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Young Vancouver Whitecaps learning tough lessons at the MLS is Back Tournament

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Vancouver Whitecaps are learning the hard way at the MLS is Back Tournament.

Down almost a third of their roster by coach Marc Dos Santos' count, the depleted Whitecaps lost their second straight at the tournament — blanked 3-0 Sunday night by the MLS champion Seattle Sounders.

"We have eight players that are not here that are important players," said Dos Santos. "So we're doing what we can to maximize what we have and it's not easy. We're doing everything we can. Regardless we came to this tournament. Regardless of guys out. We're here to fight.

"Our guys never stopped running. Even in the last 10-15 minutes, we kept going, we keep pressuring, we didn't put our heads down."

The Whitecaps, who lost 4-3 to San Jose in their opening match, are still mathematically alive in the tournament. But they need to beat Chicago by at least three goals in the final Group B game Thursday morning to have a chance of progressing as one of the four best third-place finishers.

Vancouver has managed just two shots on target in each of its two games at the tournament (while it scored three goals against San Jose, one was an own goal).

"We need to find a way with the weapons that we have ... to find solutions in the final third (of the field)," said Dos Santos.

That's hard given the big guns are at home.

Forwards Lucas Cavallini, Fredy Montero and Tosaint Ricketts, along with defender Andy Rose and defender/midfielder Georges Mukumbilwa, are not here because of personal or medical reasons.

At the other end, the veteran Rose is missed. "It's been incredibly unstable at the back and we need to do a better job," said the coach.

San Jose, helped by substitute Chris Wondolowski's 161st career goal, defeated Chicago 2-0 earlier in the evening to win Group B with an unassailable seven points. The Quakes will play one of the third-place teams in the round of 16.

Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris and Raul Ruidiaz scored for Seattle, which leapfrogged Chicago to move into second place in Group B with its first win in three games at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex.

Chicago, meanwhile, needs to beat Vancouver to finish runner-up in the group. A draw or loss will keep the Sounders in second.

The San Jose win kept Vancouver's slim hopes alive. A victory Sunday and the Whitecaps could have eliminated Seattle, which had one point from its first two games.

Instead the Sounders assured themselves of a berth in the knockout round — either as group runner-up or one of the best third-place finishers, depending on the Vancouver-Chicago result.

Columbus, Orlando, Philadelphia and Portland have also already qualified for the round of 16.

Vancouver's youth is getting its chance at the tournament.

"We have an exciting young squad and there are lessons that we need to learn," said 27-year-old captain Russell Teibert. "But I think the willingness to compete, the attitude that they weren't going to give up, that we weren't going to give up in a tough time shows you the heart and the determination that the young guys have in this squad.

"We're going to keep learning and this is only a lesson that we can grow from."

Defender Cristian Gutierrez made his Whitecaps debut off the bench in the second half Sunday as midfielder Patrick Metcalfe did against San Jose. 

The Whitecaps' personnel problems have grown at the tournament.

Defenders Janio Bikel (adductor strain) and Erik Godoy (quadricep strain) were injured in training. Bikel is gone for the tournament while Godoy was unavailable for Sunday's game.

Backup 'keeper Bryan Meredith left the team last week after the death of his mother Beth.

Rubbing salt in the wound, the Whitecaps lost goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau to injury Sunday after his hand came out the worst in a 54th-minute collision with Seattle's Handwalla Bwana. There was no immediate injury update.

Third-stringer Thomas Hasal, a 21-year-old Canadian youth international from Saskatoon, came on to make his MLS debut and was quickly called to action with back-to-back saves. 

The Sounders opened the scoring in the 16th minute via Lodeiro from the penalty spot after a Morris shot hit centre back Jasser Khmiri's arm. It didn't seem like the Tunisian defender could have done much about the contact but his arm was not tight to his body.

Morris made it 2-0 in the 34th minute after Vancouver lost possession at midfield. Lodeiro found Morris, who outpaced fullback Jake Nerwinski and poked the ball past Crepeau.

Ruidiaz added to the lead in the 51st minute, capitalizing on some woeful Vancouver defending off a corner.

Vancouver had no answer for Morris, whose runs repeatedly carved open the Whitecaps defence.

"Overall I thought it was a very very very good performance by Jordan," said Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer. "He highlighted his skills tremendously tonight."

Vancouver was the last team to see action at the tournament. A late arrival, its start was further delayed by the withdrawal of FC Dallas, its first opponent, due to a rash of COVID-19 positive tests.

Seattle tied San Jose 0-0 in its tournament opener before losing 2-1 to Chicago.

With group games at the tournament counting in the regular-season standings, Seattle improved to 2-1-2 while Vancouver slipped to 1-3-0.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2020.


The Canadian Press

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