Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, the Vancouver Whitecaps capped off a very successful week on the road with a 1-1 draw against NYCFC, earning themselves seven of a total nine available points from the week. Heading into this brief international break, the Whitecaps have set themselves up well for the rest of their extended road swing, although given how tight proceedings are in the West, it will still be crucial that they are able to pick up some additional points to secure the playoff spot they are looking for.
Before diving into the player grades, I think it’s worth saying something about the way this match went down. I have two different takeaways from this match, and on the surface perhaps these views contrast, although I think they are actually quite compatible.
The first takeaway is that the match against NYCFC was far from a display of footballing brilliance, in fact, it might have been the most “MLS 1.0” resemblant match I’ve seen from the Vancouver Whitecaps this season. Ultimately, the sloppy passing and lack of structure the Whitecaps displayed at times is something they are going to want to stay away from in the big picture. There were also a number of individual showings which were less than stellar, which we will get into.
All this being said, my second takeaway from this match is simple – who cares! The Whitecaps secured a point on the road to finish off a gruelling week, and this is absolutely the type of match the Whitecaps would have lost 1-0, 2-1, or 3-1 earlier in the season. This past week, the Whitecaps have shown an ability to secure results over the course of imperfect performances, something which is absolutely critical to life on the road in MLS. They also had to handle some factors outside their control – awful officiating which took any sense of flow out of the match, and an incredibly poor pitch whose dimensions and grass quality played a big part in chaotic display we all witnessed. So in a way, the fact the football was poor at Yankee Stadium on Saturday is a credit to the Whitecaps. Things did not go to plan, and yet they still managed to earn a draw against a team desperate to make a playoff push of their own.
I will ask you to keep all of this in mind as we dive into the player ratings. This is a difficult one to judge because there were plenty of moments and statistics that are easy to critique, but overall, I think the resilience and spirit of the group was admirable.
Ok, on to player ratings.
Yohei Takaoka (5.5) – I’m not sure what has been going on with his distribution exactly, but it has been really far off his usual standard. He completed just 29% of his passes in this one, which did not help Vancouver’s 36% possession. Yes, the NYCFC goal went between Takaoka’s legs, and while that is always a bad look for a keeper, ultimately, the Whitecaps can’t allow a clear-cut look like that in the first place, so I’m not going to freak out about it.
Mathias Laborda (4.5) – Maybe I am in the minority here, but I truly believe Laborda is a very good centreback (or at least he can be). The issue right now is that he has a fatal flaw. Laborda’s aggressiveness is always turned up to 100 and he can’t seen to find a way to dial it back. If he’s going to play in this back three system for Vancouver, he needs to air on the side of caution, and right now his instincts tell him to do the opposite. If the switch can flip for Mathias, I think the Whitecaps will have a very good player.
Ranko Veselinovic (6.0) – Opposing Laborda, perhaps the only flaw in Ranko’s game is that he lacks bite at times. On the Bakrar goal, you’d love a CB that could be bold and dive in at the last second with a critical challenge, or at least put the striker under a bit more pressure, just taking 5% of that Laborda aggressiveness onboard. That said, Ranko has been so steady this season it is hard to fault him too much. Other than the goal, NYCFC created few truly dangerous chances (outside the one big miss).
Tristan Blackmon (6.5) – The American was the busiest of Vancouver’s CBs in terms of active defensive actions breaking up NYCFC play, he really came on as the match progressed.
Andres Cubas (6.0) – It was a pretty rough outing for all of Vancouver’s midfielders on the ball, but Cubas obviously provides huge value when Vancouver is out of possession, and he did so in NY, limiting NYCFC’s technical players from being able to build through the middle of the park.
Richie Laryea (6.5) – He always seems to play well in these CONCACAF type matches where the play is choppy but the intensity level is high. Laryea won 12 of 15 ground duels and 3 of 4 dribbles, which is very impressive.
Alessandro Schopf (6.0) – Overall, I don’t think Vanni Sartini’s plan to play his two most technical 8’s really worked out that well, given how the match played out. That said, Schopf is a better defender in structure than he is given credit for, and like Laryea, won an impressive number of ground duels (5 of 6).
Pedro Vite (5.5) – This match really did not suit the youngster’s play-making abilities and he struggled with the lack of space the confines of Yankee Stadium afforded him. Overall, no reason to worry though, I think this was more of a one-off than anything else. That said, Ali Ahmed is making a good case for a starting spot.
Sam Adekugbe (5.5) – A bit like Pedro, the way this match panned out didn’t suit Sam’s strengths. He was putting in good work defensively, but it felt like he was a bit unlucky on that side of the ball as well. Again, nothing to worry about here overall.
Ryan Gauld (7.0) – Vancouver’s star player continues to make the difference for his team. In a game where attacking quality was lacking all-round, the Scot produced just enough to keep the Whitecaps in this match. I also thought it was impressive Gauld went to full 90 in this one. Given his ongoing battle with some muscular issues, he put in a huge shift this week.
Brian White (6.0) – In a match that was a slog, White did a ton of hard work off the ball and in hold-up play that won’t get noticed by many. Like Gauld, I was impressed at his ability to play so many minutes after a heavy workload over the course of the week.
Ryan Raposo (6.5) – The Canadian wide player brought a touch of class on the ball that the Whitecaps had been missing up until he came on in the 56th minute. He had two key passes, one of which could have very easily been a goal for Vancouver. Raposo knows that opportunities will be limited with the newcomers at his position, but he’s been balling out the last few matches, making a good case for him to continue to see the field.
Sergio Cordova (5.0) – The stats won’t reflect it because technically the chance was deemed offside (even though it was not), but Cordova missed a massive chance for Vancouver as he managed to hit the NYCFC keeper despite the keeper wrong-footing himself. It seems like Cordova is always having moments of brilliance or moments that are meme-worthy. I think the Leagues Cup break came at the worst possible time for Sergio, who was just starting to build some confidence. Hopefully he can find that again.
Javain Brown, Ali Ahmed, Sebastian Berhalter (N/A) – I don’t have much terribly profound to say about these three, but I’ll add some brief comments. It’s a shame that Vanni couldn’t have anticipated the risk of Laborda on a yellow a moment earlier, but I’m guessing he had no plan to play Javain in this match, which may have slowed that decision. That said, Javain looked solid once he came on. I also thought Ali Ahmed could have come on a bit sooner, as both Vite and Schopf were not able to create much, and Ahmed may have been able to unlock something they couldn’t.
Ok, those are my thoughts from the trip to New York this past weekend. What did you think of the way the match played out, and how satisfied are you with the week the Whitecaps pulled off on the road? Let me know in the comments as always!
(Image Credit: NYCFC)