After two seasons of stressful Decision Days, the Vancouver Whitecaps won’t have to worry about a spot in the postseason.
The Caps clinched a playoff berth Wednesday with a much needed 3-0 win over the Western Conference’s top dogs, St. Louis City SC. Goals from Brian White, Sebastian Berhalter and Richie Laryea underscored a purring attacking performance, even though it took over an hour to find their finishing boots.
St. Louis City went with a quasi-rotated lineup with the top spot in the west just about wrapped up. Vancouver, meanwhile, returned to what is essentially their first-choice lineup. Ryan Raposo cycled back into the lineup, as did Ali Ahmed and Alessandro Schopf.
As you would expect, the Caps held the bulk of the possession early, with St. Louis assuming their usual posture of preferring to play without the ball. Vancouver racked up a couple of nice chances, seeing a Brian White shot curl wide off a Tim Parker turnover while Ryan Gauld saw a chip of backup keeper Ben Lundt drift just wide.
In truth, the early stages of the match didn’t go at all how I expected. St. Louis wasn’t able to implement their usual high press and in fact were often turning the ball over to the Caps in favourable positions, as Vancouver shut off their passing lanes.
At times it seemed some iffy decision making was the only thing really holding the Caps back. On one foray into the box, Schopf pulled it down with his back to goal in a very favourable spot but awkwardly laid it off for White, who looked puzzled by the move. The hesitation saw the striker tackled dangerous by Josh Yaro but despite a trip to the video monitor, referee Pierre Luce Lauziere waved away the penalty shout.
VAR intervened again later in the half, disappointing the Caps faithful by correctly chalking off a lovely overhead kick from Ryan Gauld, who would have been onside but for a late touch on the ball by Brian White, who caught his teammate unaware and cancelled out a top class goal.
It was a strong first half for the Caps, though they were greatly aided by a disjointed performance from St. Louis that saw them notch only one shot. Vancouver’s off the ball movement was generally quite good. Schopf had one of his better nights yet in facilitating link up play in the final third, while Ahmed and Richie Laryea added nice verticality. Still, a goal remained elusive.
The second half opened with a big blow for the Caps, with Andres Cubas appearing to injure his shoulder in a collision during a St. Louis City corner and having to be gingerly escorted off the pitch. He was replaced in due course by Sebastian Berhalter.
Right as St. Louis City were growing back into the game, Vancouver struck first. The Caps won a 50/50 challenge in the defensive third and the clearance found its way to Brian White. The striker flew past Yaro with a deft touch and found himself 1v1, chipping Lundt to score on Vancouver’s first shot on target on the night.
St. Louis slowly started to want more of the ball and finally turned up the pressure dial when they were out of possession. They added some new ingredients, with a line change of subs, including Joao Klauss and Indiana Vassilev.
The Caps held their ground well, with Tristan Blackmon and White forcing Lundt to make a couple of tricky saves to maintain the one goal deficit.
But Sebastian Berhalter who made the most of his cameo after Cubas’ worrying injury. The Caps kept keeping their pedal to the metal and throwing men forward. Berhalter found himself with the ball on the edge of the box and picked his spot to beat a helpless Lundt.
As if to put an exclamation point on the proceedings, the Caps continued to throw men forward and a string of passes down the right hand side found Richie Laryea in the center of the box and the summer signing opened his account with the final touch of the match to seal a 3-0 victory.
- St. Louis really struggled passing tonight but credit should go to Vancouver for clearly studying City’s build up patterns and ensuring they had guys in the passing lanes to force those turnovers, generally in favourable positions. This meant that the Caps were regaining possession further up the pitch and avoiding any high press that was making me worried about having to play St. Louis. An astute tactical performance from Vanni Sartini and fine execution from the squad.
- As the entire squad bounced back from their swoon, it was nice to see a real strong performance from Alessandro Schopf and (especially) Ali Ahmed. Schopf was nicely engaged in the build up in the final third and Ahmed was constantly dangerous, particularly on the underlapping run alongside Gauld or building up with Laryea on the right hand side. This will probably be Vanni’s central midfield pairing when the playoffs roll around, as it should be.
- Similarly, credit to the defense for putting aside Saturday’s individual errors, particularly Tristan Blackmon, who was excellent. The Caps embraced the “the best defense is a good offence” strategy in this one but St. Louis never got a foothold in this match for a reason.
- Credit to Richie Laryea, who still frustrates me but it was great to see him get his first goal as a Whitecaps player after a high energy night. Now if he could play a killer final ball…
- Now the real job begins for the Caps, who will need to duplicate this type of energy and focus two more times to try and claim as high of a seed as possible. Seattle and LAFC won’t have their foot off the gas as much as St. Louis did here but this was a very encouraging display, right when it was most needed.
Man of the Match
Refreshingly, it is difficult to decide simply because the entire squad put in a shift. Ryan Gauld, however, stood out again, nabbing an assist and constantly putting himself in the centre of every dangerous attacking move. Ahmed was similarly impressive and Brian White is one off the Golden Boot crown. Take your pick, folks.