Dominant Whitecaps First Half Goes Wrong...
The Whitecaps began the season at home this Saturday in a match against Real Salt Lake. Head Coach Vanni Sartini opted to begin the season with a formation which we rarely saw last season, but was a favourite in the most recent pre-season for the Whitecaps, the 4-3-2-1, or as many lovingly refer to it, the Christmas tree formation.
The most striking change between last season's tactics and this first match of 2023 is the lack of wingbacks, which instead are traded out for an additional midfielder. The impact of this change was noticeable immediately, with the whitecaps having an extra player in the midfield (leading to a slightly narrower shape), they were able to dominate while in possession and be extremely compact (often winning the ball back quickly) when out of possession.
Throughout their dominant first half performance the Whitecaps created many chances, but simply couldn't find the finishing touch. In the 24th minute however, the Whitecaps were rewarded for a perfect corner delivery by Julian Gressel which saw an unmarked Javain Brown nod down a tidy header into the corner of Zac MacMath's goal. For the rest of the half we saw the Whitecaps create multiple scoring opportunities all with potential to end in a goal. As a Whitecaps supporter I believe that this was the best 45 minutes of Whitecaps football I have witnessed. Unfortunately, it wouldn't last...
During the halftime break I am sure RSL Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni mustered some magic words of encouragement, because the RSL team we saw in the second half was completely different to that of the first half. They looked hungry and didn't allow Vancouver to dominate possession as they did in the first 45'. Their tireless efforts saw Justen Glad take advantage of poor marking from the Vancouver backline, scoring his (and RSL's) first goal of 2023. Just two minutes later, Jefferson Saverino tears apart Vancouver's defence and lays off a pass for Damir Kreilach, to open his 2023 scoring tab.
A 1-0 lead evaporated before their eyes as the Caps watched in horror. Their stellar first half went to waste, and the game ended 2-1 for RSL with Vancouver surrendering an important 3 points at home. The loss however was not all bad, Vanni's new formation proved that this team has top potential if they can just maintain concentration for the entire 90 minutes.
A solution to Vancouver's defensive problems may not be so far away either, with newly acquired Mathias Laborda sitting on the bench. The 23 year old could be the ideal partner for Ranko Vaselinovic in central defence, allowing Tristan Blackmon to move out wide to Right Back, a position he is familiar with from his time in Los Angeles.
Up top, Brian White had fantastic hold up play in matchday 1, but his finishing and aerial presence were lacking. The Whitecaps may also have an alternative for this, in the form of Sergio Cordova. The Venezuelan International DP signing could fill the Lucas Cavallini sized hole in Vancouver. Cordova played in Germany, and has MLS experience on loan with Real Salt Lake last season, managing 9 goals and an assist in 33 matches.
First Impressions of New Faces
Sergio Cordova: As previously mentioned, Cordova could be the key to unlocking Vancouver's goal scoring issues. We got to see him deployed in a two striker formation for the last 14 minutes and he looked sharp. His 6'2 frame makes him a great target man and he demonstrated a couple times in the dying minutes of the match that he has great technical ability in tight spaces. In his short cameo we saw him hold the ball up against 3 RSL players before laying off a precise pass to a wide runner. If he can develop some chemistry with the team's primary playmaker, Ryan Gauld, he can be a valuable piece for this Vancouver squad.
Yohei Takaoka: The Japanese born GK arrives from J-League 1 champions Yokohama F. Marinos, a team I am quite familiar with, having watched 70% of their matches last season. Takaoka was arguably the best GK in Japan last season and possesses many attributes, most notably his ability to play out from the back. While that is a big selling point of his, what everyone in BC place was mesmerized by was his shot stopping. He looked like a man possessed, his reflexes were sharp and I couldn't help but feel like he deserved a clean sheet. Anyone would have a hard time faulting him on either goal and he certainly stopped the game from turning into a bloodbath in the second half. I am excited to have him in the squad and feel that he will be a key part of the Whitecaps this season.
Overall, its tough to lose at home, especially after such a good start, but there are many positive takeaways from this match that Whitecaps fans can look forward to. I firmly believe that this team should be in the playoffs come decision day, and this first match proves their potential. Now all we can do is hope that Vanni is able to harness it.
Chin up Whitecaps fans, we go again next week.