The Vancouver Whitecaps grabbed a deserved point on the road in Minnesota, thanks to a whistle-beating goal from Simon Becher. In a match where the away side dominated in shots, possession, xG, passing and passing accuracy, the team celebrated the final goal with the belief that it could help to change the conversation around their early season struggles.
The starting XI
Head coach Vanni Sartini stuck with the 4-3-2-1 that worked in the preseason but had failed to show its true potential so far in the regular season. He was also dealing with a could international call-ups, which did bring a few changes to the lineup.
Sebastian Berhalter took the no. 6 position with Andrés Cubas travelling to play with Paraguay. In addition, Mathías Laborda slotted in a right-back with Jervain Brown headed to play with his Jamaican teammates.
Beyond that, the starting XI could pretty much write itself these days. With Sergio Córdova injured, Brian White got the start. This will also be a time for him to get over his goalless hump in the MLS, especially after netting in both matches in the CONCACAF Champions League against Real C.D. España.
The first half
The Whitecaps started strongly from the whistle, pushing forward and taking advantage of their numerical advantage in the midfield. Ballplay flowed through the fullbacks of Ryan Raposo and Laborda into the dual no. 10s of Ryan Gauld and Cristian Dájome.
Julian Gressel had the first opportunity in the sixth minute, a strong one-touch volley that got through the 18-yard box. The cross was expertly taken by Gauld to find Greseel, but the shot was directly saved by Clint Irwin.
But early dominance was squandered as Minnesota began to find their comfort in the match around the halfway point of the first half. By the 30th minute, the general direction of play had changed in favour of the home side.
In the 40th minute, the Loons found the net. Ménder García rose above the centre-back pairing of Tristan Blackmon and Ranko Veselinović to find the crossed ball. It was yet another headed goal against the Whitecaps—albeit this one from open play—something that has plagued Vancouver this season.
In a half where the Whitecaps lead in shots, xG, passing accuracy and corners, but went into the locker room without leading in the one stat that matters: goals.
The second half
The Whitecaps attempted to come out of the gates in the second half in the same vein as how they started the first. But Minnesota already with 45 minutes under their belt, was prepared.
Vancouver now found itself with difficulty in moving forward. The Loons were efficient in clogging up the middle and forcing the Whitecaps out to the sides. Anything they attempted to cross into the 18-yard box was dealt with simply.
Around the hour mark, the Whitecaps made a couple of changes: Ali Ahmed on for Ryan Raposo and Pedro Vite on for Ryan Gauld. Gauld was seen limping after a challenge by Will Trapp.
But it was the addition of Ahmed that was the most noticeable for Vancouver. Hewew helped to stretch their attack, increasing the width and forcing Minnesota out of the comfortable compact form.
It took only a few minutes for the Whitecaps to start playing themselves into opportunities, one from Dájome and the other from Vite. Neither ended in a goal, but it was a more positive play after the difficulty of the early second half.
The addition of Simon Becher with 20 minutes left to go also gave White an attacking partner on the same line as him. Both players looked comfortable playing with one another, and it did elevate Vancouver’s attack.
The Whitecaps thought they had the equalizer in the 77th minute. Gressel whipped in a free kick, which was flicked on by White to Blackmon. Unfortunately, the centre-back was offside and the goal was disallowed.
Whitecap fans could take some satisfaction in seeing Déiber Caicedo finally take the pitch in the 82nd minute after a lengthy spell on the physio’s table. It was his first match time since getting injured on June 28, 2022.
With the season starting to feel as though it was truly getting away from the Whitecaps for the second year in a row, everything was thrown into the attack. Even Yohei Takaoka came up for a corner just to add an extra man in the 18-yard box.
But it was Simon Becher, substituted on in the 70th minute, who gave the Whitecaps their breathing room. Vite crossed the ball in from the right. There was an attempt by Minnesota to head it away, but it ended up flicked on to the far post where Becher was waiting. He slid into the ball, putting it off Irwin, then the post, before it passed over the line.
It was the final play of the game and Becher’s first MLS goal. The Whitecaps earned their hard-fought point on the road.
And it should feel good. It should take some pressure off this team and this coach. But there are still questions about what it will take to get this team over the line to a win, what players can make it happen and whether Sartini is the coach to do it.
What was said
“It looked like a movie,” Sartini said after the game. “We were playing well. First half was really good, first 30 minutes really good. We could have scored one, two goals easy.”
Vancouver’s coach credited Minnesota with a “very good goal,” but said that the Whitecaps were in control.
“We were the owner of the game. We were in charge of the game for the entire game, both when we were playing with our Christmas tree and…the 4-4-2.”
About Becher’s goal, Sartini called him a “poacher” who can come on in the last portion of games to score get well-deserved goals.
For his part, Becher said his goal came down to a striker’s instinct.
“At the end of the game, we were really throwing it out there, and it fell to me. I just put it away,” he said.
He said the players are “willing to go to war for each other,” which contributed to their never-say-die attitude at the end of the match.
Stat of the match
There are so many to pick from. On paper, the Whitecaps dominated this match. Perhaps most telling is the number of shots for either team. Minnesota had eight. The Whitecaps had 23. Vancouver needs to work on finishing, but they are getting into the right positions.
The Whitecaps have three matches at BC Place coming up, starting with CF Montreal on April 1 at 7:30 p.m.