While the 3rd-year Minnesota United, also known as the Loons, continue to soar in MLS, the Vancouver Whitecaps remain grounded, looking much more like their affectionate mascot “Spike”, a flightless bird, as they remain winless since May.
Most seasoned aviation experts would suggest that what goes up must eventually come down, but Minnesota doesn’t look like slowing down anytime soon, and it’s not hard to imagine them continuing their flight Saturday, facing a struggling Whitecaps side at Allianz Field in Saint Paul.
With the Caps in one of its driest spells in their MLS history, it seems almost impossible to imagine them winning again this season, as they have been outclassed and outworked in many games as of late. Coming off of a historic upset in the Canadian Championship, being eliminated by a first-year Canadian Premier League side, Cavalry FC, things have continued to get worse and worse for Vancouver. Coupled with a dizzying MLS schedule, the Caps have been unable to readjust their game plan, leaving them stuck in a rut that coach Marc Dos Santos compared to a never-ending boxing match.
“Last night was really tough,” Dos Santos said to reporters Thursday, speaking of the Cavalry affair. “Watching the game, we felt the problem was not last night’s result, but more the accumulation of what’s been going on”
“A night like last night was like an uppercut, and right now we feel like we’re in a boxing ring and the bell’s never going off and you’re never able to rest a bit”
Things do not get easier for the beleaguered Caps, as they face another stiff knockout test, with one of MLS’s hottest heavyweights awaiting them over in Minnesota. Led by Adrian Heath, they have been on a dizzying run of form as of late, picking up wins in 7 of their last 8 matches.
Despite that, Heath has been on top of his team, as he knows that a fatal punch can await them from any team in this league, as teams have shown time and time again to fight above their weight-classes, especially when one would least expect it. After surviving a stern test last week out against Real Salt Lake, Heath knows his team has to stay sharp.
“I looked back at it, was a bit disappointed, “ Heath said on Tuesday, speaking of the RSL clash. “I thought our defensive shape was excellent against a really good attacking team with a really tough front 4, a team that scored 4 against the Eastern Conference leaders the last time out”
“But I thought our attacking play, our combination play, speed and movement of the ball and speed of thought was as poor as it’s been over the last 6 or 7 games”
Coming up against a Whitecaps team that has had nothing go right for them the past few months, his comments may read hollow from their point of view, but he was quick to acknowledge how fortunate his team has been as of late.
“But I can’t complain,” Heath continued. “We’ve had 7 games in 22 days, so to come through undefeated in all competitions, score a lot of goals and look defensively sound, so I can’t be too disappointed”
Heath knows first hand how quickly things can change. Never having made the playoffs in his 4 years in charge in MLS, spread across Orlando and Minnesota, he knows his team will have to be on their A-game to keep up their charge towards Minnesota’s first MLS playoff berth in their history, looking to avoid another heartbreak in the Twin Cities.
“Obviously Marc will be disappointed with their last few results,” Heath finished. “But this is football, we’ve got to treat them with the respect that they deserve, because they’ve got too many good players for us to think this is an easy game, there are never easy games in this league”
While the Caps may hold some quality players, at least on paper, the best way to get out of this rut may just be through the Summer Transfer Window, open until August 8th. Mum for most of the month, Dos Santos seemed optimistic when asked about the subject on Thursday.
“Sometimes you need a little bit of new blood in the locker room to allow you to get a spark” Dos Santos said of possible solutions. “I think something’s gonna happen, but when our sides already commit to it, we (end up) waiting for the other side, so it’s tough to say I’m 100% optimistic”
Until then, Dos Santos and company will look to get out of this hole on their own, as they rely on their crew to be able to find a way out by leaning on their experience, digging deep to find some big-game resolve that has been missing the last 2 months. Without much in terms of training, it will be tough, but the man they call “MDS” is doing his best to stay positive.
“Before the Gold Cup we felt like we had games Saturday, Saturday, Saturday” Dos Santos said. “ We were able to prepare the team on the field tactically, and at the moment we are not able to train, just recover”
“The month of July has been a nightmare, but as a coach, I try to keep perspective, sports are important but it’s just a game, it’s not life or death, you have to give your best, you have to work as a coach and as an athlete, and then the results (will) happen”
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Minnesota United FC, July 27th, 17:00 PST (Allianz Field, Saint Paul)