Almost everyone understood the Whitecaps game against Austin before a ball was kicked.
And of course they were right. The Whitecaps quickly fell two goals behind and looked totally outclassed by Austin. If only someone had said that this kind of thing could happen!
If we prorate the xG of Sartini games (which, slightly worryingly, isn’t much different from the xG of MDS games)
The Whitecaps would be expected to have a season that looks something like
So while it was a lot of fun, there’s some serious work to be done.
— Caleb Wilkins (@wilkins_caleb24) December 12, 2021
To be fair to the Whitecaps, I’m a little baffled that things look so bad, but it didn’t take a big leap of logic to see that the Whitecaps needed a boost.
The Whitecaps showed just about every problem you’d expect. Their midfield didn’t stop Austin from getting into the final 3 or moving the ball into Austin’s defensive 3. The defense struggled valiantly but failed to contain wave after wave of attack (with Jake Nerwinski looking a bit lost at times). Thomas Hasal didn’t make any catastrophic errors, but he also didn’t make a point save, change of momentum. Brian White and Lucas Cavallini ran a lot from the start and did well when the ball came to them, but it was so rare it made little difference.
Vanni Sartini made three changes in the second half but a big miss from Cristian Dájome aside, they didn’t affect much. Austin added another goal (giving them three goals from just 0.9 xG) and capped a well-deserved victory, although the margin flattered the quality of the chances they created a bit.
There will be time to dive into the specifics of where things went wrong for the Whitecaps, but if I had to get the bigger picture, I’d say the problem is that the team believed in theirs too much. hype. During pre-season, Axel Schuster spoke a lot about how important it was for him to keep the group together after their strong end to last season. But in games like this, we see how volatile last year’s success has been. Without Maxime Crepeau to save their bacon and with Ryan Gauld having a rough start due to injuries, they are no match for it. The highlight moment was when Vanni Sartini was forced to bring in 34-year-old Tosaint Ricketts in an attempt to continue the game. Ricketts had a fantastic career but he only scored 3 goals in the last 3 seasons. The team has a lot of intermediate players and when a few key players are unavailable due to injury or some other circumstance, it all falls apart. Compare that to Austin, whose underlying numbers and overall team strength were very similar to Vancouver’s last season. They made several signings in the second half of last season and the offseason and they now sit in first place in the Western Conference. It’s not like they signed someone that stunning, they just took their team’s baseline to the next level and it paid them huge dividends. But there will be more on that in the coming weeks.
It must also be said that once again, the Whitecaps seemed ill-prepared this season. Whether it’s starting the season slow or starting games slow, other teams always look like they’re locked in a lot faster than the Whitecaps. Part of the blame must go to Vanni Sartini, but I remember it was an issue that affected several coaches. So I’m wondering if there’s something a little more than just skin going on there. I recently finished Christoph Biermann’s book Soccer Pirates. He quotes the blog of the Finnish international Tim Sparv who participated in the change of fortune of the Danish club FC Midtjylland. Midtjylland attracted a lot of attention when they grew from a small market club to Danish champions, being very public about their use of data and analysis to do so (current Whitecaps head scouting Nikos Overhuel , was also part of the revolution). But Sparv notes that the success has also coincided with improvements to Midtjylland’s facilities which have significantly improved the quality of life for players (better breakfasts, massage therapists, etc.). Maybe there is something to watch there. But that’s just one man’s vain speculation.