SANDY, Utah. – The opening weekend in the 2021 MLS campaign had been filled with stunning goals, upsets, and elite competition. So the final match of the weekend between a beat-up Vancouver Whitecaps squad and a Portland Timbers side fresh off a 5-0 thrashing of Marathon in the CCL wasn’t a game a lot of people had circled on their calendar. However, the Whitecaps opening day was much better than last year’s, as the ‘Caps were able to pull out the victory thanks to Lucas Cavallini’s first strike of the season, giving them a 1-0 victory and the first Cascadia points of the season.
Whitecaps Opening Day victory spurred by Cavallini goal
For the people that missed this game for whatever reason, I apologize. Those 90 minutes in Sandy, Utah, were stuffed with great saves and crunching tackles between two expansion cousins celebrating a decade in the league. It may not have had as many goals as Seattle or was as dramatic as Houston, but it was beyond entertaining to indulge in.
Vancouver came into Sunday’s game missing five starters for a variety of reasons (Ali Adnan, Caio Alexandre, Bruno Gaspar, Eric Godoy, Derek Cornelius), so it was tough to predict how much of Marc Dos Santos’ philosophies we would see. The team came out in a standard 4-4-2, With Lucas Cavallini and Christian Dajome up front to implement the high press. Deiber Caicedo was the only new signing to crack the starting eleven, with him and Russell Teibert on the wings.
Portland also had a pretty similar-looking lineup to 2021, with the exception of Claudio Bravo and Jose Carlos Van Rankin at each fullback spot. A pretty standard 4-2-3-1 that we’re used to seeing from Portland overall. No Sebastian Blanco however, as he’ll be out for a while with his ACL tear, so it was up to Diego Valeri to fill his shoes. Erik Williamson and Diego Chara were the string-pullers in the center of the park, completing the midfield.
Close, but no cigar
Vancouver opened the first half with a strong spell of possession, barely letting Portland touch the ball to start the game. This resulted in one or two half-decent chances for Vancouver, but overall the possession was around the halfway line and not direct enough to trouble Steve Clark. Michael Baldisimo looked to carry on from his breakout 2020 season and was beautifully connecting long-range passes around the field. Christian Gutierrez had a very impressive showing down the left side, linking up well with Teibert, and managed to whip in a few of his own crosses.
Portland easily managed to bat away the fruitful chances Vancouver had however and managed a few more threatening opportunities of their own. Dairon Asprilla tested Max Crepeau with a thunderbolt from his right foot but was punched over the bar. Moments later, after a scramble in the box, Asprilla attempted an athletic bicycle kick from close range, but his effort sailed over the bar.
Yet, with just a few minutes left until halftime, Vancouver fans saw something much worse than giving up a goal. Caicedo got caught up in an unconventional challenge on Bravo and went crashing to the ground holding his knee. A team already without five key players, couldn’t afford a winger (an area with not a lot of depth), to miss any playing time. He hobbled off, however, after halftime he was back on the field and seemed perfectly fine.
Dead ball deja vu
Baldisimo and Gutierrez had been phenomenal from free-kicks and corners all night, whipping in tasty, attractive balls to the likes of Andy Rose, Lucas Cavallini, and Ranko Veselinovic. It was only a matter of time until one of them connected. A free-kick swung in found the head of Rose, who muscled it past a couple of defenders and Steve Clark, however, the slow roller hit the post. The team tried again from the corner, except this time, pay dirt.
After a mixup in the box, Lucas “El Tanque” Cavallini was left unmarked, wide open at the back post. A strong, powerful header flew into the Timbers goal, and the six million dollar man opened his scoring account for 2021. It took six games in 2020, only netting six times in 18 appearances.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 19, 2021
“It’s a relief, for sure. However, goals are only part of my job” – Lucas Cavallini
Bending, bending, do they break?
In typical Whitecaps fashion, the squad decided to collapse behind the ball and sit on their fragile one-goal lead. A bold tactic for sure, especially when none of your backline will likely be starters in a couple of weeks. Numerous crosses to the back post and long shots burst from the Timbers cannon, but nothing Crepeau couldn’t deal with.
Felipe Mora had a great chance in the 78th, but a sliding Christian Gutierrez blocked the chance. Steve Clark did have to make way for Jeff Atinella, with Clark looking like he picked up a quad injury. And it seemed like a nightmare start for Atinella, as Dajome poked home a loose ball from inside the six-yard box. It was called back for offside against Jake Nerwinski, but an Andy Rose handball swell didn’t help either.
Mora had another one on one with Crepeau with just minutes left, after getting on the end of a wonderfully placed long ball. The chance went begging as Mora hit it straight down the Whitecaps keeper’s throat. That was the last real opportunity of the night for the Timbers to fight back, and it ended 1-0 for the Whitecaps in their new “home”.
Vancouver managed to pull off their first opening day win since 2018, and their first under Marc Dos Santos. It wasn’t pretty and doesn’t fill fans with confidence about the defense, but all that has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Christian Gutierrez was a workhorse down that left side, at both ends of the field, however, my man of the match has to go to Max Crepeau. A number of saves down the stretch, he did what was asked of him, and that’s all Dos Santos can ask for.
Vancouver gets ready to face Canadian rival Toronto FC down in Florida next week, who suffered an embarrassing 4-2 loss at the hands of Montreal. Portland on the other hand face Houston Dynamo, before a champions league clash with Club America midweek.