Back on Track: Vite & Cordova score as the Whitecaps take down Austin

Wednesday night at BC Place, the Vancouver Whitecaps took down Austin FC by a final score of 2-1, pushing the home team back into the playoff places in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference.

After two straight defeats, there was a lot hinging on this midweek matchup, as the Whitecaps desperately needed to secure home points before the Nations League break which is rapidly approaching. With Vancouver having so many road contests in the final stretch run of the league schedule, being able to secure three points against an in-form Austin team was massive for their confidence levels going forward, as they’ll look for a similar result against the LA Galaxy this weekend.

Still hampered by Gold Cup absences, Vancouver elected to field a rather unique midfield five, which ultimately proved crucial to their success in this match. Perhaps most crucially, the return of Andres Cubas was immense, as Austin’s dangerous attackers struggled to get the service they were looking for with the Paraguayan being such an effective disruptor.

Added to this, Levonte Johnson and Sebastian Berhalter each put in very good shifts in roles that are not their traditional fit as wide midfielders. Their athleticism and work-rate proved as real assets against an Austin team that tried, but mostly failed, to open things up in transition. Overall, these two did a pretty effective job making life simple for Vancouver’s outside centrebacks, and had some nice moments on the ball as well, even if the final product was not quite there.

A more familiar refrain for Vancouver in recent weeks has been the growing chemistry of their attackers. Brian White has been an incredibly valuable outlet to spark Vancouver attacks in transition, and there was no better example than the way he was able to unravel Austin’s defensive line, playing in a wonderful ball to Pedro Vite for the opening goal inside the first minute of the match. Vite, to his credit, took the cross beautifully with his first touch, and finished without hesitation.

I was very impressed with the way Vancouver played out the rest of the opening half after going up early. One of the concerns for this team over the last week or two has been devolving back to low possession, low percentage football. Without Cubas, Gressel, and Ahmed in the lineup consistently, Vancouver had struggled to control the pace of play and keep the match on their terms. Especially in the first 45 minutes against Austin, Vancouver did a much better job controlling proceedings. They were content to play patiently out of the back at times, but also pounced on Austin when they were sloppy in possession, hitting them quickly on the counter-attack. Vancouver needs this mix of styles in their game in order to get the most out of their team. Without those stretches of possession to create some flow and tempo, it’s very difficult to keep the pressing intensity so high over the course of 90 minutes.

Austin made a couple of adjustments at the half, and these were rewarded almost immediately as the Verde equalised in the 47th minute. Owen Wolff made a nice run into the box from his midfield position, and Yohei Takaoka struggled to handle the Sebastián Driussi cross which targeted Wolff, as the ball ultimately fell right to the feet of Rodney Redes, who smashed home his first MLS goal of the season.

While Takaoka has undoubtedly been a massive upgrade on the standard of goalkeeping the Whitecaps enjoyed last season, the Japanese keeper’s form has dipped over the last month or so, and it’s obvious that these 50/50 moments when crosses are played deep into his area are a serious problem. There’s no scenario in which a cross played so close to the goal should be allowed to drop before he is able to get a glove on it.

Despite conceding, Vancouver was very solid from there on out defensively. After a series of matches where they had been far too permissive at the back, Austin was not able to create any more Grade A chances after they equalised, and the Xg numbers reflect this with Austin creating just 0.12 Xg after Redes’ goal. Tristan Blackmon did have a moment or two of madness in the late stages, but ultimately, the Whitecaps were able to avoid the kind of onslaught they suffered in the final moments against Seattle.

The pleasant surprise of the match was Sergio Cordova, who was finally able to open his Whitecaps account off the bench, thrusting Vancouver back into the lead in the 72nd minute. The chemistry of Brian White and Ryan Gauld was on full display in the buildup, as White dished the ball off to Gauld, who was able to place a perfectly weighted ball to Cordova in full stride. Cordova, to his credit, had the patience to cut back inside to his favoured left foot, before selling a dummy that had Austin’s defenders and goalkeeper in a pretzel. Ultimately, it was a simple finish, but an impressive one for a striker who has been so maligned thus far this season.

At this point in the year, whatever level of goal output the Whitecaps can get from Cordova is a massive bonus. While it’s unlikely that the designated player will be able to provide the same all-round value up front as Brian White, Cordova does have a history of being a streaky scorer. So, if Vancouver is able to use him in the right way going forward, the Whitecaps could be adding to an attack that is already right at the top of the league in many attacking metrics.

Overall, I think this match should provide some confidence that the previous two matches for the Whitecaps were more of an aberration than a true reflection of their quality. Vancouver demonstrated a more sustainable approach in this match, one which has been successful at many points this year, where they control the middle of the park and mitigate most of their defensive deficiencies. As Ali Ahmed and Julian Gressel return to the team, the Whitecaps should have even more success deploying this strategy. If the Whitecaps can produce a similar performance on Saturday, they should be in a good position for the final stretch of league play starting up in late August.

4 thoughts on “Back on Track: Vite & Cordova score as the Whitecaps take down Austin

  1. White’s cross was absolute perfection and the one touch control and shot was perfection at the receiving end.
    Cordova finally scores!! About F’ing time. He’s been snake bitten but that was a smooth and oh so patient finish in the box. Well done. Here’s hoping it breaks the logjam and he scores lots more.

  2. Mostly positive thoughts about this win. Johnson’s ball to White was excellent on the opening goal. The formation was the right one. But, this formation would have helped us against Seattle IMO. Our defence left Takaoke out to dry on Austin’s goal. Pushing up when when the attacker has time and space to deliver a ball into the area you’ve just vacated, right in front of your goal, is a recipe for disaster. The caps have been burned on this before. I’m sure most will be frustrated using a DP as a super-sub but if it’s going to produce goals then so be it. With so many games upcoming it’s going to take a 6.0 + rating from each and every player game in and game out no matter whether starting or being a sub. As far as this League Cup goes, I’ll be watching, but not caring. Winning mls league games and making the playoffs, and hosting a playoff game is most important for me.

  3. That was a great game last night. Getting that ultra early goal gave us some relief to play a pretty good defensive first half. It was the first time I saw Levante Johnson live and he is a presence. He’s really physical which I like. The end of the game drama with that possible penalty shot was unneeded stress but Cordova’s goal was sublime and hopefully gets the monkey off his back. Go Caps.

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