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Three things: Hwang draws praise as 'Caps open 2019 MLS season

VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver Whitecaps FC opened their 2019 MLS regular season campaign with a 3-2 defeat to Minnesota United FC on Saturday afternoon at BC Place.

Here are three things that stood out to me. 

NEW CHAPTER

Saturday really did mark a new chapter for the club.

Along with new head coach Marc Dos Santos, a total of nine players made their Whitecaps FC debuts. For seven of those players, it was also their first match in Major League Soccer.

And many of them showed some signs of promise.

Lass Bangoura dazzled with his pace and trickery in the opening frame, Erik Godoy scored a goal and looked very comfortable in the centre of defence, Jon Erice proved a key cog in midfield with game-highs in touches (116) and total passes (101), Inbeom Hwang earned the praise of the crowd on numerous occasions for his work rate off the ball, and the list goes on.

At the same time, with so many new faces, there were always going to be some growing pains.

Dos Santos wasn’t interested in talking about a lack of “chemistry” following the match, but he did feel as though there were areas for improvement when it comes to decision-making in possession, which halted Vancouver’s build-up play and led to most of Minnesota’s opportunities.

“There’s a lot of moments that we have possession and suddenly we make the decision to go over the top, looking for Fredy between Boxall and Opara,” Dos Santos told reporters. “That’s bad decision-making. We know that if we’re just a little cleaner in those moments, then we’ll have players like Felipe, Jon, Inbeom more in the opponents’ half. That’s where you can originate more offence.”

“We had spaces to play sometimes, and instead of connecting short passes, we decided to go over the top,” he added. “That disconnected our game.”

EARNING PRAISE

As alluded to above, Hwang was a player that drew the applause of the sold-out crowd of 27,837 more than once. And it wasn’t necessarily for what you’d expect from a player who, according to Dos Santos, has an “incredible gift” technically.

Hwang certainly had his moments in possession, including a powerful 80th-minute strike that forced Minnesota goalkeeper Vito Mannone into a diving stop, but on Saturday he stood out more for his work rate, passion, and desire to lift the team.

Here are a couple examples.

As Dos Santos said, Hwang seemed to get better as the game went on. It was, after all, his first-ever professional club match outside his native South Korea, so it’s no surprise that it took him a little while to get going. But there were certainly signs of promise in the latter stages of the match.

“He grew throughout the game,” Dos Santos said. “The first half wasn’t easy for him. In the second half, he got involved. He was cramping, but he kept going. It was encouraging. I see a lot of positive things going forward.”

COMING TO THEIR DEFENSE

Dos Santos came to the defense of both Jake Nerwinski and Derek Cornelius following the match.

Upon first glance, he agreed with the penalty call on Nerwinski that led to Minnesota’s first goal. But at the same time, he felt that Nerwinski was a “monster” in the first 45 minutes.

“He was probably one of our better players in the first half,” Dos Santos said of Nerwinski, who had game-highs in both duels won and aerials won. “He had a lot of good defensive actions.”

As for Cornelius, Dos Santos said it was simply “unfair to judge” the 21-year-old Canadian as a left fullback because it’s not his natural position.

“He’s been a very good player playing as a centre back all of preseason,” Dos Santos said. “Because of an emergency moment, the injury of Brett, and us making sure that we wanted to have some height on set plays, he had to play in a position that was kind of rushed for him. So I applaud him.”

Next up for the ‘Caps is a trip to Utah for their first away match of the season on Saturday against Real Salt Lake (3 p.m. PT kickoff on TSN1 and TSN 1040 radio).