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Lessons learned? Whitecaps hope so as they face elimination in MLS playoff

Vancouver tries to come back from 5-2 hole they dug in Los Angeles in game 1
Vancouver Whitecaps forward Brian White, top watches his goal past Los Angeles FC defender Giorgio Chiellini, bottom left, and goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau during the first half of an MLS playoff soccer match Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023, in Los Angeles. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Ryan Sun

The Vancouver Whitecaps say they’ve learned from their mistakes ahead of a do-or-die home playoff game against Los Angeles F.C. on Sunday.

Head coach Vanni Sartini said his team has analyzed its mistakes in the 5-2 loss against LAFC last week, including allowing Golden Boot Award-winner Dennis Bouanga time and space to bury his chance past goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka.

“You pay very, very, very immediately for the mistakes you do in the playoffs,” Sartini said. “You can’t allow mistakes because their best players will score.”

Vancouver was undone four times by goals off of set pieces in the loss, and Sartini said there has been an added focus on the training pitch to address the issue.

“The first thing to be better at something is to work on the origin of something,” he said. “If you concede 12 (corner kicks) in a game, the odds of conceding at least one goal … are high.

“The main thing first is to try to be better at defending.”

He added that his team have benefited from an extra day of training due to the game being on Sunday instead of the normal Saturday.

Captain Ryan Gauld said he and his teammates are taking the bigger picture view when it comes to their opponents, having beaten them in the league in June and drawn against them to end the regular season.

The Whitecaps are unbeaten in their last five home games against LAFC, with four of those coming as wins before the season-ending draw.

“We matched them in the first half, (we were) arguably the better team in the first half,” he said. “There was a confident feeling at half time that we were capable of going out and winning the game, unfortunately they came out a little bit stronger than us in the second half and we weren’t able to recover from 3-2 down.”

Gauld agreed with the assessment that the Whitecaps struggled defending set pieces against the team ranked third in the Western Conference, but added that no large-scale overhaul was needed.

“We might have to tweak a couple things here or there, but I think over the majority of the season we’ve been all right in defending set pieces,” he said. “It’s more of just being a little bit more aggressive in the box and we should be good.”

The best-of-three playoff series is new this season after the league previously used a single-game elimination format in previous years. The aggregate scores from games do not factor into whether a team advances.

Canadian international Junior Hoilett said he and his teammates have nothing to fear against their opponents.

“Just remain calm. Do what you know to do,” he said when asked about advice he’d give to younger players in the squad. “Don’t change, don’t go out there and change what you’re good at. Stick to what you know and play with your head held high. There’s nothing that we have to go out there and prove. We just go play our game and bring it to them.”

Sartini agreed, adding that his players need to stay focused over the entirety of the match.

“It’s not a matter of starts, it’s a matter of keeping the quality for 90 mins,” he said.

The Whitecaps announced Wednesday that fans would be able to purchase tickets in the upper bowl of B.C. Place, increasing the stadium’s normal Major League Soccer capacity.

In the final home game of the season, Vancouver had a crowd of 24,311 against LAFC and sporting director Axel Schuster said the club hopes to hit similar attendance figures.

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