GANGUE-RUZIC: Raposo, Petrasso's strong SCCL debuts highlight growing CanMNT competition at LB
It was the beginning of the 2023 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League campaign this week, as teams kicked off the 1st leg of the Round of 16 with eight crucial games across three matchdays.
And, as is always the case in Concacaf, there was no shortage of drama in the games ... at least when you look at those played across the first two matchdays.
A colossal upset from Haiti’s Violette AC versus Austin FC, a surprise thumping by CD Olimpia over Atlas, and a big win by the Vancouver Whitecaps against Real CD España - those were just some of the results that we’ve seen so far (and did anyone mention the dog that saw the field in Alianza’s clash with the Philadelphia Union?)
Yet, among those various storylines, there was one with a Canadian twist worth monitoring, in particular - the performances of two young Canadian left backs making their debut in this competition.
First, there was Luca Petrasso, who started for new club Orlando City on the road versus Tigres, helping his team pick up a crucial draw in a tough environment. Then, there was Ryan Raposo, who started for the Vancouver Whitecaps in their big win, one that has all put them into the next round already.
From a Canadian perspective, that’s especially exciting, as not only are Petrasso and Raposo two interesting names to watch, they happen to play at a position of need for Canada - left back.
Given that star left back Alphonso Davies has typically played higher up the pitch for Canada, that has usually left Sam Adekugbe as the main option at left back, with a rotating cast of names such as Raheem Edwards and Cristián Gutiérrez slotting in behind him.
Now, however, as this week showed, that conversation could get very interesting, especially if Raposo and Petrasso build off these strong Champions League debuts, where they put in the sort of performances that will get noticed at the National Team level.
Ryan Raposo puts in strong shout for more starts at left back for Whitecaps:
Finally given a chance to shine in 2023, he certainly made the most of it.
Making his 1st start of the season for the Whitecaps at left back, after playing just 14 minutes off the bench through the first two games of the MLS season, Ryan Raposo certainly had a point to prove as his side got set to kick off against Real CD España in their Champions League tie
Looking to prove that he should be the #1 option at left back for his side, a spot many felt he’d already earned after a strong 2022 season and a good preseason, this was his first good chance to prove that as a starter, giving him all sorts of motivation to bring the energy to this match.
That quickly became evident, as Raposo was shot out of a cannon right from minute one, bringing the sort of dynamic attacking play that his team had lacked on the left side in their first two games, doing so without a cost to his defensive play, which he managed to also keep up, too.
Unafraid to run at defenders, eager to make things happen whenever isolated on that left side, it was a big boost for the Whitecaps' attack, as it provided them with the width that their middle-heavy formation requires to click offensively.
Then, having done a solid job of consistently stretching the field for his team in the first half, he managed to step things up even further in the second half, helping his side take over the game.
Only narrowly holding onto a 1-0 advantage at half time, having put together what had mostly been a sleepy first half other than a well taken set piece goal from Tristan Blackmon, Raposo then ramped up the gears, setting the table for a fun finish for his side.
First, he scored a game-changing goal in the 59th minute to make it 2-0, scoring a sharp low finish from outside of the box after doing well to cut inside on a 1v1, before adding an assist on his side’s 5-0 marker, as they had then done well to ramp up the gears following Raposo’s markers.
As a result, they now head into the second leg in pretty much perfect position, knowing that their opponents will have to score at least six to win, a number that shoots up to seven should Vancouver score an away goal, a very likely possibility given that the need to score six will require España to throw numbers forward.
For a second leg of a Champions League tie in San Pedro Sula, it doesn’t get much better than that in terms of scenarios, all but sending Vancouver through to the quarter-finals.
When you consider that they were well on track for a boring 1 or 2-0 win before Raposo stepped up, that’s huge, as there’s no doubt that a lead like that would’ve needed heavy protection in Honduras. Now, Vancouver should be able to hold on next week without too much worry, a proposition that should also allow them to focus their attention a bit more on MLS play over the next week, a positive given their rough start to the season there.
Yet, that’s the sort of spark that Raposo has proven to be able to provide for Vancouver in games as of late. No matter what form he’s in, you know he’s going to come in and run, always putting in a shift, and that energy can really pay off in games like this one.
Plus, he’s starting to make a habit of chipping in some pretty timely goal contributions, too. For example, his first MLS assist was to set up a crucial Ryan Gauld winner in a 2-1 win over LAFC in 2021, and then his first MLS goal was the winner of a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas last year, just showing his flair for the dramatic.
