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Ali Ahmed, Simon Becher. In case of emergency, break glass.
With the Vancouver Whitecaps suffering yet another COVID-19 outbreak and forced to press their second team players into action, it was the two call-ups who factored into one of the most important goals of the season.
An Ali Ahmed cross deflected off a Houston Dynamo player, with fellow WFC2 player Simon Bencher there to deflect it home in the 88th minute, snatching a late equalizer before an injury time goal from Lucas Cavallini rescued them in a 2-1 victory Friday night at B.C. Place.
Saturday, Aug. 13
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. L.A. Galazy
7 p.m., Dignity Health Sports Park. TV: TSN. Radio: AM 730.
It was the home debut for Ahmed, who’d featured in Austin earlier in the year when the Caps were short-handed because of COVID-19, and the MLS debut for Becher, the MLS SuperDraft pick.
Cavallini’s left-footed blast in the 92nd minute won it for the Caps (8-10-6), who snapped a five-game league winless streak and are now 10th in the West, two points behind seventh-placed Seattle.
Houston (7-13-4) had been in front since the seventh minute, when Fafa Picault had given them the lead.
Here’s what we learned …
STUMBLIN OUT OF THE GATE
For the seventh time this season, the Caps gave up a goal inside 11 minutes, and again, it was one of those avoidable mistakes that raise Sartini’s hackles.
A poor clearance attempt fell to Sam Junqua just outside the box, and he one-timed a looping ball back into the area. It dropped just inside the six, where Picault, rushing in from the side, wafted his foot in its general direction, leaving Cody Cropper wrong-footed and arms in the air in frustration.
His toenail must have touched the ball, because he was credited with the goal instead of an unintentional dummy giving Junqua the score.
Slow starts have plagued this team all season, even historically, as they had to play from behind yet again.
BY THE NUMBERS
8: Yellow cards for Lucas Cavallini on the season. He was cautioned in the 78th minute for a foul on Darwin Ceren, and will miss the next game.
0: Wins by Houston in Vancouver. They are now 0-6-4, dating back to 2011 when the Caps played at Empire Field.
13: Shots by the Whitecaps, on one of the few times they’ve outshot their opponents. Houston had nine shots, but put four of them on net. Vancouver’s 11.1 shots per game average is fourth-lowest in MLS.
14,668: Attendance at Friday night’s game.
BIG STOP CROP
Houston could have cruised to victory if it wasn’t for keeper Cody Cropper. He made two outstanding saves in the game, one in the first half on Picault, one in the second on Thos Ulfarsson.
His stop on Picault came as the Houston striker cut in on a sharp angle, and Cropper got enough of the ball to turn it into the side netting. Ulfarsson’s attempt came as his cutback sent Tristan Blackmon sliding past, before his shot was tipped onto the post by Cropper. He jumped on the loose Balla s it trickled parallel to the goal line.
Julian Gressel and Ryan Raposo were the best of the Whitecaps in the first half, accounting for three of the team’s four shots and two of the three key passes.
Gressel has started to acclimatize to the Caps system, and was involved in their three best scoring chances in the first half.
He punched a cross into a bouncing half-volley that hit the side netting in the 22nd minute, and whipped in a corner kick in the 41st minute that nearly caught goalkeeper Steve Clark off guard, bouncing off his chest into traffic, where he eventually smothered it. Moments later, Gressel lined a cross into the box that a sliding Tosaint Ricketts missed turning into the goal by inches.
In the second half, after Ali Ahmed subbed on in the 69th minute, the academy player took over as the left wingback, and Gressel moved inside on the right where Vite was lined up, with Raposo beside him on the wing.
Last week was a party. This week, a hangover.
The Caps were missing six regulars and several staff to health and safety protocols, leading to short-term MLS contracts for Next Pro players Simon Becher and Ali Ahmed. Scrimmages in training this week saw assistant coach Ricardo Clark and head of physical preparation Jon Poli pressed into service.
New signing Alessandro Shopf and recent returnee Janio Bikel made the bench, but neither had seen enough training to warrant getting any substantial playing time.
Tos Ricketts got the start as the lone striker in a 3-4-2-1 ahead of a Ryan Gauld-Pedro Vite midfield, backed up by Leo Owusu and Russell Teibert behind.
Ryan Raposo and Julian Gressel flanked them as wingbacks, ahead of a backline of Javain Brown, Ranko Veselinovic and Tristan Blackmon.
FAREWELL, GODOY — WE HARDLY KNEW YE
The Whitecaps placed centreback Erik Godoy on waivers this week, and he cleared on Thursday afternoon before the MLS secondary transfer window closed.
With no one picking up his contract, he’s now a free agent.
It was an ignominious end to his tenure in Vancouver after a bright start. He was the most expensive CB signing in team history in 2019, and scored six minutes into his debut in their season opener against Minnesota. He further validated the US$1.5 million price tag with an outstanding defensive season culminating in the Jack MacDonald Unsung Hero Award.
Then the injuries started. First, a thigh injury saw him miss 36 days and four games in 2020. Then it was the calf, on five separate occasions, ballooning his days missed total to 163 and 22 games missed since July of 2020.
Even on a strict ‘pitch’ count, he couldn’t stay healthy. That, combined with the fact he never fully integrated into the team, led the Caps to part ways with him, even though they held an option for 2023.
He’s currently rehabbing at the Caps facility as they try to find him a new team.
“We are very thankful to Erik for all his contributions at the club as he played a key role during his time in Vancouver,” sporting director and CEO Axel Schuster said in a statement on Thursday.
“Following an open conversation with Erik, all parties agreed that this is the right time for him and our club to move in different directions. We will continue to support Erik as he looks for a new club and we wish him all the best in the next step of his career.”
The 28-year-old started 62 of his 68 appearances, scoring in four of them, in his 3.5 seasons with the club.
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