The Vancouver Whitecaps’ dominant first 45 minutes was undone by a two-minute lapse of concentration in the second as Real Salt Lake won 2-1.
They were unable to capitalize on their plethora of chances, something that head coach Vanni Sartini said would have changed the game.
Previewing the Starting XI
Sartini also chose his 4-3-2-1 formation, the Christmas tree, that he used in every match throughout the preseason. It proved solid in the back, especially with the pairing of Tristan Blackmon and Ranko Veselinović as centre-backs.
But with Blackmon playing centrally in the back line, space was available for Javain Brown to draw into the lineup as the right-back.
The rest of the lineup should come as no surprise. Expect the midfield trio of Julian Gressel, Andrés Cubas and Alessandro Schöpf to be the primary choices in their respective positions.
The first half
The Whitecaps could take a few positives from their opening 10 minutes. They were moving the ball well and switching play with confidence.
In particular, Brown was strong at right back. He looked more confident in his role than he had last season, communicating and playing well with Cristian Dájome further up to pitch from him.
Vancouver continued to look dangerous, dominating in possession and opportunities throughout the first 20 minutes of the half.
And it paid off in the 24th minute. Gressel swung in a strong corner kick and found the head of Brown. It was the Jamaican’s first goal at BC Place, giving the Whitecaps the lead.
As play restarted, they also nabbed another off the quick movements of Dájome, but Real Salt Lake’s goalkeeper Zac MacMath came out strong to cut down the angle.
But the onslaught kept coming. The Whitecaps followed that up with chances several more chances only to be stymied by MacMath, who was good on first balls but looked shaky at holding onto them.
Real Salt Lake grew into the match around the 35th minute. They had a couple of attempts on Yohei Takaoko’s near post, but nothing that troubled the new Whitecaps goalkeeper.
It was a very positive 45 minutes from Sartini’s boys and begged the question: Could they sustain it?
The second half
The Whitecaps started the second half where they left off. Ryan Gauld came close with a chance and Gressel’s one-touch volley had fans jumping out of their seats.
However, Real Salt Lake kept finding space as well, unlocking Jefferson Savarino who came close to equalizing.
Takaoka was given more work to do in the second half as a result, which he dealt with as required. But he did look uneasy with a couple of his clearances, including a punch that did not get out of his 18-yard box.
But the Japanese goalkeeper improved throughout the half, getting down to redirect a low shot in the 62nd minute and making two much better punch clearances in the minutes immediately after.
But sloppy defending ended up punishing the Whitecaps. Justin glad got on the end of a corner set piece and tied the match in the 70th minute, a goal that had been coming for the visitors.
And Real Salt Lake kept coming. Damir Kreilach scored only two minutes later, quieting the home fans and forcing the Whitecaps into some needed substitutions.
The Whitecaps attempted to change the tie by bringing on Pedro Vite and new DP signing Córdova, but while there were opportunities, they went lacking.
Real Lake took the win, continuing a trend of not losing their first match, a streak that goes back to 2010.
What was said
Sartini said he felt the team was in charge of the bulk of play but that they did not take their opportunities when they were presented.
“Thinking we were dominating for 90 minutes is not realistic, but we were the best team for about 65 minutes in my opinion,” he said. “We did a lot of good things but we need to…[be] critical of today.”
Gauld, who wore the captain’s armband for the match, summed the game up in one word: “Frustrating.”
“We should have gotten something out of the game. The lesson here is we needed to take our chances…we can talk about the positives but there is a lot of frustration.”
Player of the match
Julian Gressel was strong in closing down RSL high up the pitch. His 91.4 per cent passing accuracy helped the Whitecaps be strong in transition and quickly set the attack behind RSL’s back line. However, his one-touch volley in the first half would have really helped if it had come off as planned.
The Whitecaps head on the road to face the San Jose Earthquakes on Mar. 4.