The Vancouver Whitecaps have been like British rock band Muse in some ways this season so far.

Muse baited their fans by thinking they would release a metal album after releasing Won’t Stand Down as the lead single last year. That was one of the heaviest songs they have ever done and fans were wanting a metal album for years it looked like they would get one. Unfortunately, their ninth album Will of the People turned out to be a mediocre album consisting of the different sounds they did over the years. Of course, many fans were disappointed because Won’t Stand Down showed a lot of promise.

Similarly, The Whitecaps came into the season with some hopes and expectations and those skyrocketed after an excellent first half against RSL. But disappointed their fans by allowing two quick goals in the second half and losing the game.

It was a similar story Saturday night as the Whitecaps once again led at halftime. This time, it was against the San Jose Earthquakes in San Jose’s PayPal Park. Like Muse, the Whitecaps showed promise and hope but they ended up having a subpar second half and ended up with nothing and leaving many fans disappointed. At least Muse released Origin of Symmetry and in my opinion, that is one of the greatest albums of all time. The Whitecaps? Not much success in MLS unfortunately.

Pressure was building but it wasn’t enough for Vancouver as they took their foot off the gas yet again. Once again, there were lots of good things but at the same time, a lot of causes for concern.

Starting XI and Thoughts

There weren’t much changes from last week against Real Salt Lake. Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini decided to go with the same three midfielders. That’s fine because Andrés Cubas, Julian Gressel and Alessandro Schöpf looked solid last week.

Ryan Gauld was paired up with Pedro Vite as the two number 10s. Vite looked a bit shaky coming off the bench last game as his passes were off the mark. Perhaps a start will help him settle down and frankly, he deserves a start after a solid preseason.

Brian White struggled up top against RSL. He wasn’t capitalizing on his chances and his first touch was not good. But he looked decent with the pressing. However, Sergio Córdova, the new DP deserves a start but we should expect to see him earlier than we did last week.

Mathias Laborda makes his Whitecaps debut. He is on his natural right side with Ranko Veselinović. Sartini did not play Laborda against RSL due to tactical reasons.

It was eyebrow-raising to see the same fullbacks as last week. Javain Brown looked good and did get the goal but he started looking shaky defensively in the second half. We all know Martins can pass the ball but he can struggle defensively. Last week, he did struggle defensively as he looked slow getting back when Real Salt Lake was in transition.

Maybe this time around, he gets subbed off earlier for Ali Ahmed or Ryan Raposo. Raposo and Ahmed probably deserved the starts. Both can move well up and down the pitch and have shown to be reliable defensively in the past.

Did the Whitecaps build off their first half from last week and learn their lessons from the second half? Well…

First half thoughts

It was…tight to start the match. (Like a playoff game.)

The Whitecaps got two corner kicks early and White got a good header but it was blocked by one of San Jose’s defenders. The Earthquakes made some good runs down the flanks but they couldn’t test Yohei Takaoka as Laborda and Veselinović made good tackles and clearances. There was even a big block by Veselinović on a shot from Cristian Espinoza.

There was also a nice long pass by Vite early on and that led to the Whitecaps having some good possession in the Earthquakes half but couldn’t get a good chance on Earthquakes goalkeeper Daniel.

Less than 20 minutes in the Whitecaps showed good intensity with the press. It paid off too. Cubas took the ball away from Carlos Gruezo and found Gressel who made an excellent through ball to Schöpf who used his first touch to slot the ball past Daniel. Schöpf went through the Earthquakes defence like how the Rhine River through the Austrian-Swiss border.

The press was working for the second straight week early on. The Whitecaps had four interceptions less than 20 minutes in. Not bad at all.

Takaoka once again looked very calm in goal. He displayed how good he is with the ball on his feet and stopped an Earthquakes header shortly after Schöpf’s goal He might not be over 6’0″ but he made a really good jump to grab the ball. Takaoka likes to come off his line and grab the ball and less than half an hour into this game he did it several times. Another reason why the Whitecaps signed him from Yokohama F. Marinos. In the 31st minute, Takaoka made his best save in the match at that point by stopping 19-year-old Cade Cowell.

Early on, Laborda looked solid. He was making quick and passes clearances and looked good with the ball.

One thing that has impressed me about Ryan Gauld in this young season is his ability to get in behind the defenders when the Whitecaps are in transition. He was doing it in San Jose and in the 36th minute he took White’s pass but he couldn’t get good control of the ball. If he did, it would have been a tap-in for a two-goal lead.

Espinoza looked dangerous for San Jose but we couldn’t forget Jeremy Ebobisse who scored their only goal last week against Atlanta United. He also scored in both games against Vancouver last season. Ebobisse is great with his head and I thought he tied the game when he headed Espinoza’s cross but it just went…just wide.

It was a lot like the first half of last week. The Whitecaps’ pressure was being led by the midfield and Takaoka looked calm in goal. The Whitecaps looked dangerous on the counter but the wide areas were getting exposed like how Jimmy McGill exposed his brother Chuck’s “condition” in that famous episode of Better Call Saul. Ok, maybe not that much but Martins was once again a weak link and looked slow coming back.

Once again, lots to like in the first half but could what about the second half?

Second half thoughts

The Whitecaps gave Ebobisse too much space in the 51st minute. Fortunately for them, he blasted it over Takaoka. Ebobisse looked like he was an island of his own and the Whitecaps can’t be given him or any player that much space.

Sartini was true to his word: he made early substitutions. White came off for Córdova in the 55th minute. With the Whitecaps 1-0, it was a good opportunity not only for Córdova to make an impact but he also can help them find that insurance marker. As I write this, the Whitecaps are still up by one and Córdova nearly got his head on the ball in the box but Daniel beat him to it.

