Déja Vu: Whitecaps revert to old habits in return to MLS action vs San Jose

The Vancouver Whitecaps’ battle for consistency raged on unsuccessfully on Sunday night, as they fell 1-0 to the San Jose Earthquakes at BC Place.

Their first MLS match since July 15th, as the league returned from its month-long Leagues Cup break, it was a frustrating return for the ‘Caps, too. Despite putting up a dominant display on the day, spending most of the game in the Earthquakes’ end of the field, some lapses of concentration in both boxes would end up hurting them in the end.

“It’s frustrating,” Whitecaps full back Ryan Raposo noted afterwards. “In the game you dominate, you have more chances, I can only think of their goal as the only chance they had, so yeah, it’s frustrating.”

“I think the guys have been looking forward to this one for two weeks now, so it’s a tough one to swallow, but there are still so many games left to make up for it.”

As a result, they missed out on a crucial three points on the day, leaving them in a precarious situation with 11 games to go. They remain in a decent position in terms of their playoff hopes, sitting in eighth place, but they must now play their next seven games on the road.

Already a tough task on its own, it’s even tougher when you remember that the ‘Caps have won just one and drawn three of nine road games in MLS play this year, and have just three road wins in their last 26 road MLS games, period.

Safe to say, it makes a defeat like this one sting further, as it feels like a missed opportunity to head out onto the venture on a high note.

But that remains the story of the ‘Caps season. Yet to lose or win three games in a row in MLS play, overall consistency – good or bad – has continued to plague them this season. In fact, that may have even explained the result, given that they entered this game having won their last two MLS games before the Leagues Cup break, meaning that past form dictated that this game was destined to finish as a draw or a loss.

Ultimately, that proved to be true, and now, that has left them to now head into their big road trip with a lot more pressure on them than they would’ve liked.

“We played well,” new Whitecaps arrival, Richie Laryea, said afterwards. “So I think we need to take the positives out of this, there’s no time to dwell on losing the game. We’ve got a bunch of road games coming up, and that’ll be an interesting test of character for the group, so I think it’s a great opportunity for all of us to step up.”

Returning to the game itself, Whitecaps almost grabbed an early lead in the 13th minute, as Richie Laryea managed to cut inside and fire a dangerous shot, forcing a solid save out of Daniel. Then, on the subsequent rebound, Sergio Cordóva managed to slot it back to Alessandro Schöpf in an excellent position, but the Austrian struck his shot right at Daniel.

Continuing a bright start, Cordóva then had a good look of his own in the 14th minute, cutting inside and forcing another strong save out of Daniel, before Pedro Vite found Brian White with an excellent cross less than a minute later, which Daniel also stood strong too.

Then, after managing to apply some more pressure, the ‘Caps had another great look in the 18th minute. After so clever trickery by White, he tried to sneak a shot in from in close, but was only kept out again by Daniel.

From there, however, despite not capitalizing on any of those opportunities, the Whitecaps continued to push, as they looked to make San Jose pay for the space they were giving up. In particular, Laryea, who was continuously being left alone on the right, had a few good opportunities in wide areas, sending in a few dangerous crosses that just missed his new teammates, before striking a shot well wide in the 34th minute.

Soon after, Cordóva, who has scored in his last two MLS games, nearly made it three in the 36th minute. On a dangerous through ball from Mathías Laborda, he managed to round Daniel and fire a shot, but his tight-angle shot would be just cleared off the line.

Unfortunately, as can often be the case in this sport, those missed opportunities would quickly come back to haunt the ‘Caps, too. After getting caught sending too many numbers forward on a cross, San Jose would make them pay in transition, as they broke away on a 4 v 2.

There, Jeremy Ebobisse managed to slot one over to Cristian Espinoza, and the Earthquakes leading goalscorer would make no mistake for his 12th goal of the MLS season.

With that, it left the Whitecaps to reach half-time somehow on the wrong side of the score. Like it was a game of FIFA (EA FC?), they had gotten their chances but hadn’t converted them, and then got hit with the famous painful goal right before half time.

Photo Credit: Beau Chevalier (@shotby.beau on IG)

Because of that, it left them needing to turn things around on the other side of the break. Ultimately, they probably didn’t need to change much, other than to be more diligent in defensive transition moments, and to convert their chances when they’d come.

Which, to be fair, is a lesson they’d take to heart. Inside just 57 minutes, White did well to tee up Ryan Raposo, who’d convert his chance with ease, tying the game. Or so he thought, as the flag then immediately went up on him, as White was determined to have been offside in the build-up, leaving the ‘Caps still down 1-0.

Despite that, they’d keep after it, as they chased that opening goal, one that they hoped would open up the floodgates. They’d then have another good look in the 58th minute, too, as Cordóva unleashed a ferocious strike, one that would deflect off Schöpf and towards the low corner, but despite being wrong-footed by the deflection, Daniel would manage to readjust his feet in time to make yet another stop.

Continuing to push, White had yet another good look off another cross in the 69th minute, this time from Laborda, but he’d send his effort just over the goal. Then, adding to his frustration, he almost had a tap-in just minutes later, as Cordóva tried to tee him up after a great pass from a freshly-inserted Ryan Gauld, but the pass would sail just behind White.

Yet, through 72 minutes, it felt like it was going to be that sort of game for Vancouver, one that they’ve had too many of at home this year. They were playing well, and getting into the right areas, but couldn’t find a goal to show for it, and were left to try and clean up the mess of just one sloppy mistake.

And as the game neared its conclusion, that sentiment only continued to grow. In the 80th minute, the ‘Caps nearly had a dream debut moment for Sam Adekugbe, who stepped up to take a free kick, but his curled attempt would strike the post and stay out, as luck continued to evade Vancouver.

From there, that’d be all that they’d be able to muster up, as the Earthquakes managed to shut up shop, picking up a huge road clean sheet.

Despite having the worst road Expected Goal differential and highest xG against in the Western Conference, the Earthquakes did what they needed to do in a gritty road performance on the day, allowing them to pick up the win.

And now, that’ll leave the Whitecaps to now pick up the pieces with their big road trip now looming, starting with a visit to Portland to take on the Timbers next weekend.

With 11 points between 2nd and 12th place in the West, there’s all still to play for, from just making the playoffs to pushing up the table, but it’ll now be up to them to take advantage of that.

At the same, they’ll lament another missed opportunity from this game, one in a long line of them on the season, something that’s proving to be the story of their regular season now.

As Vanni Sartini eloquently put it afterwards: “I think we made our case to score today, but unfortunately this wasn’t a trial, this was a soccer game, and if you don’t score, you don’t win.”

Despite that, however, he’s not staying too frustrated and is eager to tackle that next task with vigour when it comes around, starting with that Timbers game.

“I think we have to go Tuesday aware that we made a great performance and go full speed in the next game,” Sartini explained. “It’s important that we finish our chances, and we know that it’s going to be hard until the end, as we need to win games.”

“And we need to push,” he continued. “Keep pushing and play the way that we played today, because I am very proud of the way that we played.”

Cover Photo: Beau Chevalier (@shotby.beau on IG)

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