Decisive Win for Vancouver in Concacaf Champions League
After a slow start to their MLS campaign, the Vancouver Whitecaps have brought a completely different energy to the Concacaf Champions League (CCL) in the hopes that it may spark a new attitude in their domestic competition.
After beating Toronto FC on penalties in the final of the Canadian Championship last season, Vancouver booked their ticket to Concacaf's prestigious club competition. While many feared that Vancouver's poor 0-0-2 form would see them waste a precious home fixture in the CCL, they managed to shock the skeptics.
The Whitecaps lined up in a 4-3-2-1 (similar to their formation in the season opener against RSL), with Schopf out due to a knock (via Head Coach Vanni Sartini during Media Availability). We saw Gauld drop into the midfield and an attacking trident of Vite, and Dajome, was centered by Sergio Cordova. A more interesting trade, perhaps was the one seen in the backline. Starting LB Luis Martins lost his place to youngster and newly converted fullback Ryan Raposo, while on the other flank Javain Brown was replaced by winter signing Mathias Laborda.
In my opinion Vanni picked a strong lineup and an effective one for the occasion (Raposo is a great crosser from the wide areas paired with the tall stature of Cordova in the middle to get a header on goal). The one decision which perplexed me was having a player in Laborda (who was one of the best CBs in Uruguay this past year, with little experience as a wide player) out wide, while Tristan Blackmon (a good ball player who spent his time with previous club LAFC as a RB) plays in the center. This would prove to be an interesting choice throughout the match as Vanni seems to have instructed Laborda to play extremely high and wide (more of a RM in a 3 back than a RB in a 4 man system) often jogging back while Real Espagna countered. What makes this situation even stranger was Laborda's poor crossing ability into the box. Many of his efforts were too low or overhit. It seemed the exact representation of a square peg in a round hole. Interestingly, when asked after the match, Vanni Sartini commented in the post game media availability that he sees Laborda as a RB and Triston as a CB and that the other way around is not an option.
Regardless of the difference in opinions, Vanni's side saw themselves secure a clean sheet in a 5-0 win with goal scorers coming from all over the pitch including 2 from the backline. Triston Blackmon managed to score his first goal since March 2022 in the 21st minute off a short corner kick. The rest of the first half concluded with a few more Whitecaps chances, but no more goals. After the break, left back Ryan Raposo cut onto his right foot and launched a shot to the near post and Vancouver would go on to get another 3 in the next 20 minutes. Cordova was subbed off in the 62nd to make way for White as Cordova is still building match fitness, and White managed to score his first of the season. Vancouver's primary playmaker Ryan Gauld managed to set up a couple goals for the caps ending the game with 2 assists before being subbed off to a standing ovation from the home fans in the 71st minute. Both Gressel and Cubas had a solid match in the midfield with Gressel launching the pinpoint cross into the box for Blackmon's goal and Cubas being all over the park pressuring the opposition and cutting off passing lanes when out of possession. Another strong performance in goal from the newly acquired Takaoka was a contributing factor in securing the clean sheet for Vancouver. He didn't have many saves to make but the few he did have were executed with confidence and grace. The last 10 minutes gave us the opportunity to see two young Whitecaps make their debut in Karifa Yao and Jean-Claude Ngando. Both held their own against the tired Honduran side and will be itching to get another chance to show their talent.
Overall we saw a Whitecaps team which we hoped was there, but had yet to be unlocked. Whether this is the start of a new era or a lucky win, only time will tell. What's for certain is that the Caps will be eager to emulate this performance against Dallas at home on Saturday and finally secure their first point(s) of this MLS campaign.