Photo credit: Vancouver Whitecaps Twitter

*This was originally posted on May 28, 2022*

Vanni Sartini must have felt something in the air in Kansas City. Always one for tinkering, he chose to go above and beyond his normal tweaking.

And his work paid off as the Vancouver Whitecaps found their first points on the road with a 1-0 win against their hosts. They also leapfrog several teams to move into 11th place in the western conference, and with games in hand against their immediate rivals in the table.

Starting XI and initial thoughts

Leave it to Sartini to never have the same lineup twice, but still find ways to spring a surprise.

Florian Jungwirth is back in the starting XI. However, it’s not where you would expect him. He draws in at the centre of midfield, with Sebastain Berhalter and Leonard Owusu alongside him.

Cristián Gutiérrez gets the start on the left after a good match against Cavalry FC. His crosses are some of the best in the squad currently. Marcus Godinho takes the position on the right. He played well against Charlotte.

The back 3 is about as expected. Érik Godoy has already had his game of the week, so Ranko Veselinović will stand in the middle of Javain Brown on the right and Jake Nerwinski on the left.

Interestingly, there is no no. 10 in the lineup. (Ryan Gauld is out with a hamstring injury) Sartini goes with the striking pair of Lucas Cavallini and Cristian Dájome.

To round it out, Cody Cropper is back in net for the injured Thomas Hasal.

With this formation, look for either Owusu or Berhalter to get up high in the attacking phase. Jungwirth will stay deeper to win balls in front of the backline. There is also the option for him to drop back beside Veselinović with Nerwinski and Brown moving wide to transition to a back 4.

Clogging up the midfield with so many bodies means that Sporting KC will have to either play ball over the top or have pacy wingers to beat Sartini’s WBs on 1v1s.

This is a counter-attacking formation, so I’m looking to see a lot of crosses from Gutiérrez and Godinho.

The first half

Sporting KC came out of the gate looking to control the match. That’s their right as it’s their building.

And for about 10 minutes, it looked as though Sporting would have their way. They had little to show for it in terms of shot attempts, but their possession and control was dangerous.

However, it was not to last. The Whitecaps grew into the match by playing out wide and using Gutierrez and Godinho to get balls into the box.

In particular, Guti did well to send balls in, but none were able to find their marks. Sporting KC’s defence did well to frustrate any attempts to convert those chances.

But the game changed in the 23’. Dajome broke into the 18-yard box on a quick pace and was taken down just inside. While that challenge was clean, the next one was not.

Cavallini jumped on the loose ball and tried to get around the defender, who was still on the deck. The strong striker was brought down and drew the penalty. His panenka was cool and calm and reminiscent of his PK in the match against Cavalry FC.

Unfortunately, Dajome was unable to continue as a result of the initial challenge. Déiber Caicedo came on in a one-for-one switch.

The Whitecaps almost had another chance in the 31’ with the substitute finding himself on a breakaway. He tried to lob the goalkeeper, but his ball sailed far wide. It was a missed opportunity for the ‘Caps and one that may come back to haunt them.

Sporting KC had their best chance of the first half 10 minutes later. A cross almost found the foot of Johnny Russell, but it was just too far ahead of the attacking player.

Leonard Owusu went down during a strong 50-50 challenge. He stayed on, but he was visibly limping towards the end of the half.

The Blue-and-White were able to hold onto their lead going into the dressing rooms. It was a good half on the road and one that had the faithful hopeful they could carry on in the second.

The second half

The second half started similar to the first with Sporting KC pushing hard. Disappointed to be down at the half, they were sending bodies further up the pitch in the hopes of closing down the Whitecaps and forcing turnovers.

For the first 10’, it worked. The ‘Caps were effectively taken out of the match, but they were able to fight their way back in, something they have not done much of this year without facing adversity.

Thankfully, they did not need that adversity to find their game. 

Around the hour mark, Sartini’s changes signalled they were going to change tactics and try to hold up for the win. Godoy came on for his second match of the week as Gutiérrez left the pitch. The Canadian had a good game running along the left.

In the 69’, Cavallini got his head on the end of a corner kick by the far post. He was able to direct it down, but it was cleared out of the box by the defender.

As the half got closer to the end, Sporting grew more desperate in their play. Their backline was pushed higher, which also let the Whitecaps get in behind.

In the 74’, Godinho had a chance to shoot, but opted to dribble closer. It was the wrong choice as his hesitation allowed SKC to get back into position. This was a recurring thread in this half for both sides, which missed chances and opportunities.

One interesting point was that Luis Martins got his first playing time on the first team as a Whitecap. He came on for Godinho for the final ten minutes. His last club was none other than Sporting KC.

Sporting KC continued to fight until the end. And they almost had their equaliser in stoppage time, saved off the line by Brown. His extra-effort header kept the clean sheet for Cropper and helped the Whitecaps to their first win on the road and their first points away from BC Place as well.

The match marked the end of a busy May—five matches in MLS and two in the Canadian Championship. In all seven matches, they finished with a 3W-1L-1D record.

What was said

Sartini called the win, “the cherry on the top of May.”

He had lots of praise for the collective effort of his players, but did take time to point out a few.

On Cavallini’s panenka PK, he said, “You have to have a lot of balls, I don’t know if you can say that.”

He also said Jungwirth responded well to playing in the no. 6 position, a position that Jungwirth said was “his favourite to play.”

“I played that position in Germany most of my career, San Jose a couple times,” he said. “And when Vanni came to me and informed me, obviously I had a big smile on my face.”

On the win, Jungwirth said “you could feel it.”

Stat of the match

The Whitecaps’ defensive play was on display again tonight. They had 24 clearances compared to SKC’s 14.

Up next

There is a week-long break as many players head to their national sides. Cavallini will be joining up with the Canadian Men’s National Team while Brown will be leaving to join up with his Jamaican side. 

Up next is Real Salt Lake at BC Place. Kickoff is next Saturday at 4 p.m.