After the Whitecaps’ recent scintillating road form led many to believe this team could finish second in the West, a midweek hiccup against Houston brought the Whitecaps down to earth. It was a demoralizing defeat for a team that recently had been taking points from most teams they faced. As such, coming into Saturday’s game, there was an expectation of the Whitecaps steering the ship back on course, if they wanted to cement their place as a heavy hitter this season. While the Whitecaps did bring some cause for belief again, things went terribly wrong in crucial moments, which ultimately led to a similar result.
The Whitecaps started the game strong, with a Ryan Gauld cross finding Brian White for the game’s opening goal. This took White’s tally to twelve goals this season, and Gauld’s assist count to ten, great form for two of the Whitecaps’ key players. The goal gave the team hope that they could hang with the big boys of the west this season and maybe confirm their spot in the playoffs early, they just had to defend their lead either or try to add on to it.
To their credit, the Whitecaps have at times put up intense defending displays that stifle even some of their most ardent rivals, and they were able to shut down Real Salt Lake in open play for the most part. It was telling though, that by the end of the first half, the Whitecaps only had shot twice more at the net, while RSL was invited to take six shots on Takaoka since the Brian White goal. The team looked like it was trying desperately to hold onto their lead, and playing like this would get taxing, so a tactical refresh would be needed at the half.
Coming into the second half, there was an air of smash and grab to the Whitecaps’ play. While the top two players were having a decent game between them, the rest of the team was not quite on the same level. Richie Laryea, who often is a team’s best performer, was largely ineffective this match, running the ball out of play and dribbling it for too long at times. Schopf wasn’t doing much better, and the Austrian has really struggled to make an impact this season overall. These were two key midfield pieces and creators that the Whitecaps could have used to help them get ahead, but no such moment came to pass.
Before any player could even settle into the second half, RSL got a free kick from distance, which Brayan Vera happily slotted home past a Takaoka who was way out of position. This goal shocked Vancouver into action, as they were now trying to chase a lead once more. However, they couldn’t muster any sort of threat, as RSL continued to attack the net, and on a particularly dangerous play that left the defense scrambling, Justen Glad doubled RSL’s tally. Suddenly, the Whitecaps were in real trouble.
From there on, it looked like a game out of 2020’s playbook, where the Whitecaps were constantly chasing a lead, but it was pretty much too little too late. Despite smart substitutions in Junior Hoilett and Simon Becher, the Whitecaps remained scoreless. There were calls for a Vancouver penalty as Glad clattered into Tristan Blackmon inside the area, but those calls were left wanting and the Whitecaps left their former temporary home empty handed.
The final game on their road stint is a visit to Western Conference basement dwellers Colorado. Getting three points there will be crucial in the hunt for finishing within top four in the West.
What did you think about the Whitecaps’ performance Saturday? Sound off in the comments below!