The Vancouver Whitecaps, in a match that felt like a must-win, did exactly that, overcoming early-game adversity to beat St. Louis CITY by a score of 4-3.

The win puts the Whitecaps 8th in the Western Conference and only three points out of a converted top-four spot. Vancouver also has at least one game in hand in comparison to every club above them in the table.

Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini credited his team for being “calm and collected” throughout the match to come back and win.

A bruised, battered and road-tired Whitecaps meant changes were to be expected for this match’s starting XI.

Ranko Veselinovićtook a spot on the bench as Mathías Laborda held the middle of the back 3. Bjørn Inge Utvik was back in as well along with Javain Brown.

Levonte Johnson was also given a rare start as part of an attacking three with Brian White and Ryan Gauld. The Whitecap’s attack has stagnated lately, with Gauld being the main contributor.

Since May 25, the Whitecaps have scored eight goals in five matches. Five of those goals have come from the captain.

With the knowledge of how much this match meant for the Whitecaps in terms of the playoff race, you would have expected a jump in their step to begin the match.

That did not happen. Instead, fans in the stadium would have been right to ask whether their team decided to show up given the scoreline after the first 15 minutes.

St. Louis’s first goal came in the 7th minute after a poor clearance from Utvik. The ball did not get out of the 18-yard box, hitting an opposition player on the way. It fell to Njabulo Blom at the edge of the box. He drilled it low and inside the near post. Yohei Takaoka appeared to get a piece of it, but it was not enough.

Just a few minutes later, Brown put the body in the way of another clear St. Louis chance,b tu the ball hit his hand. Eduard Löwen stepped up to the penalty spot, and in the 12th minute, the visitors were up by two.

“We just complicated our life,” Sartini said about the beginning of the match.

The frustration of the Whitecaps was on display for everyone. A conceded corner had Pedro Vite kicking the ball into the ad boards, playing fire with the referee and a possible yellow card.

But sometimes, adversity helps you find a way.

White started the comeback, pulling one back just before the end of the first half. A long ball over the top from Sebastian Berhalter found the American striker near the edge of the 18-yard box. His shot bounced severely off Jake Nerwinski and lobbed over the keeper, Ben Lundt, to cut the deficient by half in the 37th minute.

“We applied what we were doing [in training]. We knew that they were playing with this high line, and we were playing with these four strikers when we had the ball. And every time we were breaking the lines, we tried to change the point of attack and play over. And we scored a goal there.”

The second half saw a renewed Vancouver Whitecaps. They played with intensity and a mission.

They pulled level in the 54th minute, courtesy of White again. A cute little backheel caught Lundt flatfooted as the ball lobbed over the striker and goalkeeper to bounce into the net.

Sartini joked, calling it a “scripted play.”

And White completed the hat trick in the 61st minute. Berhalter recovered an early ball still in the final third and quickly dished it out to Raposo on the right. The Canadian wingback found White central in the box as he headed it beyond Lundt to give the Whitecaps their first lead in the match.

The two teams exchanged late-game goals, Fafà Picault in the 90th minute and Nökkvi Thorisson in the 93rd. But it was the Whitecaps that would finish on top with a much-needed three points.

“We did a very naive thing,” Sartini said of the last St. Louis goal. “We wanted to get the fifth goal. And we were having the ball, the ball goes up, and the player throws in, and we are seven guys up…they actually scored a good goal, but that should never happen.”

“I think the only goal I’m really frustrated about is the last one because the second one is [Brown] slipping and giving the ball to the other team. There’s nothing tactical about it. And the first one is very unlucky.”

Fafà scores but questions remain

Earlier in the week, it was reported that Fafà was looking for a move out of Vancouver and back to a team in the Eastern Conference.

“You handle [such news] in a way that is as professional as you can. You be as fair as you can with the player. And the player actually responded professionally and fair during the week, actually trained very well.”

Fafà’s playing time has been hampered by injuries and international call-ups.

So far, there are no clubs moving for the player and no rumours of any looking at him.

“First of all, we need a team that wants him and then we’ll see.”

White ties the Whitecaps’ MLS goal record

The three goals from White tie him with Camilo Sanvezzo for the most goals in MLS regular season play.

“The importance that [White] has for this team is astronomical,” Sartini said. “It’s not about the goals. It’s about the way that we play is very tied to the quality of his performance.”

As for White, all he had to add was, “It’s pretty cool.”

Pretty cool indeed.

Up next

The Whitecaps head back on the road for a midweek match against Minnesota United. That match is on Wednesday, July 3.

Kickoff is at 5:30 p.m.