Photo Credit: Vancouver Whitecaps FC Twitter

*This was originally posted April 9, 2022*

The Whitecaps were unable to overcome a lacklustre first half, which saw the visiting Portland Timbers take three points on the road.

This was the 100th meeting between the two clubs, but it’s one the home side will likely want to analyze and then forget.

The starting XI and initial thoughts

It’s the 3-4-1-2 formation we’ve come to expect from Sartini. Tristan Blackmon has been questionable due to his concussion last game against Sporting KC. Florian Jungwirth drew in in his spot in the right of a back three.

Cristian Gutierrez slotted on the left of the stalwart, Ranko Veselinovic. It makes for a unique back line and one that has not had any game time together outside of training.

Raposo kept his spot after his goal last week; however, he took on the right wingback to allow Cristian Dajome back in on the left.Finally, Deiber Caicedo came in alongside Brian White. 

While Caicedo is proficient as a no. 9, it was interesting not to see Lucas Cavallini even on the bench. It was reported on the Whitecaps’ Twitter that he was out due to an illness.

The only areas of the pitch that have remained static are Thomas Hasal in goal and the midfield pairing of Russell Teibert and Sebastian Berhalter.

Hasal has been a stalwart in the net, recording his second clean sheet of the season at BC Place last match.

Berhalter impressed alongside Teibert. In truth, both midfielders had their best matches of the season so far against Sporting KC. But it is a right foot contusion that may be keeping out Leonard Owusu, which allowed for the midfield to stay the same.

Sartini is known for switching things up. He has never had the same two lineups in back-to-back games. 

Guess he’s staying true to form.

The first half

The Whitecaps got the game underway, playing wide, keeping play moving through Raposo and Dajome in their wingback positions. In contrast, Portland kept an extremely narrow shape in their chosen 4-4-2, covering what looked like a postage stamp size on the pitch.

It allowed the ‘Caps time on the ball, as Portland seemed content to sit back and ease themselves into the game.

Gutierrez shone early, making the most of his third start of the season. Berhalter gave away an errant pass in the 4’, but Gutierrez was quick to close down the Portland attacker who gobbled it up. 

He was also involved in an early attack, running up the left side, past Dajome at wingback, to cross the ball in. The attack was wide, but it helped set the pace for the first portion of the half.

Veselinovic was notable on the back list as well. His game was simple as the middle of a back three, clearing high crosses away from the back and keeping the middle channel free.

The game played out as a chess match for the first 25 minutes with either side looking for an advantage, but finding nothing.

Hasal was not tested until the 27’, when Portland registered their first shot of the match. But it was directly at the goalkeeper, who handled it efficiently.

The half seemed to be heading to a draw, but VAR overruled that. A collision in the Whitecaps’s box occurred when Dajome jumped into a Portland attacker, knocking him down.

While no call came from referee Silviu Petrescu on the pitch, the video assistant referee called down a minute later for the play to be reviewed. It was quickly called back and the penalty awarded. 

Dairon Asprilla put the Timbers up with the penalty conversion just before the half, leaving work for the ‘Caps in the second.

The second half

The intensity Sartini demanded was there to begin the second half, but it didn’t last. The Whitecaps found themselves on the end of an organized Portland attack.

That attack was exemplified by players like Asprilla, who carved through four ‘Caps players to make a decent cross. On a few occasions, the Whitecaps found themselves on the receiving end of quality Portland play.

It paid off for the visitors. They doubled their tally in the 60’ as Jaroslaw Niezgoda caught Jungwirth flat-footed.

Dajome made it a game in the 75’. He found himself on the end of a cross from Caicedo that went past Gauld and two defenders. The Columbian hit the ball into the far top corner to halve the Timber lead.

But it didn’t last.. Only two minutes later, Yimmi Chara bullied  the Whitecaps defence to regain the two-goal lead, pushing through Gutierrez and Veselinovic.

Gauld tried to propel the ‘Caps attack forward. In the 81’, he slid into an oncoming low cross, seemingly trying to will the ball across the line, but it went wide.

In the 86’, he was taken down in the box., but no penalty was given. VAR called the play back and it was reviewed by Petrescu, who eventually awarded the PK.

Dajome, the ‘Caps penalty taker from last year, stepped up, but goalkeeper Aljaz Ivacic guessed the direction correctly and palmed it away.

But VAR wasn’t done. The ‘Caps were awarded another penalty in stoppage time that led to a quick review. The referee kept his call on the pitch.

This time, it was Gauld to the spot. His no-nonsense approach gave the Whitecaps a second goal on the night, but that was as far as they could take it.

Portland took this first meeting of the teams 3-2, giving them a much-needed 3 points in both the MLS table and the Cascadia Cup.

What was said

Sartini got straight to the point on his feelings after the game.

“I’m pissed,” he said bluntly. “I’m very pissed.”

He said Portland played a “sleepy” style, and his side got lulled into it. He reiterated that intensity is what the Whitecaps need, no matter what the opposition throws at them.

“We conceded some stupid goals, but I’m happy with the effort,” he added, noting the second goal against them as particularly at fault.

Sartini also mentioned that if the intensity from the second half had been present in the first, it would have been a much different match.

Stat of the game

Surprisingly enough, the Whitecaps posted an xG of 2.6 to Portland’s 1.3. 

Looking ahead

Next up is three games on the road for the ‘Caps, with the first being a cross Canada trip to Montreal on April 16. Kickoff is at noon PST.