It’s all over: ‘Caps eliminated from MLS Cup playoffs after game 2 defeat to LAFC

The Vancouver Whitecaps 2023 MLS campaign came to a close on Sunday, as they fell 1-0 to LAFC in game 2 of their first-round MLS Cup playoff matchup at BC Place.

After losing game 1 by a score of 5-2 a week prior, the Whitecaps were unable to force a decisive third game in their best-of-three matchup, as a 24th-minute penalty from LAFC would be enough for the road team to claim the win and advance.

As a result, the Whitecaps had to put a bow on their 2023 campaign at the end of this one, 46 long games after it started with a February clash against Real Salt Lake at BC Place.

Ultimately, it was a season of ups and downs for the ‘Caps, who will be pleased that they returned to the playoffs for the second time in the last three years, won a second straight Canadian Championship (and third total), and returned to the Concacaf Champions Cup for the first time since 2017, but still remain with just one just playoff win in their MLS history.

There’s a lot for them to be excited about for next year, as they chase a third straight Canadian Championship win, another entry into the Champions Cup, and a better playoff fate, but they’ll now have to wait a couple of months before they start chasing those dreams once again.

Until then, however, they’ll have a lot to stew on from this game, one that ended up dominated by storylines outside of the match, namely officiating, and more particularly, the call on LA’s winning penalty, which was quite dubious.

So while the Whitecaps will have a lot to be pleased with, from Vancouver’s MLS-era record crowd of just over 30 000 that made it into BC Place for the game, to their second half response to tie the game, the sour taste of the officiating performance feels like it’ll linger in their minds far longer than those other two factors.

“The refereeing tonight was a disaster,” Whitecaps head coach, Vanni Sartini, noted succinctly after the game.

At the same time, the Whitecaps also did themselves no favour with their start to the game, as they came out of the gates nervous, perhaps partly due to that crowd.

Despite that, they had the first good look of the game in the 8th minute, as Sam Adekugbe found Brian White with a great ball over the top, but White snatched at his shot from just inside of the box, sending it just over Maxime Crépeau’s goal.

Unfortunately for them, however, they’d continue to be sloppy on the ball, and way too open in transition, leading to a dangerous LA chance around the 22nd minute. After a corner, LAFC caught Vancouver out in transition, and would be rewarded for it, as they managed to wiggle their way into the box, where they won a penalty.

Despite minimal contact on the play from Tristan Blackmon and Ranko Veselinovic, who tackled a dribbling Mario González in the box, the call stood, too, allowing Dénis Bouanga to step up and slot home the game’s opening goal.

Then, LA nearly doubled their lead minutes later, as the ball fell to an unmarked Timothy Tillman off a corner, but despite having time to fire a dangerous half-volley, Yohei Takaoka would do well to palm the shot away with a strong save, before denying a long-range effort from Bouanga just minutes later.

Continuing his strong sequence of action, Takaoka stepped up with another big save in the 32nd minute, as Tillman fired a dangerous low shot from outside of the box, forcing a strong dive out of the ‘Caps goalkeeper.

Not done pushing for that second, LA had another great look in the 37th minute, as Bouanga danced into the box on his left foot before firing a shot towards the back post, forcing yet another save out of Takaoka.

From there, however, the game would reach half time without much further incident, other than a penalty shout for Vancouver after a coming together between Jesús Murillo and Richie Laryea in the LA box, but the ‘Caps calls for the call were quickly waived away.

There, though, the ‘Caps had a big task ahead of them, as not only they trailed by a goal, but having had just one shot (which didn’t reach the target), they needed to find a way to be far more dangerous than they had been to start the game if they were going to tie things up.

To begin the half, that message clearly got to them, as it took less than 90 seconds to get their first shot.

After doing well to win the ball in a dangerous area, Ali Ahmed found Laryea with a great through ball, and Laryea would fire a low shot from a tight angle, forcing a good save out of Maxime Crépeau.

Continuing their bright start, the ‘Caps had another great look in the 54th minute, as Sam Adekugbe found Ahmed with a great cross, one that Ahmed would do well to head towards the low corner, forcing a strong catch out of Crépeau.

At the other end, LA maintained their push for their second goal, and they nearly got it in the 63rd minute, as Bouanga had another great look from inside of the box, but Takaoka would make a strong kick save on his low shot.

