For the second time in the Vanni Sartini era, the Vancouver Whitecaps have clinched a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs after a resounding 3-0 win over St. Louis CITY.
A complete performance, the Whitecaps dominated from the first whistle, but were not able to open the scoring until the second half.
Sartini commended his team while also acknowledging that several St. Louis starting players were not a part of their starting XI.
“More than anything, I’m feeling very good because we played a top game against a very good team,” he said.
There was much to be happy about in the opening 20 minutes for the Whitecaps. They were moving the ball quickly and winning it back with their high press and aggressive midfield to clog up the space.
Chances were plenty as well, with Gauld, White, Ahmed and Brown all taking their opportunity.
“You could see from minute one, we wanted to win. We were hangry. Not hungry. Hangry. Angry and hungry from the last couple of performances. And we did well,” Sartini said.
It culminated with a VAR check in the 22nd minute as Brian White switched the ball to his right foot to avoid the defender, Josh Yaro. Yaro slid into White’s left foot, necessitating the VAR to radio down to the referee.
However, after a lengthy review, it was deemed no penalty as Yaro got a piece of the ball before the leg.
But the missed call did not phase the Whitecaps as they kept up their aggressive play, pushing forward and looking to exploit a St. Louis squad that looked devoid of ideas.
And their continued pressure eventually paid off…or so they thought. The Whitecaps thought Gauld got the opening goal in the 37th minute, an acrobatic effort from the captain. Instead, it was ticked off when VAR showed that Gauld was a free feet offside.
The second half started a little lacklustre as the Whitecaps were forced into a change. Andrés Cubas left early in the half looking to hold his arm.
But they did finally get their opener. A Ranko Veselinović clearance found White at the halfway line. The American streaked beyond his defender, breaking in all alone on a solidary Ben Lendt.
Lundt challenged, but White dinked the ball up and over the goalkeeper, sending the Whitecaps up by one in the 58th minute.
“I’m really happy [White] scored his 15 goals,” the head coach said. “And [Gauld] made another assist.”
And that was the nail driven into the dam that released the water. The Whitecaps kept on coming.
“What was difficult [in the second half] was not getting frustrated, … [or] trying to do things outside the game plan,” Sartini said.
A second was added in the 82nd minute. Gauld added another assist to his tally as he dished the to Sebastian Berhalter at the edge of the 18-yard box. His patience in picking out the corner was rewarded with his second goal of the season.
“That’s another thing I liked, the guys that came on, they did very well. Sebastian [Berhalter] did very well. Sam [Adekugbe] did very well. Pedro [Vite] did very well.”
Not to be outdone, Richie Laryea got his first as a Whitecap in the 96th minute. Sam Adekugbe cut the ball back to his Canadian counterpart, and Laryea slotted in the easy finish.
It was to be the final play of the night. The Vancouver Whitecaps 3-0 performance was enough to clinch a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“We didn’t make any silly mistakes defending. And that’s the difference. We always create a lot of chances every game. We always play very well. We always need a lot of chances to score, unfortunately. But at the end, it paid off big time today. So, I’m very happy.”
There’s no rest for the weary just yet. Vancouver heads out for their final road game of the regular season with a quick trip down to Seattle on October 7. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.