ANALYSIS – The Vancouver Whitecaps’ poor start continued on Saturday evening, as they fell once more to a 2-1 scoreline, in a similar fashion to their opening day defeat. Alessandro Schopf opened the scoring for the Whitecaps, but two second-half goals from Jeremy Ebobisse and Carlos Akapo turned the match around for San Jose. And concerns are growing for the ‘Caps in the wake of their loss to San Jose.
Vancouver Whitecaps Lose to San Jose – Same Mistakes, Same Result
Carbon Copy of RSL Loss
By the end of the match, you might as well have watched the opening-day defeat to Real Salt Lake. This game basically followed the same patterns as that first match. The Whitecaps began well, putting on pressure, maintaining a high press, and keeping possession. The midfield trio of Schopf, Julian Gressel, and Andres Cubas once more proved to be the key for the Whitecaps throughout the game. The trio had a collective 82% pass accuracy, 12 passes into the final third, and three chances created, according to Fotmob.
But once more, they missed some glorious opportunities. Brian White and Javain Brown probably had the best opportunities to score, but they couldn’t make the most of it. And just like the game against RSL, the team dropped deep, stopped pressing high, and invited pressure. The result was then the same: two goals from San Jose, one off a set-piece cross and one-off transition.
The defence was struggling all match to deal with the aerial threats of Ebobisse and Cade Cowell before the former looped a header to score in the 68-minute. That then made the Caps’ defense fall back into bad habits, and lose their defensive structure as Carlos Akapo capitalized on defensive miscues to grant San Jose the lead in the 77-minute.
Failure to close down crosses and maintain concentration throughout the 90 minutes cost the Whitecaps a second straight loss, after what seemed to be promising signs in pre-season.
— GameFlow (@GameFlowxPG) March 5, 2023
Early Subs, But Were They Smart Subs?
In the press conference after the RSL loss, Head Coach Vanni Sartini admitted that his team failed to make subs early enough to maintain a handle on the game. This time around, Sartini made early changes, subbing on Sergio Cordova for Brian White in the 55-minute, and Cristian Dajome and Russel Teibert on for Pedro Vite and Gressel in the 65-minute.
However, the positions that seemed to be crying out for change were not in the attack or midfield, but rather in the defense. Luis Martins was scrambling to keep up with Cristian Espinoza for a large part of the match. By the last third of the match, Martins was floundering. Yet Sartini allowed Martins to play for the full 90. It should be noted that it was Martins who made the foul that led to the first goal, as well as who lost his marker that gave San Jose the second.
In the press conference after the match, Sartini explained that his decision to not substitute the full-backs was because of a knock to Schopf around the 70-minute mark.
“Unfortunately, the last substitution was meant to happen five minutes later, with maybe a double substitution, but Schopfy got a little injured so that is why we brought on Sebastian”.
Sebastian Berhalter came in place of the Swiss midfielder in the 76-minute, and so Sartini kept both Brown and Martins on, despite the prevalent issues.
“I thought Luis [Martins] and Jervain [Brown] were doing an honest job”.
With a squad blessed in-depth, Sartini will have to learn how to properly tackle the issues right in front of him using his substitutions. With Ali Ahmed or Ryan Raposo on, this game might have had a different ending.
Vanni stuck to his plan of making subs early, but were they the right ones? I think Martins should have come off way before Schopf or Gressel.
Both goals can be traced back to him (and the rest of the defence) #VWFC
— Felipe Vallejo (@FelipeV_FC) March 5, 2023
A Start Worthy of Concern for Whitecaps?
The last time the Whitecaps lost both of their opening games was back in 2019 when they finished 12th in the Western Conference. In that season, they had to wait for their seventh game before tasting victory, a feat they will likely try to avoid this season.
What is positive is that the style of play that the Whitecaps have shown in the opening 60-odd minutes of both games has been really good. The attacking play is expansive and fluid. They dominate possession and build up well on the wings. They even create a lot of chances. The issue is the failure to capitalize on them, and the failure to maintain their dominance for the full 90 minutes.
The good news is that the mistakes that they made in this match against San Jose, are very similar (if not identical) to the ones they made against RSL. That means that they are easily identifiable, and can be addressed in a straightforward manner. The hope then is that the team can learn to evolve their play so that they can perhaps save some energy in the first half to utilize in the second half.
Regardless of the issues and positives, what matters in these games is the final scoreline. And for all the possession, progressive passes, and chances created, if you cannot score, you cannot win. And wins and losses are what define a season.
This is just the 3rd time in their MLS history that #VWFC have lost the first two games of an MLS season
The other two years they did? 2016 and 2019, which happen to be their 2nd and 3rd worst years in MLS history in ppg (2011 is their worst)
— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) March 5, 2023
Non-Stop Action in the Week Ahead
The Whitecaps are back in action on Wednesday in Concacaf Champions League action. They will look to get their first positive result in that match against Real CD Espana and use that as a boost before their MLS home match against FC Dallas on Saturday. The Real CD Espana game will be shown live on OneSoccer and Telus at 7:00 p.m. PT (10:00 p.m. ET) while the MLS game next Saturday will be shown live on Apple TV at 5:00 p.m. ET (8:00 p.m. PT).
With so many matches and various competitions, Vanni Sartini will have plenty of game time to fine-tune his team. But if results don’t start going his way soon, he might not be there long enough to see his team succeed.
Photo Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports on March 4, 2023, of San Jose Earthquakes Headshot