Eager to get something, the Whitecaps continued to push, and had another decent look in the 71st minute, as White flashed a powerful shot from a tight angle, forcing a save out of Crépeau.

Then, they had their best chance of the game in the 85th minute. After a nice sequence between Ryan Gauld and Junior Hoilett, Gauld found an unmarked White with a perfect cross, but despite having a clean look at goal, White sent his header right into Crépeau’s hands from close range.

Soon after, however, LA seemed to put the game to bed, as after the ‘Caps had sent everyone forward on a corner, LAFC hit them on the counter, as Bouanga scoried into an empty net after a pass from Carlos Vela to make it 2-0.

Or so they’d thought. Despite there being calls for a drop ball after the referee had collided with Alessandro Schöpf, leading to that counter, there was instead an offside, as Vela had failed to realize that the Whitecaps had just one player back, leaving the goal to be disallowed.

Despite that lifeline, however, the Whitecaps weren’t able to take advantage of it, as Gauld had a chance to equalize on the last kick of the game, but his shot would fall into the hands of Crépeau.

From there, the final whistle would soon blow, putting an end to the Whitecaps season, as they just didn’t do enough to win on the day, refereeing decisions aside.

“Obviously we went with the idea to go and be more offensive and create chances,” Gauld said afterwards. “We just didn’t really get it to click in the final third. I think up until the final third we were decent, but we just couldn’t get that final pass right.”

“Second half as well, we’ve put a lot of pressure on them but we still kind of struggled to get the final pass to create a chance. That leaves us even more frustrated, because I think we were a bit more dominant in the second half, so not really creating many chances was quite frustrating.”

And ultimately, much like it started 46 long games ago against RSL, it was a familiar story for the ‘Caps – a solid performance, yet one where they were unable to find the back of the net when they needed to.

Heading into the offseason, it’ll leave them with plenty to ponder, as they try and take another step forward next season.

Undoubtedly, this was one of the team’s best MLS-era seasons, but at the same time, there feels like this team has another level to hit.

At their best, they flirted with being one of MLS’s best teams, as seen by them being a top six team in MLS in Expected Goals differential and a top five team in xG for, but at other moments, defensive lapses and their streakiness in front of goal hurt them.

Combined with the fact that they came up against a juggernaut of an LAFC team in the first round, as LA’s one of the deepest teams in the league and had the best xG differential in the regular season, this was always going to be a tough matchup to win.

Of course, these are the sorts of teams you have to beat to win trophies, though, so while the Whitecaps were encouraged that they went out swinging, taking that next step will be finding a way to go toe-to-toe with teams like that and come out on top more times than not, which will take adjustments, new signings and more.

Until then, however, the Whitecaps will take solace in the fact that they’re almost there, before they get to work at pushing themselves past that next step.

“The biggest takeaway from this season is that we are a team that can easily start the next season and say ‘we want to win this thing’,” Sartini finished. “That’s pretty much the biggest takeaway.”

(Cover Photo: Vancouver Whitecaps)

20 thoughts on “It’s all over: ‘Caps eliminated from MLS Cup playoffs after game 2 defeat to LAFC

  1. Is there anything that can be done about the commentary on apple? when La was up by two goals in the first game one of the commentators started talking about who LAFC would play in the next series. Super frustrating to watch a match and hear all about how great one team is rather than commenting on the match..

  2. I would like to see 2 CB’s that are leaders and aggressive ball players. Maybe Vanni could get some Italians. I also think a strong physical winger would be handy. I’m not saying we can get Bayern wingers but you can see Davies, Musiala and Sane etc are physically strong and fast. Ali can beef up a little and be a great AMF perhaps. He could be on the wing as well but he seems to roam well so I’m leaning to getting a winger.
    Tak made some really sweet saves against LA. He’s very talented with those full stretch low ones. If he had the 2CB’s in front I think that would help a lot on the set pieces and controlling the zone there.
    I sure did love watching the games this year. It’s quite something to have so many players on the team that you love to see play on the field and then almost forget someone else you love to see who is on the bench. Go Caps!
    And the ref was very very poor but enough has been said. Even the basic stats have a story. 18 fouls 2 cards 10 fouls 4 cards. Gonzales red card. Come on!

    1. “I sure did love watching the games this year” – Me too. We are playing soccer and not just the old 4-5-1 bunker and counter that, while somewhat effective, is what weak teams do to try and keep it close. I hope we are past that as our standard for good.

