Playoff Pain: Set pieces doom Caps against LAFC

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.

Stray Thoughts

  • 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.

6 thoughts on “Playoff Pain: Set pieces doom Caps against LAFC

  1. Vancouver Whitecaps faced a challenging start to their post-season campaign, succumbing to a 5-2 defeat against LAFC. Set piece defending proved to be their Achilles’ heel, with four of LAFC’s five goals originating from set pieces and a series of defensive errors. While there were some positive moments for the Whitecaps, especially in their ability to pressure LAFC, their struggles with defending set pieces ultimately proved costly. The match showcased the importance of solid defensive organization in high-stakes games like these.

  2. LAFC are strong team. Man to man they are better than us. Their back four are good. Not suspect as mentioned above. They are bigger than us as well and they took full advantage of that on their set pieces. Cap’s goalkeeping errors were mentioned but never elaborated on…probably because there wasn’t any goalkeeping errors. But Takaoka is 5’10 so that is a weakness to exploit for sure. I was shaking my head when Vite committed the foul that led to 2nd half goal. For no reason conceding a free kick just outside our penalty area and almost taking a red card in the process. Is Vite taking a bribe to throw the game? A back four would seem a better option as they can’t let Bouango go one on one in our defensive third. He’s too good. If you think Laborda is better than Brown then please share whatever induces this mindset. Let’s remember that Brown is an outside fullback. If he’s part of a back four then he’s able to overlap and join the attack, which he’s good at. As a right centre back, he has to stay at home and hope the right wingback provides the offence. which didn’t happen much in last night’s match. I hope Sartini considers this. Laborda is good but he’s a middle of the park player. He doesn’t quite have the pace to deal with speed down our flanks. To get Laborda on the park and utilize his skill and height I’d put him along side Cubas. I know Cubas is a great destroyer in front of our back three but this takes away from his attacking abilities, which he’s very good at. And when he drops back into our penalty are to help defend against crosses, remember, he’s 5’4. Probably too late to try this. I wish this would have happened earlier in the season. Our back three christmas tree formation has worked for the most part but there have been games where our lack of defending the flanks has caused us problems, the most obvious being having to deal with dangerous crosses into the heart of our penalty area. I suppose Sartini thinks we’re good enough to deal with this but I think this depends on what we’re up against. My back four would be Brown(free reign to overlap), Tristan and Ranko(more dribbling forward) and Sam(he’s probably our best left side defender). Laborda and Cubas in the middle. A variety of choices on the flanks: Ahmed, Raposo, Layrea, Berhalter etc. White up front. Gauld gets to go wherever he wants but preferably in more attacking advanced positions. Final thought: we can score against LAFC but we can’t afford them any time or space in our defensive third. And, we can’t concede so many corners and free kicks either…..

  3. This is why you don’t sign your manager to an extension BEFORE the playoffs. 2 MLS playoff games for Vanni, 2 losses by 3 goals (this one, plus 3-0 in Kansas) with his style of play being exploited by the much better opposition manager.

  4. MY LINE-UP FOR GAME 2: 4-1-3-2









  5. changes i would make for Game 2:

    1. man-to-man marking on set pieces, especially when its going to be a launch into our box area, with the back post being the #1 area- for sure, LAFC wont change their strategy- i would place Blackmon on the far post when LA has a corner kick or set piece when a cross is coming

    2. start Ahmed and not Schopf

    3. start with a 4 player defence- a 4-1-3-2- we have to control the crosses and allow less corner kicks

    4. start Raposo and Laborda and not Vite and brown



    laborda veselinovic blackmon adegukbe


    lareya ahmed raposo

    white gauld

  6. giving up 4 set piece goals- YIKES !!!- some conclusions:

    1. Javain Brown almost goes into a trance on set pieces and ball watches, thus allowing opponents to get into open spaces- sometimes he just lacks soccer intelligence and yet other times, he plays well– you cant build a defence on these types of players

    2. Pedro Vite was a lost soul on the field and seems to get swallowed up by big-time games

    3. Schopf is a sub player for 30 minutes- his legs are gone after that amount of time

    4. Takaoka’s height is a major weakness concern and teams take advantage with a steady stream of cross balls as he cant control the 6 yard box- further, if he does return as #1 goalie, he needs a back-up so he can have some game-off time

    the Caps will play better next Sunday- they are a resilient bunch- Vanni will have to figure out what to do with set pieces.. or is it too late and 2024 will see fresh recruits ?

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