Whitecaps' playoff drive hits big pothole in 3-0 loss to Nashville

·4 min read

VANCOUVER — Losing 3-0 to Nashville SC was bad, but it was how the Vancouver Whitecaps lost that caused head coach Vanni Sartini’s blood to boil.

Sartini called the defeat unacceptable. He said his team stopped playing after conceding the first goal and they owed the Whitecaps fans an apology.

The loss, with six games remaining, makes the Whitecaps goal of earning a Major League Soccer playoff berth even more of an uphill climb.

“It’s a shame what we did today in a game that is so important for our season, in a game that we were playing at home,” said Sartini.

“I don’t care about the playoffs. It’s about our self-respect. We need to work to restore our pride and be proud of ourselves. It looks today that we were giving up and that is unacceptable to be honest.”

Defender Jake Maher scored twice for Nashville which won back-to-back games for the first time since April. Maher and striker Randall Leal scored about four minutes apart in the first half.

“They scored a goal, we stopped playing,” said Sartini. “We lost every 50 per cent battle, we lost every ball in the air. We conceded two goals that we normally never concede.”

The Whitecaps were forced to play with 10 men when striker Lucas Cavallini, a second-half substitution, was given a red card in the 53rd minute after stepping on Nashville midfielder Alex Muyl.

Sartini expects Cavallini to be suspended.

Midfielder Julian Gressel said by giving up an early goal the Whitecaps were forced to play from behind again.

“We have to find a way to start the games better,” said Gressel, who scored in the 87th minute to salvage a 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake last Saturday. “It has been a theme in a few games. It takes us too long to get into the game.

“We can’t keep digging ourselves holes and trying to crawl out of them.”

Whitecaps goalkeeper Thomas Hasal gave the crowd of 16,361 at BC Place Stadium something to cheer about when he stopped midfielder Dax McCarty on a penalty kick in the 90th minute.

The loss drops the Whitecaps (9-12-7) to ninth place in the Western Conference with 34 points. They sit two points behind the Portland Timbers who hold the seventh and final playoff spot.

Nashville (10-9-9) climbs into fifth place in the West with 39 points.

The Whitecaps had some early chances, but it was Nashville that opened scoring in the 19th minute off a brilliant goal by Leal. The Costa Rican gained control of the ball near midfield, used his speed to race away from a couple of Whitecaps, then blasted a right-footed shot into the far corner of the net past Hasal’s fingertips.

Nashville extended its lead in the 23rd minute. Striker Hany Mukhtar sent a corner kick into the box that Maher headed past Hasal for his first goal of the season.

Maher made it 3-0 in the 49th minute. Mukhtar sent another corner kick into the box that striker Ethan Zubak headed into the ground. Maher headed the rebound into the top left corner of the net. Mukhtar earned his team-leading 11th assist.

“We’re all frustrated,” said midfielder Ryan Gauld who missed on a couple of quality chances early. “We’re going to have to look at what we did wrong, which was a lot of things, and we’ve got to improve.”

It was a physical game with five yellow cards being handed out, three to Nashville.

“These games are intense and that’s how they should be,” said Gressel. “They’re basically like playoff games.”

THROW-INS: The last time the Whitecaps battled back from a 2-0, first-half deficit was Oct. 20, 2021, when they beat Portland 3-2. … Defenders Javain Brown and Tristan Blackman both picked up a first-half yellow cards. … The Whitecaps next game is Sept. 4 in San Jose. … Vancouver’s last home loss was a 3-1 defeat to Chicago on July 23. … It was Nashville’s first visit to Vancouver. The teams tied 1-1 in Nashville on July 30.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 27, 2022.

Jim Morris, The Canadian Press