Celebration - Teibert, Adnan, Hwang
Bob Frid/Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Three things: How the 'Caps beat the MLS leaders and earned their first win of 2019

VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver Whitecaps FC got their first win of the 2019 season on Wednesday, defeating league-leaders LAFC 1-0 at BC Place.

Here are three things that stood out to me.

FIRST WIN FOR MDS

It’s as if it was written in the stars.

Marc Dos Santos earned his first victory as an MLS head coach on Wednesday, and it so happened to come against his former club LAFC, where he was an assistant to Bob Bradley in 2018. LAFC also happen to be top of the table in MLS, having come into BC Place with an unbeaten 6W-0L-1D record and a whopping +14 goal differential.

For Dos Santos, however, Wednesday wasn’t about him. And it wasn’t about LAFC.

It was about the club.

“It’s not about me, it’s about the Vancouver Whitecaps and it’s big because for the people that go to training and follow the team closely, you guys know that players were frustrated but never had their head down, never were negative," he said. "We stayed the process and a lot of times we did a lot of things well and we only got out of games with a tie or with a loss. [Tonight’s win] is important now because it has paid off, all the work, all the consistency of the players in training.”

At the same time, Dos Santos doesn’t want the group to the get carried away. It was an important result, and an encouraging performance indeed, but he hopes it’s only the beginning.

“We didn’t win any trophy, we didn’t win anything,” he said. “We got a win, and even if it’s positive, it’s a good step but we need to continue to build on that. In the last few games there is growth, and that’s what we’re focusing on. We need to win more games if we want to make the club grow and get to our objectives.”

INBEOM OPENS HIS ACCOUNT

Anyone who has watched Whitecaps FC closely to start the 2019 campaign would tell you that Inbeom Hwang has been one of the team’s standouts thus far. Certainly, the 22-year-old South Korean international has been influential in every game he’s played. But the lack of team success had been weighing on him, which is something Dos Santos wanted to address prior to Wednesday.

“It’s going to be a lie if I say I did not have any pressure on me,” Hwang said through a translator. “I know I’m an international player and also a DP for the team, so I did have a little bit of pressure. But at the same time, yesterday Marc wanted to have a chat with me. He said that the team and the coaching staff, the entire team, we don’t want you to feel pressure.”

“So what Marc told me was you are not a finished player, you are a developing player, so even if you’re an international and even if you’re a DP for the team, you are not Wayne Rooney, you are not Zlatan,” Hwang continued. “What Marc told me was that I want you to be Inbeom on the team. So that really helped me to set the mindset.”

Clearly, it had the desired effect. Hwang scored the game’s only goal on Wednesday, opening his MLS account with a well-taken, left-footed half volley.

“Inbeom is a player that is not finished,” Dos Santos said. “He is still in development and he cannot play with the pressure that he has to carry the Whitecaps on his back because he cannot do that alone. He’s an important player on the roster, he needs to play with freedom in his role and if he focuses on that the team is going to get better and he’s going to get better.”

PRESS PAYS OFF

The ‘Caps set the tone from the opening whistle on Wednesday with a relentless work rate while out of possession and by putting pressure on LAFC high up the field. In fact, it was the best high press we’ve seen from Dos Santos’ side this season.

Case in point: the ‘Caps won possession of the ball seven times in the final third against LAFC, according to Opta. Their previous highest total in a game this season was three.

Yordy Reyna and midfielder Russell Teibert were both credited with having won possession in the final third twice against LAFC, while Ali Adnan, PC, and Hwang each did so once. In the end, the decision to start Reyna as a centre forward for the first time this season proved to be the right one.

“What I liked about Yordy was his workload,” Dos Santos said. “I think that a number nine has to stay moving, needs to press the opponent, needs to try to make diagonals in behind. [He] doesn’t need to be 6-foot-6, he needs to be a player that is dynamic and always in movement and I think Yordy was a very big part as to why the team got the three points.”