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2023 MLS Cup Playoffs: Vancouver Whitecaps swept by LAFC

The Vancouver Whitecaps’ season is over after losing two straight games to Los Angeles FC in their best-of-three MLS Cup Playoffs series.

Of the three Canadian MLS teams, Vancouver was the only one that made the playoffs.

The Whitecaps fared much better at home than they did on the road during the MLS regular season. That’s no surprise given Vancouver is one of the northernmost and westernmost cities with an MLS team.

We’ll evaluate their two losses to LAFC and where they can go from here before next season.

Caps fall off the pace in Game 1

One week after these two teams played to a draw in Canada on MLS Decision Day, Vancouver and LA played an end-to-end first half at BMO Stadium in California in Game 1, trading goals to end the half tied at 2.

Ryan Hollingshead opened the scoring for LA in the 18’ minute, Vancouver striker Brian White answered nine minutes later, MLS Golden Boot winner Denis Bouanga gave LA the lead in the 29’ minute, and Sam Adekugbe equalized in the 40’ minute.

But that was as long as Vancouver could hang with LAFC.

Seven minutes after halftime, Hollingshead scored his second goal of the game to make the score 3-2. Bouanga scored his second in the 64’ minute, and Jesus Murillo capped the scoring in the 80’ minute.

While possession was split down the middle, LAFC dominated in terms of field position. They had six shots on target to Vancouver’s two and 12 corners to Vancouver’s three.

The Whitecaps did not get much help from their last line of defence: Goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka saved just one of the six shots on target he faced.

Vancouver falls in heartbreaking Game 2

The Whitecaps picked things up after a disappointing Game 1. Game 2 was played in Vancouver and the home side won the possession and shots battles.

One strike from 12 yards made the difference, and it was in favour of the visitors.

That means the 2023 MLS season is over for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Mario Gonzalez won the penalty when Tristan Blackmon impeded his progress in the box in the 22' minute. Bouanga stepped up and sent Takaoka the wrong way while smashing the ball into the top right corner.

Twelve of Vancouver’s 13 shots came after the halftime break, and the fact they posted 1.0 expected goals shows they did not create high-percentage chances, likely due to being desperate for a goal.

“At the end, we didn’t have a fair chance, to be honest,” said Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini. “Because today unfortunately the referee had a bad game.”

Sartini lamented that the referees let LAFC get away with too many fouls, adding that LA goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau – who used to play for Vancouver - deserved a booking for time wasting and that Murillo deserved a card because he committed four fouls.

Where does Vancouver go from here?

With Ryan Gauld and Brian White, the Whitecaps have one of the best duos in MLS. White scored 15 goals and added four assists, while Gauld scored 11 goals and contributed 12 assists.

Aside from them, the player with the next-most goal contributions during the 2023 season was Julian Gressel with three goals and five assists, and the Caps traded him away to the Columbus Crew in July.

No other player had more than five goal contributions. That, paired with an average defence that allowed 48 goals in 34 regular season games, explains why Vancouver finished sixth of 14 MLS Western Conference teams.

Sartini lines the Whitecaps up in a 3-5-2 formation with Gauld and White as the strike partnership. Gauld plays a more withdrawn role while White functions as a regular striker.

In addition to more production from 21-year-old midfielder Pedro Vite and 24-year-old forward Simon Becher (four goals each in 2023), Vancouver should pursue a versatile, productive attacker and an aerially dominant center back who can be a threat on set pieces.

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