ANALYSIS – The Vancouver Whitecaps hosted their first home opener since 2021, falling to a 2-1 defeat to Real Salt Lake. The Whitecaps began brightly but fell away in the second half, conceding twice in two minutes, resulting in the first loss of the season.
With high hopes before the match and good pre-season form going into it, this match will probably be a wake-up call for fans and players alike. The Whitecaps played well in the first 30 minutes but started to lose momentum and as a result, lost the game.
Vancouver Whitecaps Match Analysis: Tale of Two Halves
Best First Half in Years
The Vancouver Whitecaps lined up with a relatively strong XI for the match. New signing Yohei Takaoka was tasked with goalkeeping duties right off the bat, while other new signings Mathías Laborda and Sergio Córdova had to start off their Whitecaps career from the bench. Javain Brown had a surprise start ahead of Laborda, while Cristian Dájome began in the attack instead of Pedro Vite
From the first whistle, the Whitecaps looked to be in control. In the opening minutes, they dominated possession. They exploited the wings and overloaded the midfield with the middle three of Julian Gressel, Alessandro Schöpf, and Andres Cubas. In defense, their press was well-organized, their defensive line was structured, and a lot of turnovers were forced thanks to Cubas, Gressel, and even Cristian Dájome.
Javain Brown heads it in from Gressel's corner to give the 'Caps the lead! LET'S GO!
🌊 1-0 🧂
— x – Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) February 26, 2023
The goal came in the 24-minute, with a fantastic corner from Julian Gressel. Gressel whipped the ball into the middle, where it was met by Javain Brown, who pounced on it and headed it into the back of the net. It seemed like a dream start for the Whitecaps, and many could barely believe that this was the same Whitecaps as last season.
It didn’t take long for their bubbles to burst.
The Worst Second Half in Months
In the last 10-15 minutes of the first half, however, RSL began to grow into the match. They started to fight for possession, win those second balls, and create chances. Yohei had to make a couple of saves before half-time, leading to a nervy finish for a very strong first-half by the ‘Caps.
The second half began with both teams contesting, but the Whitecaps seemed to once again gain the upper hand. However, in the 66-minute, they had a golden opportunity to make it 2-0 and shift into cruise control. Brian White has fed on goal from a driven cross by Ryan Gauld, but fluffed his lines and allowed RSL’s keeper Zack MacMath to scoop up the play.
He's back! 🤩
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) February 26, 2023
The ‘Caps would instantly regret their missed opportunities as four minutes later, a short corner routine by RSL would allow Jefferson Savarino to whip a ball in for Justen Glad to tap it in, tying the game up for RSL. Whitecaps woes would continue as RSL did a quick-fire double three minutes later. Once again, Savarino proved to be the dangerman, drifting inside the Whitecaps box and cutting it back for Damir Kreliach to bury a beautiful finessed side-foot finish into the side netting.
Look at those opening 30’ and last 15’
‘Caps just need to capitalize on their chances more
— Felipe Vallejo (@FelipeV_FC) February 26, 2023
The Whitecaps tried to come back into the game by bringing on the likes of Pedro Vite, Ryan Raposo, and new-boy Sergio Córdova, but could not find the equalizer before the end of the match. Just like that, all the hope and excitement in BC Place plummeted to full-time.
The reason for the loss though was the inability to take advantage of their scoring chances and giving away possession way too often. This is something the Whitecaps will need to learn from in the long 2023 MLS season. Also, as seen in Felipe’s tweet above, they were giving Real Salt Lake many chances to score after the 30-minute. The Whitecaps did not start pressing to get another goal until they were trailing 2-1.
Disappointment and Frustration All-Around
After the game, Ryan Gauld expressed his frustrations in the post-match press conference.
“We deserved to take something from that game, but it’s a lesson for us if we don’t take our chances. We could have been two, three up by the time they scored their [first] goal”.
“Everyone is really annoyed to come away from here with nothing”.
Head Coach Vanni Sartini also commented on his side’s fantastic opening 65 minutes but rued their missed chances.
“In the first half… we played really well. Unfortunately, we didn’t capitalize on all the work that we did [in the first half] in terms of build-up and arriving in the final third, and we got punished”.
“Our [biggest] failure was not scoring that second goal”.
Sartini was asked about the surprise omission of Mathías Laborda and marked it down as a tactical decision.
“We thought today, Jervain [Brown] and Luis [Martins] as full-backs, could help us in the build-up going forward and attacking the space in behind.”
However, he did assure that Laborda was going to be a big part of his plans this season.
“Mathías is doing very well, he will play a lot of games for us”.
Much To Build On
With this opening loss, the Whitecaps will look to get back to winning ways on the road at San Jose next weekend, before coming back in a double-header week at home, where they will host Real Espana in the CONCACAF Champions League mid-week, followed by more MLS action on the weekend versus FC Dallas.
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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports on February 25, 2023, of Yohei Takaoka Headshot