Finishing has been the story for the Vancouver Whitecaps this season.
The team looked to build off wins against CF Montreal and the Portland Timbers against Austin FC down in the state where everything is bigger. Austin FC has been disappointing out of the gate and like the Whitecaps, struggled to score goals.
Unfortunately, the nets aren’t bigger in Texas. If they were the game could have ended in a 10-10 draw instead of 0-0. Q2 Stadium has become one of the toughest places to play in for visiting sides in MLS. The Whitecaps getting a single point is fine. (It was also the hottest day of the year so far in Austin according to the Apple TV broadcast.) It also extends their unbeaten run to six straight games. Should it have been more? Yes.
This was one of the best performances from the Whitecaps this season, to say the least. Was there any part of the game that made you want to yell “No, God, Please No,” like Michael Scott? Other than the finishing, not really.
For starters, it is clear that the Whitecaps’ defending has improved in recent weeks, especially when it comes to headers. Ranko Veselinović, Tristan Blackmon and Javain Brown were doing a good job of not hesitating and attacking the ball as quickly as possible.
The first half was eventful. Andrés Cubas was back in the starting lineup after his shoulder contusion sustained last week against Portland. He did not look rusty at all. The Paraguayan/Argentinian N’golo Kante was his usual self. Despite being only 5’4″, it is still amazing to see how he can knock players off the ball like how Toad and his small Kart always manage to knock you off the track in Mario Kart. (I hate Toad in Mario Kart, the little mushroom head always causes me problems.)
Ryan Gauld, Ali Ahmed and Julian Gressel were leading the attack charge in the first half. Gressel was on a mission to score and took four shots in the game and all were in the first half. That included a free kick that went just wide right. It didn’t miss by much but it wasn’t quite his tempo.
The first half had chances from both teams. Maximiliano Urruti, who has been the Whitecaps’ kryptonite for years had a few good chances in the first half. But he wasn’t firing on all cylinders on Saturday night.
Things kind of died down in the second half. Both teams’ midfielders were going at each other. Speaking of the midfield, it was another great outing from Ahmed. His passes were very clean and he was making some good runs offensively and defensively.
Brian White had a great chance to make it three goals in three MLS matches but Brad Stuver made the save. Yeah, he has to score there. At times, White must think the ball is too good for its home. This was one of those times.
Speaking of Stuver, he and Yohei Takaoka were kind of having a goalkeeping battle. Takaoka was solid all match and his best save came up late in the match.
There were some bad passes from the Whitecaps and one of those was from Luis Martins which led to Takaoka’s save above. He looked fine tracking back tho.
Overall, the Whitecaps battled well with Austin FC but finishing is once again the big storyline like. It’s the same ol’ situation.
What was said
Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini was pleased with the result.
“It was a very good game against a very good team,” he said. “I think hands down the best team we’ve faced the entire season…I think the tie is a fair result. I think we had the best chances…it was a very open game, we’ll take the point and go from there.”
Sartini, of course, talked about the lack of finishing.
“We need to be more clinical and at the same time we need to be more solid when we don’t have the ball,” he said. “The standings mislead you. They (Austin FC) for sure will be in the playoffs…with us.”
It’s a bold claim but the season is still young.
Sartini also mentioned that players who didn’t play a lot so far this season, such as Karifa Yao will be playing for WhitecapsFC2 who are facing Minnesota United 2 at Swangard Stadium next Saturday. WhitecapsFC2 also face LA Galaxy II at Swangard this Sunday by the way
Takaoka was pleased with getting a third straight clean sheet and the result.
“We played well…it was a tough game, the atmosphere was excellent,” said the goalkeeper.
Ali Ahmed was asked about playing in the midfield.
“I grew up playing in the midfield, I felt like the old me came out,” he said. “Vanni makes my job easier and he lays out the tactics. I got Andres behind me and Julian on the right. Those guys make it easier for me.”
Stat of the match
Ahmed had a 90% pass completion rate. (26/29)
Struggling isn’t the right word for it. The team played well but the real struggle came in front of Brad Stuver. I get what Peter is saying tho. Depending on how the rest of the season plays out, games like this could be looked at back like: “Man if only we won that game, we’d be in the playoffs right now!”
We need a soccer-specific stadium!
You can’t help but feel jealous of the crowd and atmosphere Austin FC and many other MLS teams have. If only the Waterfront Stadium plans went through. Nothing against BC Place but a soccer-specific stadium would have been nice.
Thank goodness for that rout over Montreal. Without it, the XG stats wouldn’t have been as high. Without that Montreal game, the Whitecaps would have the reputation of stormtroopers: bad at shooting. They are hitting the net but the ball needs to go in.
Checking in on the Vanni Out Crowd
Looks like Sartini’s seat isn’t as hot as it was a month ago. But in sports, things could change quickly. We’ll see how the Whitecaps do after their bye week. Last season, they benefited from a week off due to the Seattle Sounders being in the CONCACAF Champions League.
That was after they won one out of their first eight before May and afterwards, they were the second-best team in the Western Conference until the end of the season. For our sake, let’s hope they can go on that type of run again but amp it up to 100.
As mentioned, the Whitecaps have a week off and their next game is on Saturday, April 29 against the Colorado Rapids at BC Place. Kickoff is at 7:30 PM. Seriously, why does every game have to be at 7:30 local time?