Poor set piece defending undid Vancouver Whitecaps in the start of their post-season campaign, falling to LAFC 5-2 and spotting the black-and-gold a 1-0 series lead.
Braces for Denis Bouanga and Ryan Hollingshead and a tally from Jesus Murillo lifted LAFC, with four of the five goals coming off of set pieces and a host of defensive or goalkeeping errors that gifted a cushion to the home side.
Vanni Sartini gave us some talking points off the bat, opting for Sam Adekugbe instead of Ryan Raposo and leaving Ali Ahmed on the bench in favor of a midfield of Alessandro Schopf and Pedro Vite.
The match started more open than you might have expected from Vancouver, who got Brian White more involved than last week at BC Place, with some dangerous runs forcing LAFC into some tough defensive decisions. On the other side, Dennis Bouanga lurked but Javain Brown and Adekugbe had some nice defensive moments to neutralize danger.
It was a set piece let off (get used to those) from Ryan Hollingshead that vaulted the home side ahead. Hollingshead caused some danger off a free kick, left all alone to send a dangerous header across the face of goal. Then, on the resulting corner, Yohei Takaoka was able to deny an initial header from the doorstep but not the ensuing shot from a tight angle, as LAFC grabbed the lead.
The Caps responded, as LAFC was a bit too deliberate in trying to control the match. The Vancouver press forced a turnover and Andres Cubas perfectly played in White, who made no mistake 1v1 to draw things level.
It didn’t last long. Bouanga reminded everyone who he won the Golden Boot, receiving the ball in full flight on the left hand side, beating Brown and cutting across the box to fire a bullet into the bottom right hand corner of the net.
It was a first half which just kept giving, however. Ryan Gauld wasn’t too involved early in the match but expertly won a free kick on the left hand side and then put a great ball in to find an unmarked Sam Adekugbe, whose header brought the Caps back on level terms.
The half time break didn’t do much to change the match and it didn’t result in better set piece defending. An LAFC corner ping-ponged around the box and fell once again to Ryan Hollingshead, who once again concerted past Takaoka with aplomb, as the Caps only had themselves to blame.
As Vancouver opened up a bit to try and get back in the match, LAFC kept their foot on the gas to try and capitalize on some more defensive errors from Vancouver. But it was another Bouanga goal that really put some distance between the two teams, as he latched onto a set piece and fired a shot from outside the box that deflected off White and wrong footed his keeper to give Bouanga a brace.
At no point down the stretch did the Caps seriously look like they could pull off a miracle and get back into the match, even though there is no punishment for a heavy defeat (thank God).
The set piece woes continued, as Jesus Murillo muscled past two Caps markers and rose to meet Mateusz Bogusz’s corner to put this firmly out of reach and compound the embarrassment.
- The narrative in this one is obvious: Despite conceding 14 set piece goals during the regular season, they continue to look lost and lack basic spatial awareness. I don’t get how Vanni Sartini and the players can look at these results and think the status quo is acceptable and you would hope this is the embarrassment that finally relegates this zonal marking system to the trash bin. If Vancouver is unable to salvage things over the next two matches, it will be pretty clear what needs addressing in the offseason — you can’t have this many individual defensive or goalkeeping errors against a team as clinical as LAFC.
- The sad thing is the Caps were quite competitive before digging themselves in an insurmountable hole. Their first half was sound and they showed the strong mentality to come back twice and stay very much in the game by picking apart a shaky LAFC backline. It is easy to leave this one with a sour taste but there certainly were no shortage of individual errors from LA and I think the Caps’ blueprint will allow them a chance to exploit those in the home leg.
- It cannot be overstated how massive the return of Andres Cubas was. Not only did he get an assist but he was absolutely everywhere, a ball winning missile that put LAFC’s midfield under a lot of duress.
- The one decision I did think Vanni Sartini got right was starting Sam Adekugbe. I was worried this would both add in a guy who has struggled and, simultaneously, neuter Richie Laryea by moving him to the right hand side. Laryea wasn’t overly involved but Adekugbe was strong defensively from the run of play and took his goal well.
- Starting Javain Brown and the Schopf/Vite midfield? Well, it doesn’t outrank zonal marking on set pieces but both of those were big swings and misses (particularly given that Mathias Laborda is much better in the air).
- The good news is Vanni Sartini’s considerable man management skills will be needed to help Vancouver forget about this one and reset ahead of the match at BC Place. The Caps have generally responded well when they needed to play with intensity and determination and next weekend will certainly demand that. Buckle up folks.
Man of the Match
Gotta be Cubas, who was excellent in the first half and gave LAFC’s midfield real fits, plus he had a pretty nifty assist to White to boot. Hopefully his sub off in the second half was more a reflection of Vancouver trying to get a goal and not his fitness status.