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It was a bad night all around for the Vancouver Whitecaps. Bad luck, bad defending and a bad result.
But, in the big picture, it’s not all bad.
Yes, the Caps fell 4-1 to the Houston Dynamo Wednesday night at Shell Energy Stadium, and yes, their quest for a top-four finish in the West has been put on hold for now.
Vancouver had come into the game on a four-game away unbeaten streak, and just one loss in their last seven league games. But it was unrealistic to think the good times would roll indefinitely, even if it felt that way.
The Dynamo (12-10-7) were on a six-game unbeaten run of their own, and own the best home record in the West, with just two losses in 15 games. Houston has been an inhospitable place for the Caps (11-9-8), who have won just once in 11 tries in Houston — and it was five years ago.
The second-highest-scoring team in the West was throttled by Houston, the pressure the Caps usually inflict on opponents absent or easily absorbed. Head coach Vanni Sartini said there was some accumulated fatigue in his players’ legs, even though they’ve played just one previous game since returning from a two-week international break.
Does it excuse the loss? No. Two of the goals came off Charmin-soft defending, and some usually impactful Whitecaps were all but invisible. The Dynamo went up on Vancouver early and never let off the gas, while the Caps appeared to have little in the tank from the start.
“After 12,13 games that we were playing good, we had a bad game offensively. We had a really bad game in terms of moving offensively,” said Sartini. “If we want to take out a good thing from this game, it’s a good wake-up call.
“We’ve been in a kind of heaven from the last few weeks. Winning away, and before winning away, we won the game at B.C. Place and we did a very good Leagues Cup. So we were on a ‘quote-unquote’ roll. It’s good to understand that if we are not the best version of ourselves, it’s hard to make points.”
Here’s what we learned …
A very questionable foul call against Richie Laryea 12 minutes in gave the Dynamo a free kick just outside the top left corner of the box. Houston’s Héctor Herrera took the kick, his dipping effort deflecting off of Brian White’s head past a wrong-footed Yohei Takaoka. A bad call by referee Fotis Bazakos put Vancouver under the cosh.
Houston’s Griffin Dorsey potted the second for the home side, taking advantage of Tristan Blackmon’s unwillingness to challenge him in the box to curl one top corner past Takaoka just moments before halftime. The Caps’ keeper made his displeasure over the lax defending known as the ball was plucked out of the net.
The third goal saw Iván Franco sprint unchallenged and unchecked from midfield between Pedro Vite and Laryea to put the game to bed in the 73rd minute, tucking home Brad Smith’s cross with a diving header.
Brooklyn Raines added a fourth in the 86th minute, the first time this season the Caps have conceded four goals.
The Dynamo lead the league in clean sheets with 12, but the Caps put one past Steve Clark in the 90th minute. It appeared Sebastian Berhalter had gotten a touch for his second goal of the season, but it was officially credited as an own goal to Erik Sviatchenko.
BY THE NUMBERS
11: Shots by Vancouver, to Houston’s six — though the Dynamo put five of them on goal.
12: Touches by Vancouver’s leading scorer, Brian White, in his 67 minutes on the field. He had nine at the half. It was indictment of how the Caps couldn’t build up at all, nor find him with any decent service. He did put one free header wide, a touch he’d definitely want back.
2: Number of passes more by Vancouver than Houston (416-414), in a physical and evenly possessed contest.
45: Minutes for Junior Hoilett in his Whitecaps debut. He came on after halftime for Ryan Raposo, and had a shot and a team-high three key passes in his 20 touches. The Canadian international also put in the cross that was turned in for a Dynamo own goal.
“I think he was OK,” said Sartini. “He was finding space … and of course he’s still missing that punch to make those sprints, those bursts that are his classic trademark. It’s very important that he played 45 minutes. Then you can add 45 minutes in his game load and be readier to help starting from Saturday.”
The Whitecaps will stay in Houston for the next two days in preparation for Saturday’s date with Real Salt Lake. That game is also a crucial one in the tight west, with RSL just a single point behind Vancouver, having missed a chance to leap past the Caps when they lost 3-1 to FC Dallas Wednesday.
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