The Vancouver Whitecaps knew that a defensively sound match was all that was required of them to reach the quarterfinal of the CONCACAF Champions League. And while they defeated Real C.D. España by a score of 7-3 on aggregate, defensive frailties were on display, especially on set pieces.
Previewing the starting XI
The Whitecaps decided to go for youth in their second-leg matchup against Real C.D. España. First starts of the season were given to Thomas Hasal, Karifa Yao, Sebastian Berhalter, Ali Ahmed and J.C. Ngando.
However, head coach Vanni Sartini also balanced his lineup with a solid attacking line of Sergio Córdova (who just received a national call-up to Venezuela), Cristian Dájome and Pedro Vite.
Several interesting names were also named to the bench, furthering the youth contingent of this squad. Isaac Boehmer, Levonte Johnson, Vasco Fry, Simon Becher, Kamron Habibullah and Matteo Campagna were listed as potential substitutions.
Two things could be noted from this lineup. First, it was a strong back line for Sartini. Yao was the only newcomer in the back 4, but he comes with experience, having played with C.F. Montreal and Cavalry FC in the Canadian Premier League.
Second, the strong attacking line meant the Whitecaps would push for that tie-ending away goal. With the slowly-becoming-archaic away-goal rule still in place for the CONCACAF Champions League, any goal for the Whitecaps would mean that España would need at least seven of their own to qualify.
The first half
The opening 10 minutes saw an exchange of opportunities. Hasal had to be quick in his reaction save from a free header. Coming off a corner kick, the header in the 18-yard box was unmarked, something that has been an issue so far this season for the Whitecaps.
Vancouver hit back a few minutes later with their first chance. Vite had ample time to get off a hard, low shot. He beat the goalkeeper but not the post.
Pedro Báez of España had a number of chances throughout the first 15 minutes. His quick movement and smart positioning kept him in space between the Whitecaps’ defence and midfield lines. But Hasal was able to deal with the long-range shots the attacker had managed.
Concerning throughout the first half was the number of free headers in the 18-yard box given to España players. The apprehensive play of Yao was a contributing cause of this.
But the Whitecaps could be happy with Hasal in net. Called on several times for quick reaction saves, he dealt with each one calmly, allowing his team time to play themselves into the match.
With the majority of play moving in España’s favour, the Whitecaps would need to sort themselves out in the second half. Admittedly, not a lot would be required from the Canadian club as they only needed to survive another 45 minutes with a 5-0 lead.
The second half
The Whitecaps began the second half with a shift in formation and a change in personnel. Raposo, who had received a yellow card for timewasting in the first half, was taken off in favour of Jervain Brown, facilitating a move to a back 3.
It did seem to help as Yao was not left alone in space as much. Having centre-backs on either side of the Canadian player seemed to help with his game early in the half.
A fairly lacklustre half for 20 minutes, Brian White changed that in the 66th minute. Brown cut inside from the right and played past this man to make the pass to White at the edge of the 18-yard box. The American striker’s one-time shot was enough to beat the goalkeeper and make any fightback from España difficult.
But they would try. Only a minute later, Getsel Montes finally got España on the board to tie the match. But the away goal from the Whitecaps meant they would need six more with just over 20 minutes left to play.
España found their second in the 76th minute. Ramiro Rocca’s beautifully timed shot off a corner kick gave the home side a winning score in the match. But they still required more if they wanted to win the tie.
Simon Becher would add one late in the game for the Whitecaps. Coming in the 82nd minute, Berhalter’s pass found the smartly timed run of the Whitecaps’ 2022 draft pick.
España kept fighting through their set pieces. Their third came in the 86th minute, a brace for Montes, leaving Whitecaps’ fans concerned about the state of defending set pieces for their team.
What was said
After the match, Sartini was asked about their play during defending set pieces. The Whitecaps’ head coach, a fan of zonal marking over man marking, said that playing zonal does not mean “standing like a stick.”
“We need to attack the ball,” he added.
In terms of qualifying for the quarter-finals, Sartini said he was very happy.
“It means a lot,” he said. “We’ll most likely play against LAFC, one of the best teams in North America. It’s a great stage for us to try to advance to the semi-finals.”
The Whitecaps continue their road trip in California where they will face LA Galaxy on the weekend. Kick-off is Saturday, Mar. 18 at 7:30 p.m.
In the CONCACAF Champions League, they will face the winner between LAFC and Liga Deportiva Alajuelense. LAFC lead that tie by a score of 3-0.