The Vancouver Whitecaps were coming off their biggest win in the past few years, but Nashville SC was looking to take advantage of the ensuing hangover. In the first half, it looked as though the home team would do exactly that.
But thanks to an alert goalkeeper and an unlikely goalscorer, the Whitecaps continued to find a way to points.
Starting XI and initial thoughts
It was a minor tweak in the formation for Vanni Sartini compared to the Canadian Championship. Against Nashville, he opted to go with the one no. 9 in Brian White, allowing him to get Pedro Vite on alongside Ryan Gauld as no. 10s.
Ryan Raposo got the nod again after his strong start on Tuesday. Sartini has referred to the player as the most improved in the squad this year. Julian Gressel got his second start as a Whitecap on the opposite side.
The most surprising change in this lineup was Michael Baldisimo drawing in beside Andrés Cubas. Baldisimo played well as a sub on Tuesday, which seemed to have been rewarded with the start tonight.
The only other noteworthy change was Javain Brown in the back 3 for Jake Nerwinski. Nerwinski had a strong game midweek, so this is likely rotation.
It was a strong lineup for the Vancouver Whitecaps, especially in midfield. However, given that Lucas Cavallini did not make the trip to Nashville, there was the knowledge that White would have to find his consistency in front of goal. But with all the support behind him, it seemed as though service to the attackers would not be an issue.
The first half
It was a strong attack from Nashville that began the match. Constantly pushing into Vancouver’s 18-yard box, they had four corners in as many minutes.
However, the back line of the Whitecaps was on hand to clear the ball on each occasion.
Nashville would continue to push forward. In the 16th minute, Cody Cropper was forced into a huge save as Hany Mukhtar shot from just outside the 6-yard box. The Vancouver keeper was alert and able to push it over the net.
But Nashville kept coming. Just a minute later a shot sailed wide, but as the ball came back into the midfield, Mukhtar crossed the ball into the 18-yard box to an unmarked Teal Bunbury. His header was on point and found the back of the net for the game’s first goal.
The Whitecaps would have to wait to almost the half-hour mark before they got a chance. Cubas stole a park off a back Nashville pass in the middle of the park. He transitioned it quickly to White. The striker’s shot was good and hard, but it was saved by the diving goalkeeper, Joe Willis.
Momentum started to balance out as the half got close. Vancouver had another opportunity in the 39th minute as White knocked down a long ball with his head. He put it right onto the feet of Gauld, but the Scot’s shot went wide.
But ultimately, the Whitecaps would not get anything going. It was a frustrating half for the Blue-and-White, with both of their shots on the Nashville net coming from outside of the 18-yard box.
The second half
The second half began with Vancouver bringing in Cristian Dájome for Vite. It was a necessary move to try and get more offensive chances.
Vancouver started out with better possession and more urgency in their game. Their strong press was rewarded with three corners in the first 10 minutes with Nashville having nothing going in the other direction.
Nashville did wake up around the hour mark. They started to move control back into the Vancouver end, but the Whitecaps did not let up either.
They were getting balls into the box and trying to make the most of it, but the taller defenders of Nashville were able to clear them away time and time again.
But the Cardiac ‘Caps found a way. Late in the game, in the 87th minute, Gauld had a free kick to the left of the goal. His cross went through the mass of players in the box and found Brown. He kneed it into the net for his first goal in MLS to tie the match.
Cropper saved the point with an instinctive save against Luke Haakenson. He was able to palm the ball over the net and keep the Whitecaps fighting until the end.
So that’s how it would end, with the ‘Caps taking a point on the road after a better second-half display.
What was said
Sartini acknowledged the slow start but felt his side grew into the game rather quickly.
“From minute 20 to minute 90, we were clearly the best team on the field,” he said.
He talked about the strength and size of Nashville’s players, which was the reason for playing the shorter corners. The fact that Brown’s goal came off a set piece was surprising as he felt the height advantage of the home side would make that difficult.
As for the goalscorer, Brown was happy to get his first-ever MLS goal.
“Tonight was a very special night for me, especially because my team was down and I needed to grind out and let us get a result,” he said.
He said the late goals that have become something of a theme for Vancouver are not due to slow starts or last-ditch efforts, it is the result of everyone on the team fighting for one another.
“You never know when you’re going to score,” Brown said. “But for me, the team really dug deep today. Each and everyone, we gave it our all. We came out with a result. It’s not an easy place to come and get a result.”
Cropper concurred that the slow starts are not purposeful, but he credited his team with always fighting to find a way.
“Honestly, it makes our life even more difficult,” the goalkeeper said. “It makes it more stressful. I’m sitting back there at 1-0 down, and we continue to respond. We continue to dig in and really find a way to not save games, but fight our way back.”
Stat of the match
While not wanting to point to any bias, it did seem as though 50/50 challenges were being given as fouls and cards to the Whitecaps. Fouls were significantly against the ‘Caps at 12 to 5. Yellow cards were also tilted towards Vancouver at 4 to 1.
It is one of those rare Friday matches for the Whitecaps in their next match. They will face Houston Dynamo on August 5 at BC Place. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.