Saturday night in Los Angeles, the Vancouver Whitecaps dropped the opening match of a best-of-three against LAFC by a score of 5-2. While the Whitecaps went toe to toe with the home side throughout the first half, it was a pace that Vancouver ultimately could not sustain in the second forty-five, as LA’s overwhelming pressure combined with poor defending led to the match getting away from Vancouver. Given the format, this result on the road is not disastrous for the Whitecaps, as they will take the lessons they learned back to BC Place for a pivotal match two this upcoming Sunday in front of a home crowd.
Alright, on to the player ratings we go:
Yohei Takaoka – 4.0
The keeper’s biggest weakness has been easy to spot this season, and LAFC exposed him Saturday in LA. Takaoka lacks confidence and command of his area on set pieces and crosses, and Vancouver was caught out on four occasions in this match. LAFC’s fourth goal, in particular, was not a great moment for the Japanese keeper, as even if there was a slight deflection, it is one you would expect to be stopped. It was a real let down for Vancouver, as the goal punctuated a ten-minute stretch where LAFC seized control of the match. Equally, while it probably had no impact on the final result, the fifth LAFC goal saw Takaoka stay on his line for a ball inside his own goal area, which is a ball that should be claimed, or at least contested, 100% of the time.
Javain Brown – 4.0
It was not a great night for the Jamaican, who picked up a yellow card early, and who had his wires crossed with Richie Laryea on LAFC’s only open play goal. Added to this, both Brown and Adekugbe failed to handle the initial ball from a corner on LAFC’s third goal, despite double-teaming Ryan Hollingshead.
Ranko Veselinovic – 5.0
While Ranko always seems to put in a solid showing, there were a couple of moments which were less than ideal. He was left with a lot to do as he tried to close down Bouanga on LAFC’s second goal, while on LA’s fifth goal, there was an argument to be made that zonal marking (I know, I know) could have helped him and Blackmon on that occasion, as Blackmon was effectively picked while Ranko fell to the turf. Overall, Vancouver did not do a very good job clearing the ball on set plays Saturday, so some of this has to fall on the centre of the backline.
Tristan Blackmon – 5.0
Like Vancouver’s other defenders, Blackmon struggled to keep things organized in key moments, as he conceded the foul which led to LA’s fourth goal with a sloppy foul, and lost Murillo in the later stages for LA’s fifth.
Andres Cubas – 7.0
Particularly in the first half, Cubas was tremendous, breaking up play in the midfield, as well as sparking Vancouver’s first goal. Vancouver really needed some midfield subs early in the second half, which we can (and will) get in to, but Cubas was a real bright spot for the Whitecaps. Probably the MOTM for me.
Sam Adekugbe – 6.5
It wasn’t perfect, but this was a pretty solid match from Adekugbe. He scored his first goal of the season for Vancouver, and held things down quite well in transition moments where LAFC got out on the break. As mentioned earlier, it would have been nice to see the ball cleared on LA’s third goal, but that’s a somewhat minor quibble in comparison to the overall performance.
Richie Laryea – 5.0
While the mid-season addition had just been rounding into form, Richie picked a bit of a bad time to have a quiet match. While Sartini moved him from side to side, he struggled to expose LA’s active fullbacks with much success, and he and Brown were caught out in a major way on LAFC’s only goal from open play. I’m hoping we see more from Richie at home this Sunday, the Whitecaps will need it.
Pedro Vite – 5.0
Vancouver’s midfield approach in this match was a bit strange. In general, the match in the first half largely bypassed the midfield as both teams tried to move it quickly in transition. At the beginning of the second half as LA started to make adjustments, Schopf and Vite were disconnected from the rest of their team, and LA was able to gradually take control of the match. To me, Vancouver desperately needed a player like Ali Ahmed to come in around the 50 minute mark, as his ability to cover ground and take players on could have been vital. Instead, those subs came too late, and after Takaoka let in a weak fourth goal, the match was all but over already. In short, Vite was not particularly good, but I’m not sure he was put in the best positions either.
Alessandro Schopf – 5.5
I actually thought that Schopf was good in the first half, even if he does not offer much of a dangerous shooting threat of his own, which the Whitecaps could have used with him arriving late in the box. The problem was that Schopf’s legs left the chat early in the second half, and Vancouver was too slow to react with changes. By the time they did, it was already too late.
Ryan Gauld – 6.5
The Scotsman always delivers a high level of competitiveness, although LAFC did a pretty good job keeping him in check during this match. They did everything they could to deny White and Gauld from linking up in transition, and this limited his opportunities to put LA under serious threat. That said, his service to Adekugbe for Vancouver’s second goal was a thing of beauty – it’s tough to keep him off the score-sheet!
Brian White – 6.5
The American made a fantastic run to create for himself on Vancouver’s first goal, but as mentioned, was denied the high volume of hold-up opportunities which have been Vancouver’s bread and butter at times.
Substitutes – 6.0
As detailed, this match was crying out for some quicker reinforcements, specifically in the midfield, but those adjustments only came when Vancouver was already down by two. Ali Ahmed needs to start this Sunday, while Junior Hoilett can serve as a great change of pace option, especially if things are tight late on. I wonder if Vanni Sartini might flirt with starting Laborda or Martins this upcoming weekend at the back, though only Laborda would offer a potential for better defending from set pieces, and even that is dubious.
Vanni Sartini – 5.0
While I’ve made my complaints clear about the early stages of the second half, I did like Vancouver’s initial approach in this match. It would be very difficult to go down to LA and try to win 1-0. Instead, Vancouver decided to trade chances with LA, and through 45 minutes, they had every chance of grabbing three points. The problem is that LA was able to sustain a pace that Vancouver struggled to match, and Vancouver was slow to respond when the match started to get away from them. Vancouver is a much better front-running team than they are playing from behind, so I think it will be important for the Whitecaps to get out on the front foot early at BC Place on Sunday.
Alright, those were my thoughts from Vancouver’s first playoff match down in LA. Let me know yours in the comments.