Vancouver Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos knows there’s work ahead – to make a run at an MLS playoff spot and to reconnect with fans while doing so.
His club took a good step forward on both accounts Saturday after coming from behind to defeat Los Angeles FC 2-1, exactly 539 days after its last game in front of fans at B.C. Place.
After the final whistle, players and supporters joined together to sing the Ben E. King classic “Stand By Me.”
“We have to win our fans back,” Dos Santos said. “We’ve been far from them. We’ve struggled. The win is important just to get them back.”
In his fourth game since being acquired at the end of July, attacking midfielder Ryan Gauld headed a cross from Ryan Raposo past LAFC goalkeeper Tomas Romero in the 89th minute to secure the victory.
“As (home) debuts go, it was pretty good,” said Gauld. “The most important thing’s not that I managed to score, it’s the three points. The goal’s a little bit of an added bonus.”
Gauld came to the Whitecaps with the potential to be a difference maker on offence. He delivered last Wednesday, helping in a 2-1 come-from-behind road win against expansion side Austin FC. The 25-year-old was involved in both goals on Saturday.
Gauld thought he scored in the 60th minute when he converted into an open net after a shot from striker Brian White hit the crossbar and ricocheted straight down. After video review, the goal was awarded to White when it was determined the ball had dropped down inside the goal line.
Acquired from the New York Red Bulls in June, it was White’s third goal of the year and second in the last two games.
For the second straight match, the Whitecaps (5-7-8) erased a 1-0 halftime deficit. In first-half stoppage time, Diego Rossi scored the lone goal for LAFC (6-9-5) on a penalty after defender Javain Brown got tangled up with LA’s Brian Rodriguez.
In the first half, the Whitecaps were outshot by a 5-2 margin but maintained relatively even possession numbers. Their best offensive pressure came six minutes in, when Deiber Caicedo was awarded three corner kicks in the span of less than two minutes.
The Whitecaps made two substitutions at halftime, bringing in Gauld, who is not yet at his full fitness level, as well as midfielder Michael Baldisimo.
Final shots on goal were 7-3 for LAFC.
The victory comes just three days after that road win over Austin.
“It was hard, the recovery process,” Dos Santos said. “On Thursday we arrived from a flight at 5 a.m. I felt destroyed on Friday. I felt really tired, so imagine the players. I don't run like them."
The 'Caps came into Saturday's match unbeaten since July 7. They stretched that streak to a franchise-tying eight games (3-0-5). The latest win moved them to within three points of the seventh-place San Jose Earthquakes, who currently hold the final playoff spot in the MLS Western Conference.
Vancouver plays eight of its remaining 14 games at B.C. Place.
“We were together after the five losses in a row, so the team is becoming a family,” Dos Santos said. “Being on the road was a positive thing for that. If I take something positive from being on the road, it’s how we came together as a group.
"I like the type of guys that we have, incredible characters, very little ego in the locker room. That's so important if you want to succeed.”
The Whitecaps played their last home game in front of fans on Feb. 29, 2020 — a 3-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, they’ve played the rest of their home games this season at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, where they amassed a 3-3-2 record.
NOTES: Special guests at the match included provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, 350 frontline workers and 21 returning Olympic athletes from Tokyo and staff members from the gold medal-winning women’s soccer team.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 21, 2021.
Carol Schram, The Canadian Press