ANALYSIS – The Vancouver Whitecaps had a bit of a scare in Honduras, as they lost 3-2 to Real CD Espana on the day, but won 7-3 on aggregate. Despite their loss, the Whitecaps advance to the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals, thanks to a first-leg 5-0 hammering, but do so with some real concerns. Here are some of the three takeaways: Whitecaps
Three Takeaways: Whitecaps Shaky But Through
Takeaway #1: Zonal Marking’s A Real Concern
The Whitecaps’ identity under Vanni Sartini is defined by his commitment to zonal marking. The idea is to mark the space rather than the man, which should make it easier to deal with incoming crosses by leaving fewer gaps…in theory.
The issue is that such a tactical system requires that players have a clear understanding of space, and a razor-sharp focus. They need to know when to stay put when to press, when to attack the ball, and when to track back. In today’s match, the Whitecaps showed once again their struggle to execute those ideas that Vanni holds so highly.
Whitecaps conceded three goals off set pieces, all three from direct balls into the box. The first was bundled by Thomas Hasal, who before that was having a spectacular game, and tapped in by Honduran defender Getsel Montes. The second was, as Vanni said in the post-match conference, a “banger” of a goal, where star-striker Ramiro Rocca was fed a cross from a corner at the edge of the box, and volleyed it beautifully into the top corner. The third, meanwhile, was just a straightforward, unmarked headed goal off a corner. All three goals were different, but they all stem back to issues with zonal marking.
Vanni admitted that his side struggled with it, stating that they need to do better in their positioning. He also stated that “some players need to realize that zonal marking does not mean you need to be a stick [in the box]. We need to attack the ball.”
Vanni also admitted before that he will stand by his zonal marking philosophy. The question now is if he will continue to stick by it despite these performances, or if he will adapt it, given his players’ ability and recent struggles.
Asked Vanni postgame about defending at set pieces, constant free headers, and how concerned he is.
He says he is. They need to be better in terms of being aggressive and positioning. Players need to understand that if they're playing zonal, they can't just "stand like a stick".
— AFTN (@aftncanada) March 16, 2023
Takeaway #2: Thomas Hasal Shining Gives Sartini A Headache Now
One player that was a star all the way through was Thomas Hasal. Hasal had not played at all this season, with his spot being occupied by the new Yohei Takaoka. Takaoka’s performances in the last four games also proved why he was chosen as Whitecaps’ number one.
However, Hasal got the start today and made an incredible eight saves in the match. Many were diving saves that otherwise would have been certain goals. He was also helpless for two out of the three goals, and even for the opener, there was not much he could do given the flight and whip on the ball.
His stellar performance will give Sartini a new headache in who to choose for his starting keeper. Takaoka’s signing has seemed to light a fire under Hasal, and Sartini will now have two keepers who will be hungry to take that top spot.
Thomas Hasal is playing like someone with a point to prove, which is what you want to see after Yohei Takaoka came in and took his spot
— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) March 15, 2023
Takeaway #3: Still Waiting on Sergio Cordova…
Sergio Cordova got his second start of the season and fifth overall appearance. He showed flashes of great skill in build-up play but struggled to really assert himself in the match. Cordova seemed to lack that killer instinct to occupy those half-spaces when balls went into the box and was often far from where the final action was.
He almost had a chance to open the scoring in the first half, but his toe-poke shot was cleared off the line. In the second half, he was more of a passenger and came off for the young Canadian striker Simon Becher. The real kicker is that Becher then scored just seven minutes after coming on, with an extremely well-executed dribble and finish. To compare, Becher is on a reserve contract, and has only played 22 minutes overall this season for the Whitecaps, but has scored. Cordova, meanwhile, is on a DP contract and hasn’t scored in over 230 minutes of play.
Sartini has put his faith in Cordova quite a bit this season, and he has yet to repay that trust. Fans and Sartini alike will hope that he can start justifying that contract sooner rather than later.
📸 Le sacan sobre la línea lo que pudo haber sido el estreno goleador de Sergio Cordova con Vancouver pic.twitter.com/3d8MoWVznS
— Armando Naranjo 🍊 Naranjazos (@Naranjazos10) March 15, 2023
Three Takeaways Whitecaps and Games Coming up For Both Teams
Hasal is a player to watch as the Whitecaps will return to MLS play on Saturday on the road as they face the LA Galaxy at 10:30 p.m. ET on March 18 before travelling to Minneapolis to face Minnesota United FC at 8:30 p.m. ET on March 25. Both games will be shown live on Apple TV. The Whitecaps will also face defending MLS Cup champions, Los Angeles FC in the next round of the Concacaf Champions League.
This is while Real CD Espana’s Concacaf Champions League tournament is over. They will return to games of their local league as they host Marathon on March 19 and also host Honduras Progreso on April 1.
Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports on October 1, 2022, of Thomas Hasal’s Headshot.