      1. Me too. We can see the stadium from our place and sometimes we had to really push ourselves to get on the bikes to ride there!

  3. Westsider13, I won’t be responding to your messages. You have convinced me… that you are very likely a troll.

  4. so you thought the second ‘goal’ should have been allowed ?? read the FIFA rules on referee interference and off-sides

    and the LAFC player who came into takaoka with studs up should have been given a red card

    BUT, i agree that the LAFC penalty was the right call, BUT we should have had a PK on Lareya being contacted from behind- LAFC should have also received 2-3 yellow cards

    if you didnt enjoy the drama of the game, and the passion of Sartini for standing up to incompetent refs in a huge game, then you lack understanding and appreciation of the BEAUTIFUL GAME

    1. Having a word with referees and fourth officials in a somewhat animated manner isn’t an issue for me. What is, is when it is so clearly unhinged that it isn’t in any way respectful on a human level and devoid of any level of self-control. And that was Sartini last night, and frankly on a regular basis. It reflects badly on him as an individual, worse as a coach, and perhaps most poorly as a representative of the badge.

      I understand that some like it. I think it’s deplorable behaviour. Players aren’t permitted to act like that, yet Sartini should be and lauded for it ?

      1. Absolutely! Vanni has every right to yell and show emotion. If you want to talk about deplorable behaviour, the LAFC play-acting and feigning injury for several minutes was disgusting.

    2. On the LAFC disallowed second goal, a referee / player collision during play is not cause for the referee to stop play unless the player appears to suffer a head injury; referee is considered part of the field of play as are players, the pitch, corner flags, and posts. Ford can validly be faulted for some decisions last night, but that one allowing play to continue (the LAFC break) he was correct in. The eventual offside chalking off the goal appeared to be the correct decision.

      1. The fact that they needed VAR to call that offside, demonstrates the officiating crew is out of their depth. The rule is simple and the AR only had to run 25 yards. If he or she can’t run 25 yards while remembering the offside rule, they should be no where near a game that matters.

  5. The LAFC pen was a stone-cold correct call, to characterise it as borderline or otherwise is reporting lacking credibility. “Minimal contact” ? Both Veselinovic & Blackmon sandwiched and contacted the attacker. Pen any match, any day, and those two CBs did poorly in that moment.

    It’s okay to say so.

    1. I agree, there was definitely contact that brought him down, but before the contact Blackmon had cleared the ball. That’s the real issue. It was a clear and obvious error on the part of the ref that VAR should’ve picked up on. It should never have been a penalty in a VAR world.

      1. You interpret the play differently than I do; Gonzalez had the ball at his feet and spun to clear Veselinovic, who contacted his left side significantly then Blackmon (who did get a touch on the ball) got into his right side clattering him to the turf.

        That pen is called every matchday consistently in top leagues, I see it often personally. Blackmon getting a touch on the ball does not negate his contact on Gonzalez coupled with Veselinovic initial foul.

      2. As soon as Blackmon dispossesses Gonzales, the striker has no right to the ground that either defender is standing on. If Blackmon has to go through Gonzales to get to the ball, then it is a foul but this is not the case. He poked the ball away and then made contact with the player. Blackmon was more in posession of the ball than the striker. There was no violence in the collision; not stray elbows, just a defender doing his job. Horendous mistake on both the Referee and VAR.

  6. and this was the worst officiating team of the year, with the head ref being incompetent and seemingly biased in LAFC favor – if the MLS HQs do nothing, then they are part of the problem also

    and good on Vanni for standing strong and passionately

    1. “Strong and passionately.”

      His berating of the officials was way over the line, as were his post-match comments egardless of how justified the sentiment one believes.

      Condoning that behaviour enables the mediocrity the team put up this past week next season and beyond. Mis-representing passion for clownish behavious is dangerous perspective.

  7. really pleased with the entertainment value this year– i see progress and am hopeful for 2024- depends on our ownership group- will they step up with $$$ and seize the market ??

    we have 3 needs:

    1. a higher quality CB who has pace and soccer intelligence in order to lead the defence

    2. an AMF that can add some offence- probably this your DP, but it cant be at the $1 mill salary range- none of the players at that salary have ever performed well as a DP (and the list is extensive)- get to the salary of +$2 mill, aka ryan gauld, and we can get some very good quality

    3. a pacey winger who can connect with the gifted Ryan Gauld

    and maybe a taller goalie who has steely nerves

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