Road games are hard in any sport, in any league. In the MLS and for the Vancouver Whitecaps, they are notorious hard given the distance of travel and the exertion players go through in a grueling schedule filled with midweek games.
But teams also have to show up for 90 minutes, and the Whitecaps failed to perform for the first half, except for one good bout of fortune.
However, it would not be enough to carry them to the final whistle as the LA Galaxy trounced the Whitecaps by a score of 5-1 and sent the visiting team back to Canada with wounded pride.
Starting XI and initial thoughts
We are starting to see certain consistencies in the lineups Vanni Sartini puts out. Some of that has been due to past injuries that have forced some players higher up in their depth charts; some have been due to players taking the opportunity that has been given to them and rolling with it.
One of those players who has made the most of his increased game time has been Ryan Raposo. The young Canadian has been refashioned this season into a competent wingback. With Cristián Gutiérrez and more recently, Cristian Dájome, battling injuries, Raposo should now be considered a lock on Sartini’s teamsheet along with Julian Gressel on the other side.
The backline has also been consistent, with Jake Nerwinski and Tristan Blackmon alternating on the left side. Tonight, Nerwinski is in beside mainstays Ranko Veselinović and Javain Brown.
Andrés Cubas is back after being sidelined with health and safety protocol last weekend. He pairs with Russell Teibert in the middle of the park. Ahead of them, Ryan Gauld and Pedro Vite maintain their positions from the match against the Houston Dynamo.
But given the consistency, Sartini always has something to surprise. Easton Ongaro has been given his MLS debut and first start as the main striker. With Lucas Cavallini on suspension and injuries to Brian White and Déiber Caicedo, the only other option was Tosaint Ricketts. The veteran Canadian is on the bench and could be called on later in the match.
Having Cubas back is a significant improvement for the Whitecaps, who sorely missed him against Houston. Cubas’s strength in marshaling the defensive half of the pitch gives the backline the breathing room they need to react to situations in front of them with more time.
The question mark is Ongaro. In three starts with Whitecaps 2, the striker three goals, which is a good return, albeit a small sample size. But he’s a true target man, standing 6’6″ tall. This should allow crosses to come into the box at heights where he can get to them above the Galaxy’s defence.
The first half
The first 10 minutes played out fairly evenly. The Whitecaps were maintaining a decent amount of possession for them and were playing without the fear that some other teams may have coming into Digital Health Sports Park.
But the Galaxy grew into their style of play, dominating possession and attack with strength through their attacking veterans.
Their first chance seemed to catch Cody Cropper off guard, but he recovered well to get back into position for a save near his left post.
That should have been the warning the Whitecaps needed, but they did not heed the call. LA came back again a couple of minutes later. Nerwinski was skinned by Kévin Cabral who dribbled by him and crossed the ball over to Samuel Grandsir. He made no mistake, easily putting it into the open net for the first goal.
The Whitecaps did not make it any easier on themselves. Veselinović got his hand on the ball in their 18-yard box in the 16th minute. The penalty was not initially given, but VAR called the referee over to the screen. It was an easy correction to make, and Javier Hernández better known as Chicharito dropped the simple panenka past Cropper.
Séga Coulibaly almost made it three in the 27th minute. The cross came into the box and the defender jumped high, getting his head strongly on and redirecting it towards the goal. It sailed wide but further highlighted the disparity in the levels of play.
They did not have to wait long for the third to come. Víctor Vázquez played a quick 1-2 with Hernández, setting himself up at the top of the 18-yard box. The shot stung the back of the net, past the outstretched arm of Cropper.
The Whitecaps did manage to get a rare first-half goal. Cropper’s goal kick went past the halfway line and went through the two LA centre-backs. Neither seemed to move for it. But Gauld was alert, split the defence and got through onto Jonathan Bond, the galaxy goalkeeper. The Scotsman hit low under the goalkeeper, getting the Whitecaps on the board.
But the good feeling did not last. A ball cut through several players, Whitecaps and Galaxy alike, to find Grandsir on the top of the 18-yard box. His extra touch settled the back and moved him beyond any defenders. His shot made it a brace for him and four for the Galaxy.
The halftime whistle could not come fast enough for the Whitecaps. They headed to the locker room, knowing a significant retooling was needed.
The second half
Trying to find that spark, Sartini made three chances as the teams came back on. Blackmon, Dájome and Ricketts came on for Vite, Nerwinski and Ongaro.
There was little to be excited about at the start of the second half. The Galaxy continued to force the Whitecaps into their style of play, watching the Blue-and-White chase balls.
Sartini, perhaps getting desperate, made another substitution for an MLS debut, putting on Alessandro Schöpf for his MLS debut. It may have helped. The Whitecaps grabbed a second goal, by way of Ricketts and a great Dájome run up the left. His run into the box drew defenders away and opened up Ricketts for the pass and the quick goal.
But the Galaxy kept their fight level up. Gauld was outplayed by his man, who set the Scot on his butt. The cross found Efraín Álvarez in the 6-yard box and put the game beyond any doubt with the fifth on the night for LA.
It was a shambolic performance for the Whitecaps. Players, coaches or anyone else associated with the club would be hard-pressed to answer otherwise.
What was said
Sartini was blunt in his assessment of the match.
“I saw tonight that we finally paid the price of waking up late,” he said.
He’s right. Starting to play only after the opposition scores is not sustainable. Playing from adversity can bolster a team, but the Whitecaps need to find ways to come into matches already at that level.
“If we continue being a 45-, 60-minute team, we won’t go to the playoffs,” Sartini added. “If we start being a 90-minute team, we have a strong chance.
Ricketts called the match frustrating. But he also wanted to be sure that he and his fellow teammates take something from it.
“Tonight, you think about it. You feel bad. You can be upset. You can be mad. But what’s important is that you learn from it. And tomorrow, we have to change the page, and we have to go onto the next match because we have a tough schedule this week.”
Tweet of the night
There’s no time to dwell on the match that was as the Whitecaps get set to face the Colorado Rapids at BC Place in a midweek matchup. The game is on Wednesday, August 17 at 7 p.m.