Some Vancouver Whitecaps (6W-13L-9D) members and players returned to the place they call home this week, with a date with the Montreal Impact (10W-14L-4D) looming on Wednesday.
Call it what you want, but there was no denying that Saturday’s game was a gut-punch, leaving a lingering stomach ache of sorts. While losing sucks, the way the Whitecaps lost left a bad taste in the mouth, with the Vancouver-based outfit getting outplayed, outworked and outsmarted en-route to a 3-1 San Jose victory, with the scoreline only kept close due to some decent defensive moments and an otherworldly match from Maxime Crepeau.
Crepeau was excellent on the evening, stopping an MLS-record 16 saves, earning him praise from all over the league, as he would go on to win the Audi Index Player of the Week to go along with a team of the week appearance. But for the Canadian International, he hopes that performance was just the appetizer, and that Montreal gets the main course, as he tries to avoid complacency in the return to his home land.
“Everytime you come back home to a former club or to your motherland, it’s sort of special,” Crepeau said Tuesday ahead of the clash. “You know friends and family are here and will watch, but in the meantime it’s business as usual because my pre-game training will not be any different from other pre-games, and my preparation will not be different as the other games.”
“Once the whistle blows you do what you have to do and you don’t change anything, you (go and) be the same person you were at the beginning of the season.”
In La Belle Province, a province known for its deep cultural roots and great culinary traditions, the Whitecaps ties run deep. From goalkeeper coach Youssef Dahha, who spent over 13 seasons in their organization training goalkeepers, to both Marc and Phillip Dos Santos, who both grew up here, not to mention that Marc found his first job here with the Impact in their USL days, the Caps have a special bond with the city of Saints.
“Montreal for me is a place that is special, it’s a place that has a lot of importance, because I’ll never forget the club that gave me the first opportunity,” Dos Santos said of the city on Tuesday.
“I’m always thankful and grateful for that,” he continued. “To be here is special, but the focus is not about me or about Max (Crepeau) or about Youssef (Dahha), guys that grew up here, (instead) the focus is about Vancouver Whitecaps coming to Montreal and getting the result we want.”
So when the Whitecaps take the field, they know as professionals they will have to give their all to ensure victory. Nothing new there. But as Crepeau admits, it’s nice to come out and play in front of family no matter the occasion, and he looks forward to seeing some familiar faces in the crowd on Wednesday.
“I look forward to seeing all my family in the stands,” Crepeau said.” In Vancouver, my parents came, my brother, my in-laws, but (now) my cousins will all be there, that’s the special part about it, that all my people can be there.”
Like a rubber band, can they snap back?
While a lot of the focus is on the family ties, the Whitecaps are still coming off a tough defeat, one in which where they were completely overrun in the midfield, as San Jose had 899 touches to Vancouver’s 443, as well as outpassing the Caps 710 to 236. For a Whitecaps team that wants to play free flowing football, watching San Jose both control the game and be more efficient with their touches was a stark contrast from a Vancouver team that tended to hold onto the ball too long, unable to bypass the San Jose midfield in the 25% of possession they did manage to get.
For the Caps it was also the continuation of another concerning trend, as they were yet again to follow up a victory with a positive result. Of their 6 victories this season, they have only followed up 1 of those with another victory, with the other 4 being followed by 3 losses and 1 draw. It has left them mired in the bottom of the standings, as they have been unable to get much traction to start the long drive up from the bottom of the Western Conference mud pit, falling back down each time the light of the playoff race seems to hit them.
But, to also give them credit, they did bounce back after one of the toughest stretches of the season, where they went winless for more than 2 months to go along with a surprise elimination in the Canadian Championship at the hands of CPL’s Cavalry FC, so Dos Santos expects to be that San Jose game to be just a blip on the radar as they continue their slight resurgence from that midsummer swoon.
“I trust the players,” Dos Santos said of his teams mentality. “I trust that we’ve shown already other moments in that after the loss against Calgary, we went to Minnesota and tied, we went to Cincinnati and we won, so the guys showed many times that they can bounce back this year so I don’t doubt that we’ll bounce back tomorrow.”
With only 6 matches remaining after this one, the Whitecaps will want to use these games to prove that they can start to play the way Dos Santos wants to play. Playing for jobs, both with the Whitecaps or in other leagues, the players will want to leave no doubt that the summer months was just an anomaly on their careers, because if not, it’ll follow them around like a bad stench in the future.
Montreal is a good team to start off the stretch with for Vancouver, as the Impact find themselves in disarray as they prepare to make a late playoff push themselves. With a new coach, Wilmer Cabrera, being brought in last week after the surprise firing of Remi Garde, not to mention the challenge they’ve already faced of trying to integrate half a dozen new guys in the few weeks after the transfer window, the Impact have a lot to sort out themselves. So if the Caps are to embark on a late season run heading into 2020, this Impact may be the exact appetizer the team will need before a late season buffet.
“I expect a team that is also hurt,” Dos Santos said of the Impact. “A team that wants to make the playoffs, a team that’s probably going to be aggressive the first 15-20 minutes, the game is in Montreal, they’re fighting for a playoff spot, so for sure he (Cabrera) is going to get his team to be aggressive and were ready for it.”
It won’t be a cakewalk, however, as it is easy to forget that Montreal is at home, and with the pedigree of players like Bojan, Lappalainen, Taider, Tabla, Urruti and Okwonkwo in their squad, the match seems in their favour as they look to find a late-season spark that pushes them to make the playoffs.
But don’t tell Crepeau, who knows one-off games in MLS can go in any direction, and with the Caps holding victories like the one they had over league-leaders LAFC in their back pocket, they know that better than anyone. So in the land of poutine and la tige, all the Caps want to do is get started with the first course.
“You know what about the league (MLS),” Crepeau finished. “Everyone can beat everyone, everywhere, if you’re home or if you’re away, it doesn’t mean anything”
“There are points up for grabs any game, for us the objective is to get as many points as we can, and get as high up in the (standings) as we can.”
Vancouver Whitecaps vs Montreal Impact, Wednesday August 28th, 2019, 17:00 PST, 20:00 EST (Stade Saputo, Montreal)