It was a much-needed win for the Vancouver Whitecaps and though it was against the lowest-ranked team in the West, Sporting Kansas City, all wins count the same.

The Whitecaps, under the scoring power of their captain, Ryan Gauld, ended their winless streak in MLS play with a 2-1 win over the home side.

Head coach Vanni Sartini said they “had been feeling the pressure” before this.

“You could be a little bit shaken in your convincement, even the players. But we came here and put in a very good performance. I would say a Whitecaps tradesmen performance,” he said.

It had been hinted at in Sartini’s press conference at the end of the Inter Miami match, but seeing is believing.

Yes, there was a tactical shift for this match.

Lining up in a 3-5-2 still gave the Whitecaps’ head coach his much-loved back 3, but it had the potential for flexibility through the middle.

Rather than a double pivot, Andrés Cubas lined up alone as a no. 6. Sartini also deployed two no. 8s, and in an interesting twist, Sebastian Berhalter and Alessandro Schöpf were given that duty.

“The two no. 8s were very good and allowed…having Andrés to be even more aggressive,” Sartini said.

Ryan Gauld was pushed up alongside Brian White in an effort to unlock the attack.

While Sporting KC looked dangerous for the first 15 minutes or so, the Whitecaps slowly found their footing with the new formation. In particular, Berhalter was ever-present at both ends of the pitch, making a monstrous block to keep the home side from getting a clear break and delivering a beautiful ball into White for a header.

Of the block, Sartini said, “That’s the play that made us win the game.”

“If they score after 10 minutes in a very silly mistake that we made, it’s going to be very hard to get back,” he added.

Yohei Takaoka was also alert for this match. His efforts were called into action in the 15th minute as he responded with a huge save from a Felipe Hernández free kick.
The deadlock ended in the 39th minute as the Whitecaps finally got their first open-play goal in six matches. Brown stepped up to deliver a dangerous long throw into the six-yard box, which bounced over a couple of heads before hitting the ground.

Gauld latched onto the end of it as it did, and manoeuvred through SKC defenders to get space. With only John Pulskamp left in the net, the Scot gave Vancouver the lead late in the first half.

The captain added a second late in the game in the 82nd minute. Gauld’s quick thinking put him in an opportune spot to pick off the errant pass by Tim Leibold.

He was able to hold off the centre-back as he entered the 18-yard box, slotting the ball in behind Pulskamp and giving the Whitecaps the 2-0 lead.

But scoring in matches and holding onto wins are two separate things. And the Whitecaps almost messed up the last one.

In stoppage time, Khiry Shelton found space through Vancouver’s defensive line and cut the ball back to Marinos Tzionis. It was a quick one-touch into the back of the net.

The Whitecaps were forced into a nervy final few minutes but managed to hold on for their first win in seven MLS matches.

Berhalter delivers

Berhalter has dropped down the depth chart a bit this season. Tonight was only his second start of the season.

However, he showed up with a strong performance, contributing both defensively and offensively.

“Saying the [Berhalter] is a hard worker, it’s like not giving justice to the word ‘hard’ and to the word ‘worker’,” Sartini said.

Sartini said Berhalter is tactically versatile, enabling the head coach to play him as a no. 6, a no. 8 and even a wingback.

“In the last month, month and a half, we started to see the old Sebastian, the Sebastian that last year, was a very important piece because of his versatility, and he showed it today.”

Sartini noted Gauld’s brace performance, but he said Berhalter was his man of the match.

The Canadian Championship draw

During the press conference, the draw for the semi-final of the Canadian Championship was happening live. The Whitecaps drew against the winner of Pacific FC and Atletico Ottawa.

“Logistically, of course, we would like to play in Victoria [rather] than going to Ottawa. That being said, I’ve never been to Ottawa,” Sartini said, with a laugh.

The first match will be away for the Whitecaps regardless of who they play.

Currently, Pacific leads the tie 2-0 with the second match still to be played in Ottawa.