For the first time since the opening day of the season, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Minnesota United meet again, as Vancouver makes it’s first-ever trip to Allianz Field to take on the Loons. While they both came into the campaign with similar expectations, things could not be more different for both teams. While Vancouver underwent a coaching change and a massive roster haul, Minnesota underwent more of a retool, but it was still expected that both teams find themselves in the same situation come the stretch run, which was fighting for the last 2 or 3 seeds of the playoff picture.
Instead, Vancouver is reeling, having tumbled down to last in the West and out of the Canadian Championship, winless since May and fresh off getting knocked out of the Voyageurs Cup at the hands of a first-year CPL side, while Minnesota is soaring, having won 7 of their last 8 (all competitions) and having reached the US Open Cup semi-finals. It doesn’t look to get any easier for Vancouver in this one, as they face a Minnesota side that also dominates at home, holders of a 6W-1L-3D record (21 points) at Allianz Field since it opened earlier this year, which is more points than the Caps have had all season at any venue.
With their anniversary season slowly being flushed down the proverbial toilet, Vancouver will look to salvage any sort of result in this one, as they look to desperately get things back on track, not necessarily to make the playoffs at the end of the campaign but to build something to look forward to next year.
Injuries: Jhesser Khemiri (Knee), Lass Bangoura (Adductor, Questionnable)
Record: 4W-11L-8D (20 Points)
Manager: Marc Dos Santos
Even more perplexing about the Caps run of form is that their side has been mostly at full-strength as of late. Jhesser Khemiri appears to be around 1-2 weeks away, having started training with the ball, and everyone else is fit or back from international duty, after May and June hit them hard in both of those regards. Lass Bangoura is questionnable for Saturday, after being withdrawn after 25 minutes against Cavalry with an adductor strain, but besides that, MDS has his full lot of acquisitions to pick from.
It will be interesting to see what happens to Jon Erice, Fredy Montero and PC, who were all left out of the squad entirely on Wedensday. While PC is a role-player, who may have just been rested to allow different options, Erice is the captain and has played nearly match, while Montero has been their main striking option. With MDS saying post-match that it was done to send a message, it will be interesting to see if either them play Saturday, if they are not traded before then. While it would seem unlikely that he moves any of them, the fact he left them out of the Caps biggest match of the year speaks volumes about the state of the squad right now.
It will be hard to project who will be in the squad Saturday, but whoever does play will have a tall task. Dos Santos said that this game will teach him a lot about the kind of guys he wants to keep around, as he starts to think about next year. If any players come out listless and uninspired after a terrible month, and having just lost their only entry to the CONCACAF Champions League, don’t be surrpsied to see them leave town by the end of next week.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Ali Adnan
Usually, we select someone who has promise for the game tomorrow, either based on a prior performance or something of that ilk. For this one, despite his poor performance on Wednesday, we select Adnan. After a match in where he looked all over the place, looking good going forward at times but making costly turnovers and failing to track back, a bounceback performance from him would go a long way to reinspiring confidence. The Caps have gone on this historically bad run of form since Ali re-signed his contract, so he’ll want to prove it’s no fluke before the criticism starts to get too loud. He’s a great player and has immense talent going forward, but he’ll need to track back, get stuck into some tackles and win more aerial duels if he wants to help this club out right now, especially defensively.
Where can it end? Each game brings up the same question: Surely this is the end of the losses for the Caps, right? Well, one would think so for this one, but with a scorching hot Loons side in their way, it does look like their run may live to another day. If it does, the one thing the Caps will look to do is show their supporters that they still have passion and desire, two things lacking over the course of this streak. If the Caps were losing but working hard, falling just short because of luck, talent or because the other team was better, it would be okay, but instead, they have been outworked, outplayed and even looked outright distraught at times. Even if they go out and lose 3-0 to the Loons, reversing some of those trends will go over well in Whitecaps land, who are looking for anything to cling onto at this point.
Switching Things up? With their lives in both of their main competitions dead or all but, will Dos Santos truly mix things up? He’s been sending subtle messages, hoping guys figure it out, but with nothing to play for, might he throw in some completely fresh faces in a new-look squad? Will be interesting. While it sucks that the U23’s are away in Saskatchewan playing a friendly, as some of those kids could be useful to shake things up, but MDS still has a lot of fresh options that could provide a jolt to this side.
La La Land Loons: The Loons are becoming the class of MLS. On and off the field, they have shone all season, making astute personnel decisions, playing solid football, and leading the way with awesome fan support in their beautiful soccer-specific stadium, with their chants of Wonderwall after victories becoming a viral trend. With Vancouver trending in every possible other direction, it must be tough to head into this venue from a Caps fan point of view, as the Minnesota brass has turned around a struggling expansion side thanks to the continuation of their famed “three year plan”, showing the impact of astute managers on the sporting side of their club.
Minnesota United FC:
Record: 10W-7L-4D (34 Points)
Manager: Adrian Heath
While manager Adrian Heath has been criticized much of his tenure in MLS, after having struggled through 4 or so seasons with both Minnesota and Orlando City, he has had the chance to stick it to many of those naysayers this season, with every decision he makes seeming to turn into gold. It started in the offseason, with acquisitions like Romain Metanire, Ike Opara, Vito Mannone, Jan Gregus and Ozzie Alonso paying huge dividends for his side, turning around what was a disappointing 2018 campaign. Alonso, Opara, Metanire and Mannone have done wonders on the defensive side, shoring up what was Minnesota’s main weakness last season, as they would often score as much as they would concede, making for entertaining matches, but not provide the kind of results or performances needed to win trophies. Gregus has been immense in the midfield, playing both creator and destroyer, helping link the two phases of play for the Loons. In attack, Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay give good width to the attack, with Mason Toye and Angel Rodriguez providing two different dynamics up top depending on if Heath wants directness (Toye) or sophistication (Rodriguez). But those wide players and strikers serve one primary purpose, and that’s to free up space for the real dangerman, which is Darwin Quintero. He is Minny’s best player, dominating the game by operating in between the lines as a deadly 10, as he is a great passer of the ball, but combines it with great sharpshooting ability. With Toye coming in hot, and the rest of the players all in strong form, the Caps defence will have a bit of a pick your poison situation, with Quintero being the deadliest of the lot.
The match kicks off Saturday, with a bit of an earlier start for Vancouver folk, kicking off at 5PM. Minnesota is fun to watch right now, so they may end up running rampant over the Caps, but Vancouver will look to avoid that, with many players playing for their jobs and even their careers, so they may end up bringing a bit of extra bite to the land of 10000 lakes.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Minnesota United FC, July 27th, 2019, 17:00 PST (Allianz Field, Saint Paul)