The Vancouver Whitecaps got their first win of the season and they got it in a huge way thanks to some WhitecapsFC2 graduates. Though huge is an understatement.
Starting XI and Thoughts
Simon Becher fresh off his stoppage time equalizer against Minnesota United was making his first MLS start. You might be wondering why Brian White was in the number 10 position. It looks like he will be floating around because it looks like the Whitecaps will be playing with two strikers for the first time this season. Without the ball, White will drop back but he will be higher up the pitch when they have possession. So expect this to be a 4-3-1-2.
With CF Montreal playing a back three, the Whitecaps want to be more attacking hence the two strikers. That way with the two strikers, a number 10 (Pedro Vite) and most definitely Julian Gressel there are more options for creativity and it becomes a four-on-three.
The left side is concerning but with Alessandro Schöpf out with a left hamstring strain and Ryan Gauld dealing with a left ankle tightness, it is not surprising. Luis Martins was making his first start in almost a month. We all know how slow he is tracking back. However, Ali Ahmed, making his first MLS start has proven he has the pace to track back.
But seeing him in the number eight position is odd. He did play there in the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League against Real España and did not look that great before moving back to the left-back position. Ahmed is a player who is good at both ends of the pitch so hopefully, he is more prepared for the number eight position this time.
I was hoping to see JC Ngando start. He has progressed well in a small sample size this season despite his poor first touch.
It was nice to see Pedro Vite get a start. He is slowly starting to improve this season. Coming on as a sub last week against Minnesota United, he made some good passes and looked very quick. Of course, he was the one who crossed the ball that went off a Minnesota defender’s head and right to Becher. This is a good game for him to take another step forward.
Javain Brown was back in the lineup after coming back from international duty with Jamaica. He has proven to be a decent crosser this season and perhaps with Ahmed covering Martins in dropping back, Martins won’t move up as much. On the right side, Brown could be the one that moves up more.
With Gauld and Russell Teibert still not 100%, it was Ranko Veselinović who wore the captain’s armband.
Other than what was said above, there isn’t much surprise from the lineup.
First half thoughts
The game started with Becher almost adding to his goals-per-90 ratio but his shot just went wide. That would have been something. Becher would have been given a statue at Terry Fox Plaza. Ok, well not really but you get the point.
Montreal had to make an early change as Samuel Piette, who was just coming back from injury apparently hurt his leg in the fourth minute and had to come on for Rida Zauhir. That is pretty depressing for the Canadian international. You’ve got to feel for him.
The Whitecaps were turning on the press early. The problem is, that it can expose the back. They almost paid for it but Montreal was offside and Martins made an excellent tackle running back. I know I criticized his tracking back ability but credit where credit is due because that was a very gutsy run and tackle.
Surrey native Joel Waterman was caught swimming in his own end and stopped Ahmed from getting a shot on the net by pulling his shirt just outside the box. Waterman received a yellow despite the fans in attendance wanting a red and Gressel’s free-kick hit the woodwork. Dank Farrik.
This was going to be a feisty match and it was. With WWE’s Wrestlemania happening on Saturday, Montreal was getting into the spirit. Rudy Camacho who was already on a yellow pulled down Becher as he was racing down the flanks got his second yellow and got sent off. Guess he has been watching too many Giorgio Chiellini highlights. That was Carnacho’s second yellow card at BC Place. There’s something about this building that gets to him. Is it the turf? Maybe.
As the foul was right on the line of the 18-yard box, it was a free kick. VAR made a rare right call. But Martins had his shot go into the wall while Gressel’s shot went into the fifth row.
Ahmed looked lost in the first five to ten minutes but as the half went on, he looked more settled in the eight role. He was doing a good job tracking back and creating turnovers as well as showing off his playmaking abilities with some good passes.
Becher and White were connecting and a goal was coming. Spoiler alert, it came. White needed a goal to get the monkey off his back and he did it thanks to an unselfish play from Becher and a nice lob of a pass from Brown.
That got to feel good for White. The mission and the nightmares are finally over for him. Well, not the mission but definitely the nightmares.
A few minutes before halftime, Becher got into the scoresheet with a nice flick on the net on a pass from his fellow WFC2 graduate Ahmed. The man cannot stop scoring. He can’t keep getting away with it! Well, he can.
The Whitecaps might have a gem in Becher. He is the first Whitecaps player in MLS history to score four goals in his first four MLS matches.
But they weren’t done there. A minute or two later, Gressel slotted in a rebound that was as big as Jupiter and the floodgates were open.
Shots were 18 to one in favour of the Whitecaps in the first half. But look at the XG!
That was easily their best half of the season led by the two WFC2 graduates Becher and Ahmed.
There was one more half to be played. How would the Whitecaps fair up by a large margin?
Head coach Vanni Sartini made one change at half-time. Blackmon came off for Mathias Laborda. So Laborda was playing in his natural position. Finally.
The Whitecaps weren’t stopping like a runaway train. Brown’s cross found White in the box who used his magic spell to make a nifty back-heel pass that found Ahmed. That was his first MLS goal and it was a night of first for the WFC 2 graduates. The kids are hot tonight!
The Whitecaps continued to possess the ball and press. Sitting back was not an option.
Guess who scored the fifth goal? Yup, that man again! Becher got a flick on a great ball from Brown for the brace. Sartini talked previously about Becher’s poaching ability and he put it on display tonight.
JC Ngando and Deiber Caicedo were among the subs. Ngando was doing a great job at getting around opponents while Caicedo had good looks in the box.
The passing among the flanks was phenomenal. The passes were so crisp and Ahmed, especially showed a lot of speed coming down the flanks.
It felt like everyone was trying to get a shot on goal in the second half as Blackmon and Veselinović were even going up to get looks. For the Whitecaps, there was no mercy.
There was no extra time as the Whitecaps got their first win of the season and it was a huge win. CF Montreal did not have a single shot on target. Yohei Takaoka might as well have gotten a chair, some drinks and his phone out because he did not have a busy night.
It was a great all-around individual team effort but the kids, Ahmed and Becher proved they can play in MLS.
What was said
Sartini was very hyped with the win, as he should.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “Nobody say we won because they had 10 men. Stop. That’s not true. We won because we were better than them. If they had 12, we still would have won.”
“We all had this eagerness to have a good night after 3 or 4 games where we did well but had a meh result.”
He spoke a lot about the performances of Ahmed and Becher and credited WhitecapsFC2 for their performances.
“The most important thing this organization did in the last five years was reinstate the 2nd team,” (WFC2) said Sartini. “Without, Simon and Ali wouldn’t be here as well as the many players on the second team now.”
Both Ahmed and Becher said their time with WFC2 was huge for their development and they couldn’t have asked for a better start.
“Having Simon in front of me helped me a lot,” said Ahmed. “We have good chemistry together. It was a dream.”
Stat of the match
Becher in his first MLS start had two goals and an assist in his first MLS start. A dream first start indeed. Both he and Ahmed were involved in four of the five goals.
We can’t forget the expected goals as it was 3.4 to 0.3 in favour of the Whitecaps. Wowzers.
Tweet of the match
Unlike Dennis Rodman, Becher doesn’t dye his hair weird colours and spends his off days partying in Las Vegas. I hope.
The Whitecaps get back to it on Wednesday as they face defending MLS Cup Champions LAFC in the CONCACAF Champions League at BC Place. Kickoff is at 7:00 p.m. Pacific