Having raked over the coals to find a spark, both teams will try to rekindle their lost seasons on Saturday.
The Vancouver Whitecaps (4W-11L-9D), have travelled to Cincinnati, Ohio, to take on the first-year expansion side, FC Cincinnati (5W-16L-2D). Despite bright hopes early in the season, both of their fires have burned out, with the bright lights of the playoffs slowly fading away with each compounding result. With no fresh logs yet arrived to give some much-needed fuel, it will be up to both teams to find a way to ignite their squads en route to a strong 2019 finish.
While any seasoned soul will concede that these two teams are about as likely to make the playoffs as pigs are to fly, maybe some magic in the “Queen City” will be enough to spark a magic run for either of those teams. If that were to happen, we may want to keep an eye on Cincinnati, a city that was formerly referred to as “Porkopolis”. Either way, both organizations will be looking for a win and a strong performance, not just for the 3 points, but to build off everything the result will signify.
“You said it, two teams that want to win,” Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos said to reporters at training Tuesday. “2 teams that in MLS, where you’ve seen that standings don’t mean much, its a game, 90 minutes, what I think is that we have to build from what we did in Minnesota.”
For Dos Santos, the Minnesota match was a big step forward for his team, as their misery and suffering has been seemingly endless the last two months for his team, winless since May, and reeling after a shock elimination in the Voyageurs Cup. While they were unable to get the breakthrough to find 3 points at Allianz Field, they kept a clean sheet for the first time in two-a-half months, giving Vancouver the kind of performance they hope to build off for the next few months and into next season.
“Minnesota is what we looked like before the Gold Cup break,” Dos Santos continued. “To have that answer 3 days after such a difficult big scar that was Calgary, and the run (of losses) that hurt us a lot, to have that answer 2-3 days later, of a committed, compact team working together, fighting with each other is a huge message from us, that we’re able to move forward, we’re able to give that step forward, and we have to build on that going forward to Cincinnati”
A big part of that victory was Max Crepeau, who was solid when called upon, including some last-minute saves that preserved that crucial clean sheet for the Caps. While he wasn’t as spectacular as he has been in some games, it was a confidence-building performance for both him and his squad, and he certainly has to be feeling good heading into Ohio, with a fresh 3-year contract extension in tow.
Coming off a clean sheet against the third-best offensive team in the West, Crepeau will certainly fancy his chances against a notably inept Cincinnati, who’s impotent offence sits dead-last in the league. But Crepeau knows it’s the kind of game not to take lightly defensively, as Cincinnati has a good crowd, and will be able to feed off of it if they can pick up an early goal.
“Cincinnati has good players, they’re at the bottom of the East, but that means nothing in this league,” Crepeau said Tuesday. “They have had a change in coaches, they now have an interim coach, but its gonna be first and foremost a good place to play, because there’s going to be between 25 and 30 thousand fans, a good atmosphere, it’s gonna be a new environment, so we have to be ready for this, but there are points up for grab every game, and that’s our mindset right now, it’s to get the points out of it now, finish on a good note, and build a rhythm.”
Cincinnati has had a tough go of things this season, having only 3 of their last 19 after a hot start, as the dry spell cost Alan Koch, former Whitecaps FC II coach, his job back in May. Things have not improved much since then either, with Cincinnati having both the lowest goals for and highest goals against in MLS, struggling to do much right on the pitch.
But while Koch would have certainly been licking his chops to face his former club, his interim replacement, Yoann Damet, will be ready to face whatever Vancouver decides to throw at him.
“It’s gonna be a tough game,” Damet said this week. “I know the coaches very well, I know they’re going to come with a plan, they showed on the road against Minnesota last week that they were able to defend well, get a result and get a point, we expect a tough game this weekend, we are going to have to be prepared for this game.”
While Koch is long-gone now, he was not the only familiar face for the Caps in the Queen City. Kekuta Manneh, Darren Mattocks, Spencer Richey, Kendall Waston and assistant coach Pa Modou Kah all had tenures in Vancouver, with Manneh, Mattocks and Waston all having spent 5 seasons with the club.
But while Manneh and Mattocks were both traded on quietly, Waston had an abrasive exit, leaving the club last season after the front office sacked coach Carl Robinson, with whom Waston had a very close relationship. Captain of the club for a couple of seasons, he had become the face of a successful era for the Caps, who won the Voyageurs Cup in 2015, made the playoffs in 2014, 2015 and 2017, as well as making the Champions League semi-finals in 2017.
Waston still holds a grudge with the Caps, as he outlined in interviews this week with both The Daily Hive’s Harjeet Johal and The Province’s JJ Adams. In those interview, the fiery Waston defended his exit, citing he had lost all trust in the front office after their decision to release Robinson, the only MLS coach Waston had known, 1 month before the campaign had ended. But, despite that, his love for Vancouver remains strong, with Waston thanking the fans and players for his time with the club. But all of that is behind him, and he looks ahead to this match like any other.
“I feel good,” Waston said after training this week. “I’m just looking forward to the game cause we need to win at home, get the 3 points, obviously there are some mixed-feelings because I have played with a few of their players for a lot of years, but it’s always nice to face them again”
“I just want to have the game and win it, we’ve been in a tough situation, so there’s nothing else in my mind. The past is the past, and right now I’m going to sweat and do everything possible for Cincy”
Despite that, the match will be weird from the Caps side of things, as Vancouver has endured a lot of roster turnover this offseason, leaving just a handful of players from last year’s season-ending debacle. One player still around, however, is the fiery midfielder Felipe, who will certainly love to come out on top of a good tilt with Waston and company.
“I’ll try to have a battle, and I’ll try to win the battle,” Felipe said this week. “It’s the way I feel, its the way I think, you know it doesn’t matter who you go from, you know you are able to win, but we are going as a team, not as an individual, and we’re gonna play. He (Waston), was a big part of this club, but that was in the past, we respect everything he did for the club, we respect him as a person, but it’s about us, it’s about Vancouver.”
It’s that ideology that will be fuelling the Caps the next couple of months. With plenty of roster turmoil last year, and more possibly on the way, Dos Santos will continue to push everyone to give their all for the shirt every day, as he knows a committed club is a club that will push to win trophies, push to better themselves and push to grow as a group.
The Minnesota match is the kind of growth he wants to see from his team, and for a manager learning about his group of players, it makes each and every match an audition for the 2020 edition of the team, with the Caps looking to avoid the mistakes of this tumultuous campaign. While you can lead a horse to water, you can never force it to drink, so in the case of the Caps, it will be less about bringing in players to kick a ball around, but to convince them to become a team, a squad of 23+ committed individuals that can achieve great things.
As seen with San Jose, sometimes guys can go faster on their own, but the group can suffer, so when they got everyone all on the same page this season, thanks to coach Matias Almeyda, they were able to go further. For Vancouver, it’s about doing the same, continuing to build off last week in Minnesota.
“Look we were a team in Minnesota,” Dos Santos finished. “What I learned is that I’m still learning about a group of guys after six months that I didn’t know, that I didn’t know on a personal basis, I knew all the superficial parts of the players, and now I’m learning more about individual and how they connect culturally and how certain cultures connect with others”
“All of that has to come in one group, and my commitments and my work as a coach are also that. It’s now a job that i have to continue to keep doing, and at the same time while we’re growing in the group dynamics to become a team. We have to evaluate all the time, what is the type of personality we bring into the locker room.”
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs FC Cincinnati, August 3rd, 2019, 17:00 PST (Nippert Stadium, Ohio)