Heading into the game, Minnesota had never won in Vancouver and in the last two seasons had conceded 148 goals in 68 games.
In some ways, the third-year Loons are still labeled an expansion franchise around the league. But that is also a term that fits the Whitecaps, who under new head coach Marc Dos Santos have completely overhauled their roster this winter. That overhaul showed Saturday as the new-look Whitecaps, with seven new signings in the starting XI, struggled with the final product at times.
“Strong start to the game. The goal we scored, kind of a hidden moment,” Dos Santos said after the match.”What I mean by that is, that it was good to start like that. We scored, but then we were never able to take a grip of the first half.”
Ahead of the season, Dos Santos identified a 4-3-3 system in which his team would boss possession as the ideal way to play soccer. At times, that was visible against Minnesota, but at the same time, the Whitecaps still had shades of the Carl Robinson era.
Minnesota had the majority of the possession after the Whitecaps scored early. The Caps, in turn, sat deep and tried to play the ball quickly forward as they often did last season.
Mar 2, 2019; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Whitecaps fans parade before the start of the game against the Minnesota United at BC Place. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
“Our decision making and possession, we rushed too much, And maybe anxiety. Guys waiting for this game meant that it became a game that was not about us,” Dos Santos said. “Even when it was 1-0 for us, I don’t feel it was about us. Then the second half, we were able to connect more passes in possession and be more in the opponent’s half, be more aggressive in our movements.”
The Whitecaps did catch up somewhat in possession, and while Minnesota had 60 percent possession in the first 45 minutes, the possession percentage was almost split 50-50 when the final whistle sounded.
“They scored in a moment when we were better in the game. What is more disappointing about the result, was the goals that we gave away,” Dos Santos said
The main reason for the defeat? Lack of chemistry and silly mistakes.
Jon Erice is a good example. The newly-acquired midfielder had 101 pass attempts and 116 touches — the second most in the Whitecaps’ MLS era. But while he managed to complete 81 percent of his passes and played like a metronome in midfield, he also played two costly giveaways that cost the Whitecaps the game.
“The 2-1 and 3-1 was kind of sloppy, and I think we can do a much better job there. We scored the 3-2, we reacted, we pushed, but it was too late,” Dos Santos later said. “Then the decision-making on the ball wasn’t good. You can’t make mistakes like that in MLS. We have to do a better job there.”
Some of those problems when it comes to poor decisions, however, come from a lack of chemistry. A lack of chemistry that is rooted in a lack of playing time as a group. The Whitecaps have only trained together as a side for a week.
“I’ll give you an example,” Dos Santos said. “I know when I will be watching the video of the game that there is a lot of moments that we have possession and suddenly we take the decision to go over the top looking for Fredy [Montero] in the box, causing a pileup. That is bad decision making, and we know that.
“We just think that if we are just a little bit cleaner in those moments, then we will have players like Felipe, Jon [Erice], [Hwang] In-Beom more in the opponent’s half, and that is where you can originate more offence. There today, we could have done a better job.”
At the same time, Dos Santos did not want to put too much value on chemistry, but rather pointed out the need to work on details.
“We had spaces to place sometimes and that instead of connecting short passes,” he said. “When we had the option, we decided to go over the top, especially in the first half. That disconnected our play.”
Work in progress
Ultimately, the game against Minnesota highlighted the Whitecaps are a work in progress. But there were some glimpses of what this side could become in the coming weeks.
“It is about paying attention to little details,” goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau said after the game. “We have to be a bit more on the same page,” the keeper added.
One example was Hwang In-Beom. The Korean showed glimpses of his potential to start the game, but also seemed nervous at times.
“He grew throughout the game,” Dos Santos said after the game.
Overall, the sellout crowd at BC Place saw a game with five goals, and even though the Caps lost, this season will be mostly about producing an entertaining product that can compete with the National Hockey League Canucks side that has transformed from a boring image to a young and exciting brand.
But will entertainment on its own be enough? Dos Santos doesn’t think so.
“It was an entertaining game for the fans,” he said. “But I don’t want it to be entertaining like that. I don’t want us to need to push for a result like that. It meant we were on the forefront, and because of that we conceded goals in the transition.”
Still, the product already promises to be more fun than last season. With a little work on possession and chemistry, it might also be more successful.