The Vancouver Whitecaps had to settle for a 1-1 draw against LAFC in a match that had plenty of action, missed penalties and cards.
A rollercoaster of a match in terms of momentum swings, the Whitecaps had opportunities to lock this one up. However, they were haunted by a familiar face in Maxime Crépeau.
“I think we did a very good game,” head coach Vanni Sartini said. “We did 75 minutes where we we been the better team on the field.”
Sartini chose a strong starting XI. Sebastian Berhalter started instead of the injured Andrés Cubas. Ryan Raposo also started as a right wingback, continuing his string a decent performances.
A slow start for the Whitecaps, it was up to Yohei Takaoka to keep his club level in the early minutes of the match. The Japanese goalkeeper had three early saves to make in the first ten minutes.
LAFC thought they had a possible penalty just before the 10-minute mark as Tristan Blackmon brought down his man, but referee Fotis Bazakos was not interested.
But it gave Vancouver time to play themselves into the match. They had their own penalty call a couple of minutes later, and with the help of VAR, it was deemed that Richie Laryea was hauled down in the 18-yard box.
“Richie today made a Richie Laryea masterclass. That’s the reason why he’s here,” Sartini said of the Canadian international.
Ryan Gauld stepped up to the spot as he had in the past. But this time, he could not beat former Whitecap goalkeeper Crépeau. Crépeau reacted quickly to Gauld’s low, hard shot, parrying it wide of the net.
It was LAFC that scored first, A long-range Denis Bouanga shot in the 34th minute. Takaoka got a piece of it, but it was not enough to keep it from finding the corner of the net.
The Whitecaps began the second half well but were still finding it difficult to move forward.
But find a way they did.
In the 58th minute, Laryea got around his defender and put a well-placed cross into the middle of the 18-yard box. It found a streaking Ali Ahmed coming in from the midfield.
The young Canadian international one-timed it over Crépeau to tie the match and give the Whitecaps a chance with half an hour left to go.
Laryea, a thorn in the side of the LAFC defence all night, managed to draw another penalty in the 73rd minute. Gauld stepped up again, but this time, he was denied by the crossbar.
“The normal xG for a penalty is 80 per cent. So every five, you should miss one. And [Gauld] didn’t. He went actually now … he’s missed two out of 12,” Sartini said, pointing to the Scot’s credible penalty conversion record.
Takaoka kept up his impressive form, stopping a breakaway chance from Mario González late in the match.
That’s the way it stayed. A 1-1 draw meant the Whitecaps took the home-and-away series in the regular season, but with the added CONCACAF Champions League matches between these two, their record over the calendar year has been 1W-1D-2L.
A night of announcements
Russell Teibert was honoured before the match for his 300th game in a Whitecaps’ shirt.
The captain has a club option for 2024 in his contract. No word as to whether it has been picked up.
But one contract that has been renewed is for the head coach. It was announced in BC Place that Sartini has inked a two-year extension to his contract, taking him to the end of the 2025 season.
Looking at the playoffs
With the MLS Regular Season done and dusted, the Whitecaps know their foe for the post-season. And it turns out LAFC and the Whitecaps are not finished with one another.
Round one will see the Whitecaps play LAFC in a best-of-three series starting next weekend.
“I … learned that we have the quality to try to beat them,” Sartini said. “To be honest, I think that the series now, if you have to ask, is 51-49 [per cent] for them because in case we go to a third game, it’s in LA and not here. But I think that we showed through the season that we are a good team. We are very, very, very close to their level, which don’t forget, is the level of the MLS Cup champions of last year. So, I’m pretty happy about it.”