Vancouver Whitecaps FC picked up their first win of 2016 on Saturday night, defeating rivals Seattle Sounders FC 2-1 in a heated Cascadia derby at CenturyLink Field.
Here are three things that stood out to me.
PEREZ A DIFFERENCE-MAKER IN NEW-LOOK FORMATION
You just knew Blas Pérez would have a part to play in this game.
Turned out to be a pretty big one.
To the surprise of no one, the Panamanian striker got under Seattle’s skin from the get go (see Zach Scott’s post-match comments). But he also was involved in both of Vancouver’s goals.
On the first one, he played the ball in behind to Christian Bolaños that led to the foul in the box. On the second one, Pérez ran onto a sublime Pedro Morales ball over the top and gained position on Sounders FC defender Chad Marshall, who then conceded the PK with a slide tackle in the box.
Say what you want about the calls, they don’t happen if the ‘Caps don’t get into those areas.
Saturday was Pérez’s 100th MLS regular season appearance and his first start as a member of Whitecaps FC. He played up top alongside Octavio Rivero in a new-look 4-4-2 formation. The rationale behind the change, according to head coach Carl Robinson, was to try to take advantage of Seattle’s “isolated” centre backs.
“We know they have two excellent fullbacks who love to attack and want to get forward and will load you up with numbers because of their forward-thinking play, but it leaves the two centre backs a little bit isolated sometimes,” Robinson told reporters. “That’s why I went with two forwards.”
And he was happy with the returns.
“I thought Blas Pérez was one of the best players on the field,” Robinson said. “I thought he was excellent in his hold-up play and brought leadership into the young team that we have."
His hold-up play also created a pair of chances, as you can see below.
To quantify Pérez's involvement in the match a little further, he was involved in a game-high 22 duels – the second most of any MLS player this weekend.
BACK LINE COMES UP BIG
The big focus for Whitecaps FC coming into this one was to shore things up on the defensive end and cut out some of the “self-inflicted” mistakes that proved so costly in the first two matches.
Sure, there were some nervy moments.
But on Saturday night in Seattle, the ‘Caps looked much more like the team that conceded the fewest goals in all of Major League Soccer last season. The centre back duo of Tim Parker and Kendall Waston played a big part in that, combining for 20 clearances, three blocks, and six interceptions.
Here’s a look at all their defensive actions from the match.
clearances = purple, interceptions = blue, blocks = yellow, recoveries = orange, tackles = green
Safe to say it was a busy night.
And it was no different for fullbacks Fraser Aird and Jordan Harvey. Aird had a game-high five tackles, while Harvey led the ‘Caps with five interceptions.
“The four guys in front of me did what I expected them to do,” Whitecaps FC goalkeeper David Ousted told reporters. “They defended with everything. They blocked shots. They got in good positions and got good clearances. That is what we need to do, especially coming into a tough place like this and but also in every game as we move forward.”
“We showed a bit of grit and determination,” added Robinson. “They’re knackered in there. They’ve got ice packs all over them, and that’s what you need to do in this game.”
HOME AWAY FROM HOME?
The ‘Caps have now won four straight MLS matches at CenturyLink Field dating back to Kekuta Manneh’s memorable hat-trick as a rookie in 2013.
It’s remarkable, really.
That’s not an easy place to play, but it just seems to bring the best out of the ‘Caps.
“You get into a big crowd and the crowd gets the Sounders fired up,” Ousted said. “We just enjoy playing down here. It is a place you know you have to be one hundred per cent focused if you want to come in and win. Luckily we have been good at doing that.”
Part of Vancouver’s success at CenturyLink is likely also a result of their counter-attacking style of play – something Robinson was asked about following the match.
“It’s a different type of game,” Robinson said. “Teams can sit back at our place, but we’ve got to be better about breaking them down. Today the matchup was good for us, but we won’t get carried away – it’s only one game. It’s nice in a derby game – there’s lots of emotion in it, but it’s three points at the end of the day.”
Be a part of the best sporting atmosphere in Vancouver! 2016 Whitecaps FC Season Tickets are on sale from $39/month all in. In addition to Season Tickets, Whitecaps FC offer a flexible range of ticket products, including Half-Season Packs, 5-Packs, a Youth Soccer Half-Season Ticket, and single match tickets. For more information, visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.