Vancouver fall to Columbus on Opening Day collapse

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A blank slate. Zeros across the board. The first game of a 34 game grind to reach a chance at glory. MLS Opening Day 2022 has arrived. On a cloudy Ohio Saturday afternoon, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Columbus Crew took to the field to begin their 2022 campaigns. New head coaches, player acquisitions and sales, position battles, tactics. All of the story lines from the past four months were about to be put to the test for the first time.

A slight twist on last year’s 3-4-1-2, Vanni Sartini sent his men out in a more attacking 3-1-4-2. Thomas Hasal making his first start as the team’s number one, sitting behind a back three of Jake Nerwinski, Ranko Veselinovic and Tristan Blackmon. Michael Baldisimo played behind Russell Teibert and Ryan Gauld in the midfield three. Javain Brown and Christian Dajome acted as the wingers on the outside of a Lucas Cavallini and Deiber Caicedo front pairing. Brian White’s foot injury mid-week left him day to day, and kept Vancouver’s golden boot winner off of Saturday’s team sheet.

As for the hosts, it was a classic Caleb Porter 4-2-3-1. Eloy Room started between the sticks, with a back four of Pedro Santos, Jonathon, Steven Moreira and new signing from Red Star Belgrade, Milos Degenek. Darlington Nagbe and Artur sat in the midfield pivot, complimenting each other as rotating eights. Yaw Yeboah made his Columbus debut at right wing, playing alongside Lucas Zelarayan and Derrick Etienne in the attacking midfield threesome. All providing service and support to Miguel Berry, the surprise story of 2021.

First half

It started in a fashion fit for an MLS season opener. No more than eight minutes in, Miguel Berry found himself on the edge of the box, being man marked by Nerwinski. Able to create a small amount of separation, the Spaniard fired a right-footed effort goal wards. A slight deflection from Nerwinski lead to a total redirection of the ball thanks to the face of Veselinovic. The change of direction left Thomas Hasal a half step behind where he needed to be, and the Crew and an early lead.

Columbus were able to create a number of quality chances in the first half, testing Hasal from all angles. However they were albe to beat the young Canadian keeper for a second time in the 25th. A lovely cross-field pass from Yeboah found Etienne in plenty of space striding into the Vancouver penalty area. A lack of communication between Brown and Veselinovic allowed Etienne to stroll in, take his time and finish off the chance with a goal.

Vancouver could produce nothing more than a number of half-chances against the run of play. A lack of structure on defence, an inability to string multiple passes together in the midfield. Nothing was falling Vancouver’s way in the opening 45.

Second half

The second half showed the same trends for the visitors, starting off with a player ejection. Jake Nerwinski picked up his second yellow card after bringing down a streaking Etienne in the 53rd minute. Despite holding their own for most of the second half and generating more possession, chances, and defensive composure, the 10 man Whitecaps couldn’t hold on forever.

A poorly taken quick Vancouver free kick lead to a fast break for the home side. After having the ball fall to his feet, Gyasi Zardes played it over to Luis Diaz who roofed the ball over a sprawling Hasal and into the net for a Columbus third in the 84th. Two minutes later, it would be Zelarayan adding his name to the score sheet with a deserved goal from the Argentinian. A scramble in the Vancouver penalty box left Zelarayan alone and in space. A well taken finish closed out this one.

Last word

It was a far from ideal start for Vanni Sartini’s tenure in Vancouver. Conceding four, having a player receive his first career red card, minimal success from set pieces. A game to forget for Sartini’s men. It will have to be a quick turn around however as Vancouver is will be welcoming 2021 MLS Cup champions NYCFC to BC Place on Saturday March 5th. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, as Emilano Brienza, Pedro Vite, Sebastian Berhalter and Tristan Blackmon all made their debuts for the club.

As for Columbus, Saturday was a step back towards the 2020 glory days. A clean sheet, four goals scored, a rather clean and dominant game for the entire 90 minutes. Porter can’t ask for much more than that. The Crew will be on the road next week to visit the San Jose Earthquakes, for their second of back-to-back games against Western opposition.

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