Carson, Calif. — Think back to March 7, just before the pandemic, before there was even a whisper of a “bubble” at a MLS is Back Tournament. Before Lucas Cavallini and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez managed to score for their new clubs. That was when Tossaint Ricketts grabbed the lone goal as the Vancouver Whitecaps beat the LA Galaxy in their own yard.
My, how times have changed.
Now, in the back stretch of an unprecedented season, these two sides met again. Both clubs were scrapping for every point they can in a tight playoff push, under the lights in Carson infant of a now empty “yard.”
Coming into this one, Vancouver had strung together a pair of 2-1 victories against Real Salt Lake and LAFC. Playing much different sets of 90 minutes, Vancouver looked to the bottom of the conference for their next foe. Determined not to undermine their opponents — who were winless in their last seven — Vancouver kept quiet throughout the week when asked about LA’s struggles.
Sticking to his guns, head coach Marc Dos Santos went with a classic and simple 4-4-2. The squad was unchanged from Vancouver’s 2-1 win over LAFC last weekend, apart from Michael Baldisimo replacing the suspended Janio Bikel. Serbian centerback Ranko Veselinovic picked up his 12th start for the club, triggering the purchase option for a reported fee of $650,000 CAD. Meanwhile, captain Russell Teibert made his 180th MLS appearance, setting a new club record as he overtook Jordan Harvey.
However, Guillermo Barros Schelotto chopped and changed his XI, going with Efrain Alvarez and Giancarlo Gonzalez and a 4-3-3. With no Chicharito to start, LA aimed to stick with their much more promising record without “Little Pea.” Yony Gonzalez was the lone striker for the Galaxy, still looking for his first goal in a LA kit.
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) October 19, 2020
Whitecaps: Can’t beat around the Bush
A sticky opening few minutes started Vancouver’s night, highlighted by Jake Nerwinski sending Cristian Pavon through on goal. Whitecaps goalkeeper Evan Bush managed to palm the chance aside and keep Vancouver from going down a familiar path of conceding early.
Despite a couple chances from LA, including a goal that was called back for offside, the game was scoreless at the break. A wide open midfield allowed both teams to slowly cruise forward in a sluggish fashion, resulting in a whole lot of nothing. Both sides were sloppy in their passing, most notably LA completing less than 65% of their first half passes.
It was a slow, dull game, needing an injection of life. Someone to turn the game on its head and give a shot of energy in their team’s arm.
That didn’t happen.
Spark-less game won in the dying embers for Galaxy
Chicharito came on for a limping Gonzalez up front in the 50th minute, but he would just go on to frustrate Galaxy faithful. Ryan Raposo took off Michael Baldisimo 20 minutes later, but struggled to have the same impact that he had back in March when these sides met.
A handful of other changes were made, including introducing Kai Koreniuk to the game. In just his second appearance for the Galaxy, Koreniuk was given less than five minutes to work with, being brought on in the dying embers of a lifeless match. A controversial free kick was given to the Galaxy in the 89th. After a number of passes the call resulted in Pavon hitting the cross bar and Chicharito having his effort blocked by Veselinovic.
All was not lost though, as the ball was kept in the Vancouver half, and a long low ball was driven in by Pavon. Sneaking in behind Nerwinski was Koreniuk, who rifled home the game winner and lone goal in stoppage time. It was Koreniuk’s first MLS goal, and LA’s first win in seven games.
— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) October 19, 2020
Looking ahead for the Whitecaps and Galaxy
Vancouver failed to pick up a point on their final road game of the season. While they were missing starter Janio Bikel, there was no excuse for their visual lack of urgency in the middle of the field. Dos Santos viewed the performance as a tough pill to swallow, especially given the team’s recent run of form.
“It’s heartbreaking, everyone in the locker room felt as though we deserved at least a point” — Marc Dos Santos
The Canadians fly back to Vancouver for a few days before returning back to Portland to face San Jose next Saturday. The Whitecaps currently hold the eighth and final playoff spot, three points back of the Earthquakes.
LA, on the other hand, has been handed a lifeline in this tight Western Conference. However, their uphill struggle is only starting. In their next four fixtures, the Galaxy will take on LAFC, Portland and Seattle, the first two on the road as well. Still in the basement of the conference, the Galaxy are just three points back of Vancouver and the playoffs with a game in hand.
While their man of the match Pavon flourished in his matchup with Nerwinski tonight, he will have to do all that and more for the rest of the campaign.