Up to the task: Caps draw Club Leon to open Leagues Cup

The Caps went blow-for-blow with CONCACAF’s best, opening their Leagues Cup campaign with a 2-2 draw against Club Leon at BC Place — the first time they’ve faced a Mexican opponent since 2017.

Initially the Caps looked well off the pace of their more decorated side. But an inspired start to the second half propelled the kings of Canada back into the match, though a splendid individual effort from Leon’s Elias Hernandez denied them all three points.

The Caps were forced into some changes due to injuries to Ali Ahmed, Javain Brown and Pedro Vite, meaning JC Ngando got his first ever start and Levonte Johnson and Mathias Laborda also returned to the starting XI.

Leon had the bulk of the possession early. The Caps found it hard to find much space in transition — their opposition seemed to be very well prepared on how Vancouver likes to break down a team and find space.

But Leon found the opener after a rare mistake from Andres Cubas, who fluffed a clearance and allowed the away side to break with numbers into the box. The pass was cut back for Ivan Moreno, who easily slotted his shot around Yohei Takaoka and Ranko Veselinovic to go up 1-0. While the initial clearance was poor, the resulting marking was pretty suspect and Johnson (who started well) seemed to lose his man.

The Caps continued to slip, with some defensive lapses combined with misplaced passes when in possession keeping the pressure on. A last minute tackle from Luis Martins was needed to deny Leon an easy look at a second and Vancouver seemed to be holding on for half time.

Except … they did a bit better than that. The Caps’ favored attacking strategy was direct play to Sergio Cordova and this was largely a mixed bag. But a missed clearance from Leon allowed Sebastian Berhalter to find some space and pick out Cordova bursting towards the box. He caught Rodolfo Cota of two minds and smashed a powerful finish to pick up an equalizer.

The Caps opened the second half trying to keep the momentum going after J.C. Ngando won a free kick with a lovely turn. Brian White, who came on at the half, found himself with a free header in the box on the resulting set piece but could not direct it on frame.

The arrival of White and Tristan Blackmon for Levtone Johnson and Seb Berhalter meant a switch in formation, tightening up the midfield and going to a four man backline. This helped cut down on the space Leon was having to string passes together and build up play and seemed to start frustrating the Mexican side.

It was this energy that saw Cordova grab his — and Vancouver’s — second of the night. Ryan Gauld fluffed a clearance off a corner but had a remarkable run to recover the ball, charge forward into the Leon’s attacking third and play in a perfect ball for the Venezuelan, whose well weighted shot took a deflection and rolled into the back of the net.

The change in tactics for the Caps to try and pick through the Leon press and charge forward say the match open up considerably and made for a much more entertaining game. It also showcased a couple players who looked better in the new formation, notably J.C. Ngando and Mathias Laborda.

It was a moment of individual brilliance that pegged things back to 2-2, however. Leon were starting to control possession again and force the Caps into a deeper block but it Elias Hernandez with a crisp one-time shot from outside the box that a helpless Takaoka could only watch go into the upper corner of the net.

The Caps had a couple flashes of a possible winner — including a Luis Martins shot from range that rocketed off the upright — but things wound up deadlocked at 2-2. Leon will get an extra point in the standings after a marathon penalty shootout that I believe would be the longest in MLS history.

Stray Thoughts

  • I told myself I wouldn’t get invested in Leagues Cup but the Caps are testing me. They had an awful first 30 minutes and a mediocre final 15 but everything in between showed the Caps keeping up with CONCACAF’s best stride for stride. This wasn’t a case where they grabbed a lucky goal and hung on for dear life (see: the Tigres match in 2017); this was a case where Vancouver came up with a tactical game plan that tested one of Liga MX’s best young managers and gifted us a back and forth second half.
  • A couple guys were pressed into action because of injuries (Laborda and Ngando) and they acquitted themselves very well, though both looked much better once the Caps flipped formations. Ngando in particular was useful, helping the Caps break through the midfield, carrying the ball well in tight spaces and showing that he could help plug the Julian Gressel-sized hole in the Caps’ midfield.
  • There was always a chance that Sergio Cordova caught fire once he saw the ball go in the net and … that seems to be what is happening. This form probably isn’t sustainable for the rest of the season but Cordova has also improved his hold up play and chemistry with Ryan Gauld, showing that it is possibly closer to the status quo than his goalless drought to start the season.
  • The effort from Ryan Gauld on the Caps’ second goal was nothing short of spectacular — total focus to win the ball back and a spectacular run. It’s too bad you can’t win an “assist of the week” award because that was worthy.
  • Some say they’re still taking penalties to this very day …

Man of the Match

We’ve thought a run of form like this could be coming from Sergio Cordova. These were not simple finishes at all and Cordova made them look easy.

8 thoughts on “Up to the task: Caps draw Club Leon to open Leagues Cup

  1. anytime cordova scores is a win for me, regardless if i buy Colsmith a beer or 2 – its never about being right- its the ability to say you were wrong and hope the trend continues

    the best part of the game for me— watching cordova racing from the mid-line, overtake Gauld, find an empty space to get the pass and scoring – we had never seen that from him before

  2. Totally agree–was going to make the same comment. Teibert should be saying to Gauld: “You keep it. You’re the captain now.”

  3. Teibert taking the arm band from Gauld just shows he’s a classless teammate. As a bit player on this squad man up and tell Ryan to keep the armband. Gauld is the captain the leader of this team as well their best player. Teibert get off the field!

  4. Great game. That is one of the best sides in Liga MX and we went toe to toe. I’m very impressed with out passing and breakout. RG just is amazing running with the ball. His control of the ball while running at high speed is fantastic.

    Cordova seems to have busted out of his goal scoring slump and I love his speed, endurance and effort defensively. For a big guy he really moves. Clinical finishes well worthy of MOTM honours.

    Sad about losing on PKs but 19? Holy cow. LOL.

  5. Gotta say that the finishing quality for Cordova was clinical- never knew he had that quality

    another embarrassing sub in teibert and the grasping onto the Captain’s arm band really is irritating- Rusty barely touched the ball for his first 25 minutes on the field

    this was a engrossing match, especially the PKs- quite amazing !!

    1. @saltyBugR3
      So is your wager with @colsmith on? Unfortunately it wasn’t specified there if it is just MLS games or if leagues cup counts too.

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