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Three Takeaways from Vancouver Whitecaps’ road defeat to Orlando City

Apr 20, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA; Vancouver Whitecaps forward Yordi Reyna (29) looks to kick the ball during the first half against the Orlando City at Orlando City Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 20, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA; Vancouver Whitecaps forward Yordi Reyna (29) looks to kick the ball during the first half against the Orlando City at Orlando City Stadium. (Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)

A new tactical setup did not change the game for the Vancouver Whitecaps. Once again, Vancouver struggled with possession and passing, and the Caps lost to Orlando City thanks to an 88th-minute winner by Portuguese superstar Nani.

Tactical changes do not pay off

The Vancouver Whitecaps entered the match against Orlando City with a brand new tactical formation. Head coach Marc Dos Santos started the caps in a 5-3-2 formation that would turn into a 3-5-2 or 3-4-2-1 when the Caps had the ball. 

In theory, the tactical switch was a good idea. With three centerbacks, Dos Santos hoped to shut out Orlando City’s prolific attacking line, which with Nani includes one of the biggest superstars in the league. 

“Defensively, that wasn’t an issue,” Dos Santos said after the game. The Whitecaps were indeed solid in the back, but at the same time that defensive stability also meant the Whitecaps were sacrificing attacking prowess. 

“I just think that when we won the ball, we lacked the composure to keep it,” Dos Santos said. “But I don’t think the problem was the structure or how we adjust the game. I think there was a lack of compactness and organization defensively but not when we won the ball we could have gotten better in our offensive formation.”

On paper, playing 5-3-2 gave the Whitecaps plenty of defensive compactness and severely limited Orlando City. But at the same time, Vancouver had just 40 percent possession and without a fast outlet player like they had in Alphonso Davies, simply lacked the tools to hurt Orlando City on the counterattack. 

A new approach?

Speaking of possession: The Whitecaps once again handed control of the play to their opponent. 

Last season, that would have been considered a tactical necessity by the Whitecaps. Under former head coach Carl Robinson, the Whitecaps were happy to hand over possession and then quickly jump on the counter to score. The problem, however, is that Dos Santos was brought in to change the culture of reactive football. 

Instead, the Whitecaps are supposed to be a proactive team that dominates possession and also plays a neat and tidy passing game. Neither has worked out thus far. 

In terms of possession, the Whitecaps are 22nd in the league with an average of 45.3 percent. They are ranked 18th for completed passes (78.9 percent). 

But the Caps are in a rebuild, and at times there are signs the players are slowly but surely buying into Dos Santos’ philosophy. 

“Before they got the goal, we got the two best chances. A very clear one with In-Beom that we could have scored, and then at the end it gets that rebound and the ball ends up going in,” Dos Santos said.

Defensively, the team has been strong. The Whitecaps shut out LAFC and only conceded once against Chicago and Orlando City. 

Added Dos Santos: “I think tactically, overall, our organization was good. We approached the game well considering it is our third game in eight days with a lot of traveling involved. We approached the game well.”

Travel hurts

Speaking of travel: The Major League Soccer schedule had the Whitecaps play Wednesday and then undergo one of the longest road trips of the season the next day. 

“Anything that we would have gotten here would have been a bonus after the game on Wednesday and the journey on Thursday,” wingback Scott Sutter said. “That is how it is in MLS. These away games are pretty tough. I think four points from those three games are pretty good.” 

Said Dos Santos: “Overall, I can’t fault the players on their effort — flying to Chicago, flying to Vancouver, flying to Orlando. I think we deserved a little bit more at the end.”

Not that it will get any easier. The Whitecaps will now head back to Vancouver and face the Philadelphia Union on Saturday at BC Place. 

Just using straight airport-to-airport distances and not taking into account connecting flights, the Whitecaps will have travelled 10,282 miles for this three-game stretch of matches. Their overall travel for this season is 51,210. In other words, a fifth of that was undertaken in the last nine days. 

So while the Whitecaps received some criticism for not showing signs of a change in philosophy during the rebuild, given their travel schedule, Dos Santos and his players might be excused for throwing long-term goals out the window in order to earn some much-needed points. 

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