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Whitecaps vs Sporting FC: what we learned from their 1-0 win

The Whitecaps got another strong performance from forward Lucas Cavallini, who scored the only goal of the game from a penalty in the 24th minute.

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On Saturday, the Vancouver Whitecaps had won just once before in Kansas City in the regular season.

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That win in 2017, via a stunning goal from Erik Hurtado, secured a place in the playoffs but was also an overwhelming result as the whitecaps only had 25 percent possession.

Saturday’s 1-0 win over hosts Sporting Kansas City was a different story. The Whitecaps got off to a poor start to the season, though they’ve found their way lately, even as they saw their lineup rocked by a COVID-19 outbreak. And SKC’s start to the season was even worse than Vancouver’s due to injuries – the loss of two designated players for the season – and just plain poor form.

The Whitecaps tried a new formation with Florian Jungwirth as a defensive midfielder, perhaps in terms of how they could be set up following the arrival of Andrés Cubas, and it worked very well.

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Too often in their 11-year MLS history, the topic has been Vancouver’s midfield being overrun. You weren’t there that evening.

And they got another strong performance from striker Lucas Cavallini, who scored the only goal of the game from a penalty in the 24th minute.

The Caps won three of their five MLS games in May and are now 11th in the Western Conference, just four points behind Houston Dynamo with a game in hand.

“Today is a group win. We missed a lot of players today, two important players, but you couldn’t tell because the guys on the field played their part,” said Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini. “I am very happy. Winning here is very, very difficult.”

Here’s what we learned…

May 28, 2022;  Kansas City, Kansas, United States;  Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini reacts after playing against Sporting Kansas City in the first half at Children's Mercy Park.
May 28, 2022; Kansas City, Kansas, United States; Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini reacts after playing against Sporting Kansas City in the first half at Children’s Mercy Park. Photo by Denny Medley /USA TODAY sports

counterattack

If you want to play a style where the other team has more possession than you do, you need to be good at least on the counterattack.

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And in the first half in Kansas City, the Whitecaps did a great job.

More than once they stopped an SKC attack and quickly pushed the game the other way.

Sebastian Berhalter found himself with the ball at his feet and quickly jumped onto Cristian Dájome, who carried the ball into the SKC penalty area. SKC defender Oriol Rosell won the ball off the fast forward but it rattled free.

Cavallini ran for the ball only to be tripped by Rosell.

Referee Ted Unkel pointed to the penalty spot and Cavallini was just happy to go for another Panenka and smashed the ball over SKC keeper Tim Melia. It’s the second of the week for the Canadian great, who scored the same penalty in Wednesday’s Canadian Championship against Cavalry FC.

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It gave the Caps an early lead that carried them into halftime — the first time they’ve led after 45 minutes all season.

A little loose

After a measured effort in the first 45 minutes – SKC didn’t have a shot on goal – the Whitecaps opened the second half a little nervously.

There were a few moments when Kansas City had a green area ahead of them to play into. A few were self-inflicted as the Caps turned the ball blindly.

But they pulled themselves together and nursed the game home in the final 30 minutes.

After a late corner for SKC, Javain Brown headed the ball off the line, the only real late chance the home side created.

May 28, 2022;  Kansas City, Kansas, United States;  Vancouver Whitecaps defenseman Javain Brown (23) heads the ball during the first half at Children's Mercy Park against Sporting Kansas City.
May 28, 2022; Kansas City, Kansas, United States; Vancouver Whitecaps defenseman Javain Brown (23) heads the ball during the first half at Children’s Mercy Park against Sporting Kansas City. Photo by Denny Medley /USA TODAY sports

Gotta do better

Déiber Caicedo missing a lob over keeper Tim Melia after leaping free from Cavallini came as no surprise, but seeing Johnny Russell miss from the right front – and putting the ball poorly to the corner flag – was.

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The powerful Scottish forward scored 15 goals for Kansas City in 2021.

Caicedo’s miss denied the Caps a 2-0 first-half lead that their fine counterplay deserved.

“People here could have had a barbecue instead of watching the game because it would have been game over,” Sartini joked about the miss.

Cool goalkeeper

Cavallini put a lot of work into it. There was the continuation of the Dájome attack to win the penalty. There was the goal itself.

But it was the over-the-top lob against Caicedo that told the striker’s biggest story of the night. He came deep to support a counterattack and then turned the ball over the SKC backline.

He ran all over the field and helped create openings for his much faster teammates.

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Vancouver Whitecaps goaltender Cody Cropper (55) stops a shot on goal against Sporting Kansas City in the first half at Children's Mercy Park.
Vancouver Whitecaps goaltender Cody Cropper (55) stops a shot on goal against Sporting Kansas City in the first half at Children’s Mercy Park. Photo by Denny Medley /USA TODAY sports

Jungwirth knows what he is doing

Jungwirth started as a defensive midfielder for the first time as Whitecap.

A team that has been juggling its structure all season has also struggled at times to find some consistency. It wasn’t going to be a big task against a weakened opponent, but either way, the Bavarian with the golden curls showed consistency.

“I’ve played there all my life. In Germany I mostly played there. It’s my favorite position. Of course, being able to play in your favorite position makes you happy as a player. (Coach) Vanni (Sartini) came up to me and said: ‘You’re playing the six’, I had a little smile on my face, I can’t deny that,” he said this week of the possibility of being No. 6.

“I love it you know? I mean, I played against Xabi Alonso and İlkay Gündoğan in that position, so I think I can play against (Roger) Espinoza in Kansas. I think I can.”

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Paralyzed

Ryan Gauld stopped playing and missed his fifth game of the season. It’s been a tough 2022 for the Scottish playmaker as he has left three of his eight appearances this season through injury, including Wednesday’s against Cavalry FC in the Canadian Championship game.

This time he injured his right Achilles tendon, the Caps say.

He’s dealt with a concussion, COVID-19, another illness and now this hamstring issue this season.

More injuries

Dájome limped away after Cavallini’s goal after injuring his leg in the first tackle from Rosell, who was replaced by Caicedo. For a team that’s already missing Gauld and Brian White, losing one of its most vivacious attackers for an extended period of time doesn’t bode well.

The Caps also lost Lloyd Owusu at half-time when the hard-working midfielder tangled with Russell near half-time and never returned. He was replaced by Matthew Baldisimo.

date of arrival

Cubas has been called up by Paraguay for the June international window, meaning Caps fans will have to wait longer before seeing the team’s newest designated player.

Signed in April by French Ligue 1 club Nîmes, the four-year deal is expected to arrive in Vancouver on June 11.

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