It is crunch time for the Vancouver Whitecaps but it also seems like time is running out.
The Whitecaps are stuck in the trenches. The Western Conference is a dogfight. Only five points separates second place from ninth place. The playoff picture in the Western Conference is like a pack of sardines. Vancouver sits sixth with 43 points.
But they have been treading water. After the win over Toronto FC on September 16, the Whitecaps have lost two and drawn through. What made the draws hurt was that they were against opponents they should beat. The Colorado Rapids have been eliminated from playoff contention and are competing with Toronto FC for the wooden spoon. DC United has not been in the best form in September.
Had the Whitecaps won one or two of their last four games, they would be sitting in the top four of the West. But this whole season has been full of coulda, woulda, shoulda.
Yes, fatigue has played a factor. The Whitecaps just went on a seven-game road trip, which was supposed to be just six had not been for inclement weather in Colorado in June. It’s not easy going from the heat of Houston to the altitudes of Sandy, Utah and Commerce City, Colorado.
Fatigue could explain the defensive errors, mistimed jumps and runs and wasted counterattacks. But it can’t be an excuse.
“No one is 100%,” said Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini after the 2-2 draw against DC United. “This is like the millionth game of the season and likely the sixth or seventh game in 20 days…not even the kit man is at 100%. But at the same time, the other team is tired too. We can’t take that as an excuse. We need to be better in certain situations.”
With Western Conference winning St. Louis SC on Wednesday, Cascadia rival Seattle Sounders on Saturday and defending MLS Cup champions LAFC on Decision Day, they need to push all the chips forward.
Brian White and Ryan Gauld: Batman and Robin
One constant, actually two constants with the Whitecaps is the play of Brian White and Ryan Gauld. They were at it again on Saturday as Gauld assisted White for the opening goal and Gauld scored the penalty that had the Whitecaps briefly up.
White and Gauld have been one of, actually, the most lethal duo in MLS. They have 41 goal contributions together and that is the most in MLS.
Those two always know where to find each other. Gauld crossing to White has become the Whitecaps’ trademark move.
What about the others?
It feels like every goal scored by the Whitecaps has been from either White or Gauld. But you can only rely on two players so much.
Since Leagues Cup, the Whitecaps have had only one goal scored by someone not named White or Gauld. That was Mathias Laborda’s header in the first half of the 2-2 draw against the Colorado Rapids. the last time, someone not named White or Gauld scored a goal before that was Sergio Córdova, who is now with Alanyaspor in the Turkish Super League. He scored a late goal to seal a Whitecaps 4-2 victory over LA Galaxy on July 15.
The Whitecaps have scored 51 goals this season which is second most in the Western Conference behind St. Louis SC’s 62 and that is tied for sixth in MLS with the New England Revolution. Gauld and White have scored 25 of those and that is 49% of the Whitecaps goals this season.
They need others to step up.
Simon Becher and Pedro Vite are after White and Gauld in the Whitecaps goals list with four a piece. Vite hasn’t scored in MLS play since July and Simon Becher has not scored since May 6 against Minnesota United.
Becher has not been getting many minutes lately due to White’s stellar play but when he does get minutes, he needs to capture that early-season form he had as a super sub.
Vite is more known for being a playmaker but I would like to see him take shots as he did earlier in the season.
It’s not goals that the others need to step on. Richie Laryea, Sam Adekugbe and Junior Hoilett were acquired for more offence. Hoilett and Adekugbe are starting to get settled in. There needs to be more from Laryea. He’s got the pace and has looked encouraging but there needs to be more creativity.
There is also the defending.
Yohei Takaoka is still the best signing of the Whitecaps winter window. But since the shutout streak ended in early May, he’s looked average.
Takaoka was fifth in save percentage among MLS goalkeepers in early May at 78.7%. Now, he is 24th with 65.4% according to FotMob. That is quite the drop-off.
He’s let in some weak goals and made some mistakes like that goal Christian Benteke scored last Saturday. I’ve said a lot on Twitter: “That can’t happen” from Takaoka because he has proven he is a better goalkeeper than he is now.
Speaking of mistakes, they can really turn the tide of a game. In recent games, (you could even say several throughout this season) the momentum would turn against the Whitecaps after they concede a goal due to a costly mistake.
For instance, Ranko Veselinovic and Tristan Blackmon have proven to be a reliable centre-back duo but both of them can be quite mistake-prone. Blackmon in particular has been shaky in recent matches.
Teams around the league are noticing Gauld and White’s brilliance. The Whitecaps can’t be a one-trick pony.
While their dynamic duo is leading their way, the rest of the team should be following close behind, not being dragged along for the ride.