This was the playoff seesaw from Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw at Banc of California Stadium between LAFC and the Whitecaps:
- 0 to 13:57 – SCORELESS – VAN above the line, LAFC below the line … both can make or miss the playoffs
- 13:58 to 45+4:20 – 1-0 Whitecaps – VAN officially IN the playoffs, LAFC still alive (but barely)
- 49:21 to final whistle – 1-1 DRAW – VAN above the line (and in control of their own destiny), LAFC below the line but still alive (and in need of help)
There is only one thing that matters this time of year in Major League Soccer. What do the standings say? That both the Whitecaps (6th, 48 points) and LAFC (9th, 45 points) remain in playoff purgatory. Neither is in, neither is out and neither can afford to slip up on Decision Day.
Vanni Sartini’s 'Caps entered the night with one scenario in mind: win and they were playoff bound. They went up 1-0, but defended under pressure for most of the match and couldn’t hold the lead. No worries, a win would have been markedly better, obviously, but a road draw that took two points away from a direct competitor is still a fine result. Come Sunday, a draw against Seattle at BC Place and Vancouver will complete their midseason transformation. It won’t be easy, but their fate is still in their hands.
Not so for Bob Bradley’s LAFC. They entered the night knowing a loss would basically sink their playoff chances. They didn’t lose, but the goal Vancouver scored was preventable and LAFC couldn’t capitalize on a dominant second half that resulted in a 2.8-1.1 xG “win.” Now they must win at Colorado on Decision Day AND get help to extend their season. Not ideal. Chicho Arango is going to see that stoppage-time header whiff in his dreams. That play was the difference between LAFC having a win-and-you’re-in season finale and their current reality.
Here are three quick thoughts. We do it all over again on Wednesday night, when you’ll get the tiniest hint about what that playoff/standings seesaw is going to look/feel like on Decision Day. Good luck keeping up.
The ‘Caps straight up don’t win this game without Crepeau having one of his best games of the season. The Canadian international doesn’t get the same sort of buzz as Matt Turner or Andre Blake, but he’s in the top quarter of MLS goalkeepers by just about any measure in 2021.
Remember that xG “win” for LAFC I referenced above? Instead of thinking about that in terms of LAFC misses, consider Crepeau, via a season-high 10 saves, kept out nearly two goals (1.8) that the MLSsoccer.com model would expect to be scored. That’s the definition of a MOTM performance.
It was fitting that Vancouver’s goal came via a Ryan Gauld through ball, some heady Brian White hold-up play and a cheeky touch-and-finish from Cristian Dajome, good for double digits in front of goal for 2021.
All three have turned into spectacular signings for the Whitecaps, and you can thank the scouting and recruitment infrastructure that sporting director and CEO Axel Schuster started putting in place (from scratch, it must be said) once he arrived in November 2019.
Without all three, acquired in different ways, this team would not be on the brink of the playoffs. With them – and many others – the future is getting brighter in Vancouver.
As for Decision Day, there is good news and bad news.
The bad news is that the Sounders are in a semi-desperate seeding position and shellacked the ‘Caps 4-1 less than a month ago. The good news is that game was played in Seattle and Vancouver are arguably the league’s best home team. I’m not talking about their 10-4-2 record over the course of the entire season. I’m talking about the 7-1-0 mark at BC Place, which they only returned to in August.
“Nobody in the locker room or in the organization is looking for a draw next Sunday," Crepeau said. "We'll analyze this game for sure, work on stuff that we can do better. But we're not playing for a draw. We're playing for a win. That's our mindset and we're going back to BC Place where our record shows that we are a good home team."
Go down early thanks to naïve defending. Fight back to dominate the run of play, despite missing Carlos Vela for all or most of the match. Create more than enough goal-dangerous plays to win, but ultimately fall short because the final touch is missing.
That’s the 2021 LAFC season in a nutshell. The eye test and the underlying numbers love them, but the results don’t match the performances or the analytics.
There were plenty of big chances that didn’t quite come off, were saved or straight-up missed, but I keep coming back to Chicho Arango’s missed header two minutes into second-half stoppage time. When I say “missed,” I mean it quite literally. Crepeau didn’t even have to make a save here … Chicho, one of the hottest goalscorers in MLS, just … whiffed.
That goal would have made all the difference on Decision Day. Instead, it’s a trip to Colorado with Vela unlikely to play starter’s minutes. Not where LAFC wanted to be, but there is still hope.