The Vancouver Whitecaps return to action this Saturday, taking on a desperate Houston side, as the Caps kick off their post-elimination portion of their 2019 campaign.
After a break from MLS play as players from around the world convened at their various national team set-ups for World Cup qualifiers, inter-confederation matches and friendlies, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Houston Dynamo get set to renew hostilities at BC Place this Saturday. For the Whitecaps, who are fresh off being the second team in MLS to be eliminated from playoff contention, they will want to use these games as preparation for 2020, with coach Marc Dos Santos still expected to helm the ship heading into the new year, giving him plenty of time to evaluate his squad ahead of the winter transfer window.
This game against Houston is a good opportunity for that, as Houston fights for their playoff lives, coming into this one 9 points behind 7th place, fresh off a huge victory against Minnesota United FC on Wednesday night. Given that Houston fired manager Wilmer Cabrera just under a month ago, they’ll want to keep fighting and show that they were not part of the problem that led to his eventual dismissal, because if they don’t perform, they will surely be up next on the chopping block.
So while the Caps don’t have much to play for in terms of chasing tangible results and trophies, they will want to put up a strong effort, because if they don’t, Houston may run roughshod over them on Saturday. With an opportunity to impress Dos Santos, they’ll want to put up a good effort, both to impress the Caps and possible other suitors in various corners of the world’s game.
Injuries/Absences: Jhesser Khemiri (Knee), PC (Lower Body Injury), Erik Godoy (Lower Body Injury, Questionable), Jake Nerwinski (Ankle, Questionable), Max Crepeau (Lower Body Injury, Questionable), Russell Teibert (Lower Body Injury, Questionable), Michael Baldisimo (Questionable),
Late international returnees: Hwang In Beom, Yordy Reyna, Michaell Chirinos, Derek Cornelius, Doneil Henry
Record: 6W-15L-9D (27 Points)
Manager: Marc Dos Santos
In their first match in two weeks since their elimination, the Caps carry a lot of lineup questions ahead of this one. With the international break concluding Tuesday, the Caps have had a lot of tired bodies flying back to Vancouver this week, with Yordy Reyna, Derek Cornelius, Doneil Henry, Hwang In Beom and Michaell Chirinos all playing this past Tuesday. With Chirinos (Honduras), Henry (Cayman Islands), Cornelius (Cayman Islands) and In Beom (Turkmenistan) all coming from far away nations, the big question will be how game-ready they will find themselves, as they have to deal with some long-distance flights, along with the impact of them only having 3 days of recovery ahead of the game Saturday.
But with the Caps already facing a swath of injuries, some tired souls may have to find themselves into the lineup anyways. With the fitness of centre backs Jhesser Khemiri and Erik Godoy remaining unclear, the Caps may have to plug Cornelius and Henry in no matter what, and if not, Andy Rose has shown to be capable enough to fill in. With the development squad away on a tour in Mexico, it would have been hoped that some of those youngsters could have filled in, but instead, Dos Santos may have to get creative. At full-back, things are a little more sorted, with Ali Adnan and Scott Sutter healthy and ready to go, so expect them to slot in without question.
In the midfield, things start to get interesting. With mainstay Russell Teibert injured, Andy Rose possibly sliding into the backline, Michael Baldisimo apparently nursing a minor injury and In Beom’s fatigue, things are thin on that front. Simon Colyn would have been perfect to slot into the squad in this case, but lo and behold, he’s off in Mexico, so they’ll have to find another option, be it PC, playing a tired In Beom anyways or finding a new solution altogether. In attack, things are a little more secured, with most attackers other than Chirinos staying home, giving Dos Santos a clean slate to pick from. Given what he has available to him, Lass Bangoura, Fredy Montero and Theo Bair seem the likeliest of options, but Tosaint Ricketts also remains available, as well as Yordy Reyna, who had a short distance to travel (LA to YVR) after only playing a half Tuesday for Peru, so either of those two could slot in up top, shuffling Montero out left or onto the bench.
With the nature of the game and the state of the squad, it would have been nice to play more youth, but given the timing of the development squad’s departure, that may have to wait a week. We may see some surprises in the lineup, but until an hour before the game, things will remain a mystery.
BTSVancity Player(s) to Watch: Injury Bug
Usually, we do a player in this segment, giving a reason why to keep an eye on him. But for this game, given the mystery surrounding the various statuses and injuries of players, we will want to keep on an eye on who plays, who sits, and who doesn’t even make the 18. Given what we’ve seen so far this week, they seem unlikely to have enough to have an 18-man squad, but knowing how things usually turn out, they’ll somehow have a full-strength squad by Saturday. No matter if they do or not, it will be interesting to follow the progress of their players ahead of then.
Depleted Squad: The depleted squad also brings up some various questions. If some players are ruled out ahead of Saturday, does it affect turnout for what might already be a sparsely attended game? Will the Caps even be able to handle a hungry Houston squad, no matter the effort they put in? Do we get to see some new and unfamiliar faces draw in? Lots to ponder ahead of Saturday.
Scrappy Houston: Houston is fighting for their proverbial playoff hopes, but they’ll want to avoid hitting a lull against the struggling Whitecaps, with this outing presenting the potential to be one of those famed “trap games”. With Vancouver out of contention, a strong effort from Houston will give Dos Santos a good framework to evaluate his players as his preseason for 2020 commences.
Fresh faces: Will the Caps see the introduction of some new faces into the squad, with their squad being understandably thin? With the midfield looking a bit stretched, it could be a great opportunity to get Michael Baldisimo his first minutes, but with his status unclear, that may have to wait another week. With the development squad away, it’s unclear if there are any youth that could potentially step in on short notice, but if any youngsters play, it will certainly be positive in terms of generating hype ahead of 2020.
Record: 10W-15L-4D (34 Points)
Manager: Davy Arnaud
Houston presents an interesting enigma, as despite being one of the cheapest sides in the league, they have some top attacking talent in the form of Alberth Elis, Mauro Manotas and Romell Quito, complimented by solid offensive pieces such as Memo Rodriguez, Tommy McNamara and Cristian Ramirez. Despite that, they are one of the worst offensive teams in the league, spurring the acquisition of Ramirez this summer as they toil near the bottom in MLS in goals for. Elis and Manotas are the straws that stir the drink for Houston, and with Manotas’s future unclear after missing the last few games with transfer rumours swirling, they may just miss out on the playoffs due to their inability to find consistent offence throughout the rest of the lineup.
Boniek Garcia and Matias Vera do provide a good punch in the midfield, and the backline is solid, backed up by a reliable goalkeeper in Joe Willis, giving them defensive solidity, with their offence remaining the biggest of their problems. With the Caps looking at a possibly makeshift backline, Houston may want to use this game as a chance to get their offence back on track ahead of their final playoff push.
Things get underway Saturday at BC Place. With this being the last stretch ahead of the end of the MLS season, there should be many pivotal clashes on the menu, with Vancouver and Houston being no exception. While it might not look like it on paper, with it being a clash between last and third-last in the West, Houston still remains very much in the thick of the race, while Vancouver continues to build for the future, making for interesting storylines ahead of this one. How good of a match will it be? We’ll find out, but it has more potential than some of the other matches remaining on Vancouver’s slate, making it a good one to watch ahead of the end of the 2019 campaign.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs Houston Dynamo, Saturday, September 14th, 2019, 19:00 PST (BC Place, Vancouver)