For the first time ever, the Vancouver Whitecaps will make the trek to Cincinnati, Ohio, as they take on first-year expansion side FC Cincinnati. While this match doesn’t have the shine that was expected it would have when the fixtures list was released earlier this year, there are a lot of intriguing storylines at hand, despite both teams spending lengthy periods of time in and around the basement of MLS.
Cincinnati, at times jokingly called “Whitecaps East” due to their extensive connections to the west-coast club, are mired in a big slump, having fired their inaugural coach, Alan Koch, midseason. Since firing Koch, who is familiar with the Caps having coached their WFC II team back in the day, Cincy has not fared much better, having lost 9 of their last 12 matches to drop to last place in the East. The firing of Koch was a big surprise, considering he was relieved of his duties May 7th, just a little over 2 months into Cincy’s first foray into MLS. With the search for a new manager still underway, what was supposed to be a dream jump into MLS has turned into more of a nightmare.
Vancouver comes into this one no better off, as while they picked up a point for the first time in 5 games last Saturday against Minnesota, they are winless since May, and are still reeling after having been eliminated from the Voyageurs Cup at the hands of a first-year Canadian Premier League side, Cavalry FC. While this game would otherwise be considered a write-off in the MLS schedule, due to the struggles of both teams, the Caps connection on Cincy may prove to add some life to this one. Either way, something will have to give, and maybe this match will be the springboard that one of these teams needs to get their seasons back on track.
Injuries: Jhesser Khemiri (Knee), Lass Bangoura (Adductor, Questionnable), Doneil Henry (Back)
Record: 4W-11L-9D (21 Points)
Manager: Marc Dos Santos
Dos Santos’s squad remains relatively healthy, but injuries have come up in back-to-back games, with Doneil Henry joining Lass Bangoura on the injury list, along with the recovering Khemiri, who is expected to feature in the next week or so. Theo Bair also remains questionable, as he comes off playing a half in the MLS Homegrown Game that was part of the All-Star Week festivities in Orlando. Besides that, everyone is fresh and ready to go, as the Caps were able to train all week, with this matchweek being their first without a midweek game since late-June.
MDS will likely stick with a 4-3-3, but the players within it will be unclear. Max Crepeau will keep his spot in goal, fresh off his 3 year contract extension, with the two centre backs in front of him being Derek Cornelius and Erik Godoy, due to the injuries of Henry and Khemiri. At full back, Ali Adnan and Jake Nerwinski remain in, with Adnan having had a strong bounce-back performance on the left side against Minnesota, while Nerwinski did well in marshalling the right in that game as well. In the midfield is where the questions start to be asked, but Hwang In Beom and Felipe figure to stay in, with Felipe turning in a man-of-the-match performance against the Loons. Russell Teibert, Jon Erice and Andy Rose all remain in contention for the spot, but Dos Santos may turn to his captain Erice, who was benched the last two matches, for a spark. Up front, Yordy Reyna figures to start, having been this teams heartbeat the last few matches, but with one of Fredy Montero or Joaquin Ardaiz being expected to come in, Dos Santos will either have to shift Reyna wide or go with a 4-2-3-1, with Reyna in the hole. Lucas Venuto may end up starting either way, after missing out on a start last week.
It will be interesting to see A) who the Caps trot out and B) how they perform, with the Caps talking about this week being useful to catch up on training time missed from the congested month of July. If the Caps come out organized, disciplined and tactically astute, it will be a good vote of confidence for Dos Santos, who’s been under the gun the last couple weeks as the Caps slid down the table. While he is unlikely to lose his job this year, a good run will do well to quiet down an angry faction of the fanbase heading into next year, as their vocal rumblings continue to grow.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Max Crepeau
With a much deserved brand-new contract extension in tow, Crepeau will be one to watch on the trip to Cincinnati. While he does not seem the type to dip after inking his deal, how he plays will undoubtedly be a topic of discussion, win or lose. He has bailed Vancouver out on many occasions this year, becoming one of the lone bright spots on a team mostly devoid of them.
Class Reunion: Despite the firing of Koch, Cincy’s ties to Vancouver run deep. Cincy assistant coach Pah-Modou Kah used to play for the Caps back in 2015, forwards Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh were both Whitecaps MLS Superdraft picks earlier this decade, goalie Spencer Richey was a former Vancouver MLS Super Draft pick as well, and most notably there is Kendall Waston, who is both the captain and star defender for Cincy. While Vancouver has had a lot of roster turnover since their respective departures, there will still be a healthy reunion, but most of the attention will be on Waston, who was furious with the Caps front office after the end of last season. The fiery Costa Rican will certainly be looking to stick it to his former club, either through a goal or a strong defensive match.
Who blinks? Something will have to give, with both teams going through poor runs. With the other team sensing the other is down and weak, we will find out who is stronger mentally, as there will be a chance to come out strong and try and grab the match by the scruff of its neck, instead of sitting back and letting it dictate itself. When Vancouver dictates the match, they can be pretty to watch, but they have not done it with enough regularity this season.
Making it rain? Both teams come into this one struggling to score, as well as struggling to defend. With both team bottom three in both metrics, this game may end up turning into a track meet if things aren’t tightened up from either side. Vancouver has been pretty good defensively, but these last 6 matches have tanked their record until their clean sheet against Minnesota provided hope. With their offence struggling all season, this may be a good chance to get things back on track in that regard.
Record: 5W-16L-2D (17 Points)
Manager: Yoann Damet
Cincy has been less than inspiring this season. Despite some shrewd moves, bringing in solid defenders like Waston, Nick Hagglund, Greg Garza, Mathieu Deplagne and more, they have been unable to gel. They have two good goalkeepers in Richey and former La Liga goalkeeper Tyton, but there has been something off about the overall cohesion of the unit. While the forwards were expected to be bad, with Manneh and Mattocks well-known for being inconsistent, and target man Fanendo Adi lacking for service, the defence was expected to at least buoy the squad. Instead, Adi has struggled, the offence on a whole has struggled, and the defence has been unable to hold itself together. They lost offensive spark plug Kenny Saief, who, despite struggling with injury, did well for the team before his loan was terminated early and he was sent back to Anderlecht in Belgium. They have a lot of work to do this upcoming offseason, with their attack needing to be rebuilt, their defence needing a bit of reshuffling and their coaching situation still needing to be figured out.
Things get underway on Saturday, with the Caps having travelled Thursday to get to Cincinnati, in time to have a full day of training and preparation ahead of the match. It will be interesting to see how Vancouver lines up and performs, with their lack of training having been exposed the last month. Cincy will badly need a bounce-back performance themselves, which will hopefully inject life into a match that would otherwise be devoid of it.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs FC Cincinnati, August 3rd, 2019, 17:00 PST (Nippert Stadium, Ohio)