Whitecaps Suffer Tough Loss in Season Opener

by Michael Martinez
First Team Photo of 2022

It’s finally here! The 2022 season is upon us, and everyone at CascadiaSN is pumped for the new season. The first 34 game grind to reach a chance at glory. On a gloomy Ohio Saturday afternoon, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Columbus Crew took to the pitch to begin their 2022 campaigns. All of the storylines from the past four months were about to be put to the test.

Lineups:

Vancouver Whitecaps: 3-1-4-2

Columbus Crew: 4-2-3-1

Match Report

Early on, the Crew would nearly get off to a scary start right away, as their dangerman, Lucas Zelarayan, found some space at the edge of the box after a sloppy Whitecaps turnover in the 3rd minute, and he nearly made them pay for it. However, the Argentine sent his shot just over the mark. Right after, Zelarayan continued his strong start into the 5th minute, as he did well to find Milos Degenek off of a corner, and the big Australian got a firm header off, sending his shot just wide.

It started in a fashion fit for an MLS season opener. No more than eight minutes in, Miguel Berry found himself on the edge of the box, being man marked by Nerwinski. Able to create a slight separation, the Spaniard fired a right-footed effort goalwards. However, after a slight deflection from Nerwinski, the ball thanks to the face of Veselinovic. The change of direction left Thomas Hasal a half step behind where he needed to be, and the Crew and an early lead.

Columbus created several quality chances in the first half, testing Hasal from all angles. However, they could beat the young Canadian keeper for the second time in the 25th. A lovely cross-field pass from Yeboah found Etienne in plenty of space striding into the Vancouver penalty area. However, a lack of communication between Brown and Veselinovic allowed Etienne to stroll in, take his time and finish off the chance with a goal.

Vancouver could produce nothing more than several half-chances against the run of play. There was a lack of structure on defense and an inability to string multiple passes together in the midfield. Nothing was falling Vancouver’s way in the opening 45. The team was still in preseason form, and it showed. It was interesting to see how they would react to their slow start. It didn’t help that the Crew came out flying in front of their home fans, but there was no doubt that the Whitecaps could’ve offered far more resistance.

Whitecaps Wingback, Brown, battles for a 50/50 ball

Image via Whitecaps FC Twitter

Second Half

The second half showed the same trends for the visitors, starting with a player ejection. Then, Jake Nerwinski picked up his second yellow card after bringing down Etienne’s streaking in the 53rd minute. But, to be fair, it was a soft foul at best. After that, the momentum shifted right back to Columbus, who started to push back, and they’d nearly come close to finding the net on a few occasions.

A poorly taken quick Vancouver free-kick led to a fast break for the home side. After having the ball fall to his feet, Gyasi Zardes played it over to Luis Diaz, who roofed the ball over a sprawling Hasal and into the net for a Columbus third in the 84th. 

Two minutes later, Zelarayan added his name to the score sheet with a deserved goal from the Argentinian. A scramble in the Vancouver penalty box left Zelarayan alone and in space. A well-taken finish to close out the contest.

Post Match Thoughts

It was far from an ideal start for Vanni Sartini’s tenure in Vancouver. Conceding four, having a player receive his first career red card, minimal success from set-pieces. Yet, after a solid end to last season, one that saw them ride a solid second half of the campaign to a surprise playoff berth, their first such qualification in four years, the Whitecaps had high expectations heading into this year.

Because of that, it makes this result quite a disappointment. After looking like one of the more dynamic teams in the league during the second half of the 2021 season, the Whitecaps looked a lot more like the unit among the worst in the league.

Of course, it was always tough to win in Columbus away, but they certainly needed to be a lot better even to have a chance, as they were just second-best too often on the afternoon. A game to forget for Sartini’s men.

“We made a lot of mistakes,” Sartini said. “And I think when we were trying to press them we were always one or two seconds late, and it was easy for them to play through us.”

“It’s a wake-up call,” Sartini said. “It’s a wake-up call that our level needs to be better, and we really need to be more humble and hungry (going forward).”

It will have to be a quick turnaround, as Vancouver will be welcoming 2021 MLS Cup champions NYCFC to BC Place on Saturday, March 5th. The first five matches will be a tough test for the Whitecaps, so we’ll see if they can find some form and surprise everyone.

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