way to squeeze every ounce of control and ruin games

    1. What’s missing from the above discussion is that Seattle owned the ball, showing almost twice the possession the Caps managed. What’s not missing from this discussion is an almost unanimous thumbs down among fans re Cordoba as a roster player. The word “tackle” is not in his vocabulary; the one or two bursts of pressure he showed in past games disappeared last night. It got replaced by the word “saunter.” Without high pressure, Seattle had time and ability to ping wide-balls on Cordoba’s side that undid Vancouver time and time again.

      The lack of defending pace (Raposo and Laborda) was matched by an almost complete absence of coverage inside the box (head on a swivel, watching for unmarked runners running from behind if a defender hasn’t found a player to mark, plenty of talk and/or handing-off of a marked opponent in order to pick up an unmarked one). Some of that can be pinned on sub-par talent, some of it on a lack of communication, but much of it must be pinned on an absence of coaching and accountability re. defending fundamentals.

      1. Totally agree about Cordova. He just let the defenders hang out with the ball, have a coffee and look for a sweet pass down the wing. Two Brian Whites are what we could use. Levonte is big and he definitely goes for it. That was a sweet dribble and seems to be a signature move for him. I guess they have to start Cordova but they do have other options. Missing Gressel is huge and same with Cubas, though I really like Berhalter. He’s great in the middle and I loved that he took that shot. Entertaining game, too bad about the defending.

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