A second half turnaround reinforced the Caps’ status as kings of Canada and vaulted them into the upper echelon of the Western Conference, as they dealt a 2-1 blow to Toronto FC Saturday night.
Despite going behind in the early minutes of the second half, Vancouver shot back quickly and restored their control of the match. It was unsurprising that Ryan Gauld and Brian White combined for yet another match winner, sending White second on the Caps’ all-time goalscorer list.
The Caps rolled with their now familiar formation, just minus a few familiar faces. Andres Cubas missed with a knock and was replaced by Sebastian Berhalter, as did Sam Adekugbe, who was spelled by Ryan Raposo. Mathias Laborda slotted into the backline as well.
It was a positive start for the Caps, who succeeded in jamming up the passing lanes for TFC and finding space out wide. The penetrating moves into the box, however, were not followed by shots to test Tomas Romero. When Toronto were able to overcome their deficit in midfield, however, they often found ample space to proceed.
Indeed, it was Yohei Takaoka who was first called into action to make a save, comfortably dealing with a pair of TFC chances from distance. Brian White and Raposo shot back with blows of their own after poor TFC turnovers in their own defensive third.
That was a pretty good encapsulation of the first half. Just when it seemed like Toronto, who held the bulk of the possession, seemed to settle in and have some success breaking the Caps’ lines, Vancouver would hit back with a positive spell where they saw White and Richie Laryea dig in with good chances. Overall, the Caps looked the more dangerous team in the first half, looked more incisive in their final third entries and just needed the finish.
Moments into the second half and the Caps again flashed danger. Ryan Raposo had a brilliant, curling strike from distance that would have found the back of the net but for a terrific save from Romero. Then, off the resulting corner, Franco Ibarra was forced to clear the ball off the line.
But it was TFC that were more clinical. While the Caps were pushed forwarded attacking, Toronto surged forward on a brutal counter attack. DeAndre Kerr was hanging off the high line and was played in 1v1, leaving Takaoka with few options and giving Toronto the lead.
Vancouver were not behind for long. It was a bit of a fortunate goal for the Caps but it worked all the same: Off a corner, a dangerous ball was flicked on by Tristan Blackmon and the ball deflected into the back of the net. A nonchalant Blackmon celebrated and a return to level terms seemed a fair reflection of the match to that point.
The Caps decided they wanted more of the ball in the second half — a lot more of it. They heaped loads of pressure on TFC in their own defensive third and were seemingly undeterred by getting burned on Kerr’s goal as they returned to what we have expected Vanni Sartini’s side to play like.
That was epitomized by a return to form of the dynamic Gauld/White duo. Seemingly out of nothing, the Caps methodically broke the TFC line and when Gauld found himself in a comfortable position without a defender nearby, he whipped in a perfect ball, which was met by a perfect header that no keeper can stop, vaulting Vancouver back into the league.
That duo continued to produce fruit, including an absurd no look pass that played White in on goal but slipped and fell as he shot, denying him a clean chance to snag a brace. He was also unable to slot away another excellent break orchestrated by Gauld and substitute Pedro Vite.
It was fitting, however, on a night where Toronto’s tailspin continued and their most influential, high-priced players looked disinterested, that White and, especially Gauld, feasted. It was Gauld’s intense pressure that helped the Caps regain momentum and his performance in the second half was nothing short of breathtaking. One wonders if Toronto had signed more guys like Gauld than Insigne or Bernadeschi that they might be in a better place right now.
- Toronto’s passing all night was, erm, a bit sloppy. But credit to Ali Ahmed, who was tenacious at positioning himself to cut out those passes and force them to play around him. For a guy who is not naturally a central midfielder, this is an area he has really grown this season and he certainly impressed with his positioning Saturday night, particularly in the first half.
- TFC showed some flashes of danger on the counter all night but managed to cope pretty well. The first goal, however, was the sort of catastrophic defensive failure that we haven’t seen much from Vancouver in recent matches. Berhalter was perhaps the most obvious culprit but make no mistake, that was a team letdown, particularly after a promising start to open the half.
- Ryan Raposo brought his shooting boots tonight — he was unlucky not to score the goal of the season for Vancouver and then was denied in the second half by the woodwork. A really positive performance on a night in which I was worried about Sam Adekugbe missing out.
- I also really liked what Laborda offered, particularly given that he had the unenviable task of going 1v1 with Lorenzo Insigne for much of the first half. Thought he held up well, was good in the air (including one crucial intervention with the Italian lurking at the back post) and was overall pretty solid.
- Overall, this was one where the Caps were pretty clearly the more dangerous team all night and finally were able to show it in the final half hour or so. They could have (and probably should have) bagged three or four goals; once Vancouver (especially Gauld) turned up the pressure, Toronto started to crack, lose focus and never really looked like a factor ever again.
Man of the Match
It is pretty easy to just blindly name Ryan Gauld as MOTM every game and call things good. But Gauld was, quite simply, breathtaking in the second half. He had one free kick that the Caps didn’t do much with that was one of the most spectacular whipped balls I ever seen in MLS, without exaggeration. His no-look pass to White showed the strength of that partnership, and, oh yeah, there was his assist on White’s goal. Just because there is an obvious choice doesn’t make it the wrong one.