Wednesday night at BC Place, the Vancouver Whitecaps secured their ticket to the MLS Playoffs with a 3-0 win over St. Louis City SC. While the visitors did not field their best starting XI, nor play particularly well given their impressive season, it was nonetheless a resplendent evening for Vancouver. Everything came together for them on the pitch as the match progressed, and they found three second half goals, all while surrendering only a few half-chances.
Alright, on to the player grades we go:
Yohei Takaoka – 7.5
Maybe he should stick with the black kit from now on. Yohei did not have much to do, but he made a massive save at the beginning of the second half following a powerful strike from Aziel Jackson. That moment could have changed the tenor of the match if not for his quick reflexes. Takaoka also looked a bit sharper on the ball, as well as commanding his area, than he has in recent weeks. He came out aggressively sweeping a couple of times, and had a good punched clearance.
Tristan Blackmon – 7.5
The American defender had a nice understated showing which was welcome after some mixed performances. He was rarely under real pressure, but was decisive when needed. He was involved in attack as well, forcing a good save off his headed effort.
Ranko Veselinovic – 8.0
I thought Ranko was great in this match. Not necessarily because he played a clearance that sparked the first Whitecaps goal (although that is nice), but because he was very strong in 1v1 defending situations and generally quite active sparking good spells of Whitecaps possession. Even without some of St. Louis’ best players to defend, Vancouver’s backline was still on it against a well drilled STL attack.
Javain Brown – 7.0
After a no-nonsense showing on the weekend, high-event Javain returned on Wednesday. His passing and involvement in the attack was not very sharp, but the effort level was very much there. Defensively, he had the most dangerous moments on the backline, but still handled himself quite well.
Andres Cubas – 7.0
The Paraguayan looked to be on it in the early going, providing his patented tackles to stifle opposing moments in transition, keeping the Whitecaps on the front foot. It was tough to see him come off injured, we can only hope the prognosis in not too dire.
Ryan Raposo – 6.0
For whatever reason, Raposo struggled to involve himself in this match in a meaningful way. He had plenty of opportunities on the ball but the final product simply was not there, as he passed at a rate below 70% and made just 2 of his 7 long passes.
Alessandro Schopf – 6.5
Though his impact diminished as the match went on, the Austrian had a number of moments arriving in the box in the early stages, which is something we have not seen enough from him (and something the no.8’s in this system need to do). He had a couple of deft touches in those moments which generated shooting opportunities, which I thought was promising. Nonetheless, he’d still be 3rd on my depth chart at the moment, behind Ahmed and Vite.
Ali Ahmed – 8.5
The young Canadian was tremendous in this match, who knows why he was not called to the CANMNT roster. He exhausted St. Louis in the midfield battle, winning 11 of 13 ground duels and slithering away from opposition as he looked to push the team forward in possession. He also recorded 3 key passes, though if I am being picky, he still has some room to grow in terms of his final ball in and around the box. Ali has to be a locked-in starter from here on out.
Richie Laryea – 7.5
Hopefully Richie’s goal in garbage time opens the floodgates for him in terms of translating his positive play to goals and assists for Vancouver. It appears to me as though every match he takes a step closer to being in touch with his teammates, delivering on his tireless attacking style of play. It can be a bit frustrating to watch when things aren’t going his way, but he could be rounding into form at just the right time.
Ryan Gauld – 9.0
After every match in the second half of the season, I feel like my commentary for Gauld has been the same. Once again, the MVP candidate was massive for Vancouver. He had 5 key passes, 1 assist, and like Ahmed, placed St. Louis under serious pressure for contested balls, winning 11 of 16 duels.
Brian White – 8.5
The golden boot race will be tough for White now after Denis Bouanga distanced himself against Minnesota (even if that did help the Whitecaps secure a playoff spot). That said, White continues to find the back of the net. This time, rather than an assist from Gauld, it was a moment of hustle and opportunity which caught the St. Louis backline napping. He continues to be an underrated distributor, with 2 key passes, though he did struggle against Tim Parker and Josh Yaro in the air.
Substitutes – 7.0
Sebastian Berhalter may have big shoes to fill if Cubas is out long term, but scoring goals from distance, like he did in this match, certainly won’t hurt his chances of success. Sam Adekugbe made his second strong showing off the bench after his knee issues, which was nice to see. For my money, Pedro Vite needs to start in Vancouver’s midfield, especially at home, as his work on the ball in the final third severely outmatches Schopf. Mathias Laborda and Junior Hoilett did not have much impact, as they only came on inside the final 10 minutes.
Vanni Sartini – 7.0
While St. Louis was not playing their best, Vancouver’s manager also appeared to have a very good sense of how St. Louis would look to approach this match, taking full advantage of this knowledge. The Whitecaps were patient in the first half, avoiding the costly moments of weakness which have been all too customary, and which could have invited St. Louis to capitalize. Instead, as the visitors started to open things up in the second half looking for a goal, Vancouver was able to counter this very effectively, taking control of the match and never looking back. In other moments this season, the disallowed Gauld goal from the first half (and other missed opportunities) would have prompted Vancouver to stretch themselves too thin, but they were able to stick to their gameplan and cruise all the way to playoff security.
Alright, those were my thoughts on the match, let me know yours in the comments, as always!