The Vancouver Whitecaps know exactly what they will need to work on this coming week as they prepare for the second match of their Best-of-Three series against LAFC.
Defending set pieces.
A dominant 5-2 scoreline favoured the home side. But of their five goals, four of them came from either corners or free kicks.
“It’s pretty simple to make an analysis that he have to do much better on defending set plays,” head coach Vanni Sartini said after the match. “We conceded three goals from corners. I think it’s impossible to win games if you concede three goals from the corner.”
The home side spilled the first blood, a well-executed corner in the 18th minute. Yohei Takaoka got down quickly to stop the initial attempt but could only palm it to the side.
Ryan Hollingshead, unmarked just off the post, jumped on the rebound and slotted it in behind the Whitecaps’ goalkeeper as he tried to recover to his feet. The lack of defence watching Hollingshead gave the fullback enough time to settle the ball and place it where he wanted.
Brian White levelled the match just under 10 minutes later, with a sublime curling shot to get around Maxime Crépeau.
Andrés Cubas broke up an LAFC breakout and sent the ball through the opposing defenders to find the attentive striker. White moved in from the left, all alone, and punished LAFC for their lax passing for a beautiful shot.
But Denis Bouanga stepped up quickly and showed why he won the MLS Golden Boot this season. It took only a couple of minutes, in the 29th, to grab the lead again with a strong run into the 18-yard box and a hard shot beyond the fingertips of Takaoka.
The Whitecaps kept fighting and were rewarded again in the 40th minute. Ryan Gauld was brought down to the left of the 18-yard box. His free kick was central into the 18-yard box, finding Sam Adekugbe completely unmarked. The Canadian fullback got high and headed the ball just inside the far post to bring the match to a tie once again.
Hollingshead put LAFC back in the lead in the 53rd minute. It was messy defending from the Whitecaps on a corner kick. The ball bounced around a number of LAFC players before finding the fullback who put it away for a brace on the night.
Bouanga added another from a free kick. Rather than taking the kick, the ball was teed-up for the LAFC winger who hit it low and hard from outside the 18-yard box.
Another was added by Jesus Murillo. The centre-back got above everyone to head in the corner cross, emphasizing LAFC’s dominance in the second half.
“We came here to try to be aggressive, to try to win it, risking even a little more. It was going in the right direction in the first half, to be honest. Unfortunately in the second half, they killed us,” Sartini said.
Sartini felt the performance was decent but that the situation may have gotten away from them.
“The only way to beat a strong team is to be perfect,” he said. “Last week [on Decision Day], we were almost perfect. The only thing we didn’t do perfectly was taking the penalties. If not, we would have won. In this game, we’ve been more that okay for 60 minutes. The defending on the set plays killed us.”
Bouanga, Hollingshead both hit for braces
Before the match, Bouanga was presented with the MLS Golden Boot for his 20 goals throughout the season, the most of any player.
He added a couple more that that tally to add to his MLS Playoffs records.
Sartini called his second goal “a banger” as he hit it low, eluding everyone in front of him in the 18-yard box.
Hollingshead, who only had four goals this entire MLS season, also had a brace.
“Hollingshead, I think has been an amazing player for the last 10 years in the league. So, we know what he can bring.”
The LAFC fullback has a knack for scoring against the Whitecaps. He had another brace against Vancouver last year on Mar. 20, 2022.
Sartini said he actually joked with Hollingshead during the match in Los Angeles in June, saying it was finally a game he did not score against the Whitecaps.
It seems as though Hollingshead found his touch again.
A clean slate for B.C. Place
With this round being a best-of-three series, the Vancouver Whitecaps have no need to worry about scorelines, only wins and losses. There are no aggregate goal counts to think about.
This means the match back in Vancouver on Nov. 5 is essentially a clean slate.
“We need to build on the performance of the first half, the performance of the game one week ago (on Decision Day), knowing that in Vancouver, it’s going to be a little different environment-wise.”
Sartini said the players have to learn from their struggles, but they do not need to think about the end result.
“The message is [to the player] is that it’s not over,” he said.
“It’s like a league game after we lost a league game the week before. And we have the advantage to be in Vancouver, that it’s a completely different situation than [Los Angeles]. And our objective is to come [back the L.A.] when it’s going to be the third game because I think we have all the quality and possibility to do it.”
Game two of the series is back in Vancouver on Nov. 5. Kickoff is at 4:30 p.m. at B.C. Place.