Because of that, it’s not surprising to see that all of his other goals and assists have all come in games where the Whitecaps gained points, with this game being the latest instance of that. When you consider that most of those have come since he’s shifted to his new role as a wing back/full back, that’s doubly impressive, showing how he’s done to pick up his new position.
Ryan Raposo went off in his #CCL debut. Love to see it in his 1st start of 23'— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) March 9, 2023
In 90', he had:
48/53 passing (91%)
7 passes into the final 3rd
2 chances created
4/9 duels won
Because of that, it’s going to be fascinating what Raposo can do from here. At the very least, no doubt he should likely be starting for Vancouver going forward, helping lock down a position that has been a spot of worry through their first few games, giving them the balance they’ve lacked there.
Then, from there, all that’s left is just to keep doing what he’s done since he was drafted in 2020 - grow and progress every day. Still just 24, there’s lots to still come from Raposo, despite him already being in his fourth full professional season.
Should he do that, big things will be on the horizon for the future, not only with Vancouver, but potentially maybe even Canada, something that the Hamilton-born has noted he’s pushing towards in the past.
Therefore, if anything, this strong CCL debut is just a continuation of that push, one that he’ll look to bring to the rest of his side’s season, especially this tournament.
Luca Petrasso continues to make the most of Orlando opportunity:
Sometimes, all you need is an opportunity. Luca Petrasso knows that well.
For him, that chance came in 2022, when Toronto FC went all-in on the youth at the beginning of the year, giving a look to many of their touted academy prospects. Petrasso was one of those faces, making his MLS debut on March 5th of 2019 against the New York Red Bulls, an opportunity he ended up taking with both hands as he nabbed an assist in his debut.
From there, he quickly became a regular for TFC, playing 24 straight games in all competitions for the Reds, racking up almost 1800 minutes across that span, as well as three more assists.
But then, Petrasso became a victim of TFC’s midseason transfer bonanza last year, as the arrival of the likes of Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi, Domenico Criscito and Richie Laryea in wide positions quickly saw the young full back pushed back to the bench. As a result, he saw the field just twice in the team’s last 12 games, with both appearances only coming after TFC had fallen out of the playoff race at the end of the year.
As a result, it was unclear what would happen to the young Canadian this offseason. Would he have a place under this TFC side? Or might he have to consider a move elsewhere, potentially one to a level below MLS?
Then, in a surprising move, fellow MLS side Orlando City swooped in with a trade last November, picking up Petrasso for $300 000 in GAM, a move that could rise to $400 000 based on certain incentives, a move that TFC had no hesitation in making given their need for GAM.
It was a big price to pay for a relatively unproven youngster that had lost his place on a team that still finished second-last in MLS despite all of their midseason signings, but Orlando saw something in him, so they made that bet on the young 22-year-old Canadian.
And having been given that second opportunity, Petrasso is quickly repaying the faith that his new team showed in him, having featured in all three of his team’s games this season, and looking quite solid while doing so.
Not only that, but he took a huge step this week, too, as manager Óscsar Pareja had the confidence to give him a start in his club’s Champions League tie this week, as they took on Concacaf giants Tigres in their maiden voyage in this tournament.
Despite having to play the first game on the road in the famed “El Volcan”, Pareja trusted Petrasso to go 85 minutes, and Petrasso repaid his gaffer’s faith, putting up an excellent defensive performance in one of the toughest road environments in the region.
Good CCL debut from Luca Petrasso, who went 84’ for Orlando City in the Volcan vs Tigres. No small feat for the 22 y/o— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) March 8, 2023
Was solid on the ball, but stood out defensively. Won 4/5 duels, made 2 tackles, had 1 interception, 1 clearance and 8 recoveries
Liked what I saw#CanMNT
That’s huge, because one knock on Petrasso at TFC was his defensive ability as a left back, as while he put up some good offensive numbers, his defensive play led some to wonder if that offset the impact that he brought to the attack.
Yet, so far through a few games, he’s shown strong improvement defensively, while still looking good in possession. He’s not getting forward as much as he’s used to, but that will likely only change with time, as he continues to adjust to his new defensive responsibilities.
Because of that, you have to be encouraged by the rapid progress that the 22-year-old has shown so far this season. If he keeps that up, good things will come in the future, such as more minutes in this competition, and a key role in their MLS success, an exciting prospect on both fronts given that this Orlando side has quietly looked like a team to watch early on this season.
Plus, as seen with Raposo, Canada will be watching, as they try to assess options at that left back position, so maintaining this early run could quickly throw him up the depth chart.
Especially seeing how he handled his CCL debut, that sort of thing will only get Canadian staff talking, that’s for sure.