The Venezuelan knows how to find space for himself to get scoring chances so the ‘Caps need that ability to work.

The Earthquakes with the bulk of possession looked poised to get a tying goal. But they have been so wasteful. Takaoka continued to be calm in goal but a bunch of San Jose’s chances were wide of the goal.

Not only was Gauld running in from behind and making good forward passes, but he was also trying to help out defensively. Now that is a leader.

Speaking of leaders the captain Russell Teibert came on along with Cristian Dájome for Gressel and Vite in the 64th minute. At this rate, you could hear every Whitecaps fan yelling “No God, please No!”

Not long after, it happened. Ebobisse finally got a header to go past Takaoka for his 14th headed goal since 2019. No other MLS player has gotten more headers than him in that time. It was also a nice ball from Jamiro Monteiro on the set piece. Once again, the Whitecaps got caught napping for a split second and paid the price.

Then, it happened again. The Earthquakes charged their way down the pitch and the Whitecaps defenders looked like a lost school of fish. Carlos Akapo the substitute made them pay after the Earthquakes made several quick passes. You got to admit, that was pretty sick soccer from the Earthquakes.

It also didn’t help the Whitecaps were whiffing on their chances and barely tested Daniel in the second half. Dájome tried to get a scoring chance but his pass went nowhere and was over the byline. Maybe he was passing to the invisible player on his right?

There was also a good chance on a set piece from Sebastian Berhalter as the ball went off Brown and Córdova but Daniel managed to snag it in the nick of time. Not long after Teibert nearly got on the Whitecaps fans’ good side with a chance on his own but Daniel made a sharp save.

With stoppage time just starting, Takaoka came up huge again with a great save off Benji Kikanović’s header. If anything gave the Whitecaps hope, it should have been them.

But unfortunately, they couldn’t even get up the pitch as the Earthquakes were doing a good job of gaining possession and keeping it. The Whitecaps were really struggling with batting for the ball late. It felt like the Whitecaps barely had the ball in stoppage time and for the majority of the second half.

Then the fat lady sang and that was it.

Once again, the Whitecaps had a strong first half and scored first but they gave up two quick goals and ended up with zero points. The people of Vancouver seeing this game thought the same thing: “Same old Whitecaps.”

What was said

Vanni Sartini thought the game was more even unlike last week against RSL.

“An even game in the first half, an even game in the second half,” he said. “We haven’t won here since 2015, we fought.”

Not to be the nerd emoji, but the last time the Whitecaps won in San Jose was actually in 2018 when Yordy Reyna, Kei Kamara, and Cristian Techera scored three goals in the second half for a 3-2 comeback win.

The Whitecaps head coach was asked about the team’s mentality in the last two games as they have blown 1-0 first-half leads twice.

“I don’t know if it’s a mental thing, twice we were up and went down,” he said. Not much of an answer is it?

I asked Sartini about his substitutions and specifically why he took Gressel and did not take off any of the fullbacks.

“The game went through the 8s and we needed fresh legs and that’s why I brought Rusty on,” he said. “I also thought Luis and Javain were doing an honest job, so I wanted fresh legs. [in the midfield] The plan was to keep going, try to win the ball high and attack the space behind. That’s why we made changes to players in the higher positions.”

Sartini also said he wanted to make two late substitutions but Schöpf getting hurt changed that.

He also spoke about looking ahead to Wednesday’s match against Real Espana in the CONCACAF Champions League.

“We need to take the lessons of, being compact…when we don’t have the ball because it is going to hard to win the ball high and get possession,” said Sartini. “We need to have our chins up and go 100 mp/h because Wednesday is very important.”

Julian Gressel was the only player to speak to the media after the match and he kind of summed it up.

“I think we weren’t clinical enough,” he said.

He was also asked about his new role as a midfielder instead of a wingback.

“It’s obviously a bit different than playing on the outside,” said Gressel. ” But I think my role is clearly defined…and that helps me…It’s been fun to play in the midfield.”

Stat of the match

The Whitecaps had an expected goals rate of 0.7. That isn’t very good compared to the Earthquakes having 1.7 xG.

Best cause for concern

Now I know it is still early and anything can happen between now and Decision Day. But this is very concerning, especially since the Whitecaps led in the first half of both games.

Best Pain of Vancouver Sports ™

Too bad there isn’t a Connor Bedard in this year’s MLS SuperDraft.

Best look at what you’ve done

The fact that the Whitecaps conceded the two goals after Teibert comes on will make you Joker laugh.

Best Drancer impression

This Pun is on the level of The Athletic’s Thomas Drance. Where is Mike Martignago and his vomit guy GIF when you need him? Tears in my eyes.

Best peak MLS

If the ball went in, that would’ve been peak MLS. We would be seeing it all week on Sportscentre and it would be one of, if not the best goals of all time. This would’ve been the birth of a God-tier meme. It also would have been one hell of a way for White to find his scoring touch.

Maybe in an alternate universe, this went in, the Whitecaps won the game and after the season, White went on the win the Golden Boot as a result.

Tweet of the match

I thought of this as well and this is what made me ask Sartini about his substitutions. I get changing the midfield because they wanted to maintain the pressure. But is that sustainable in soccer these days? Probably not.

It was also clear Martin was gassed. By the midway point of the second half, he could barely track back. Fresh legs were needed on the wide areas especially on the left because Espinoza was having a field day with Martins.

After one of Martins and Brown came off, (or both) then the midfielders could change. But I’m not a soccer coach. This is coming from a guy whose only coaching experience comes from FIFA Career Mode.

Up next

As mentioned, the Whitecaps play Real Espana in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday at BC Place. Kickoff is at 7 pm.

Their next MLS match is against FC Dallas on Saturday, March 11 which is also at BC Place. Note the start time because that one starts at 2 pm.