2019 Match Preview #32: Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Columbus Crew SC: Chasing Consistency

The Vancouver Whitecaps and the Columbus Crew meet at BC Place on Saturday, and with Columbus looking to keep their season alive, while Vancouver looks to build on something, it makes for some intriguing storylines heading into this one. 

After a surprise victory last week against Houston, the Vancouver Whitecaps will look to do something they have only done once this season: follow up a win with a subsequent victory. Against a Columbus side coming to BC Place hanging onto playoff contention by the absolute skin of their teeth, it won’t be easy, but if they do, it will be another good audition as their preseason for 2020 continues. 

The Caps put in a good effort last time out against Houston, controlling possession for much of the game, showing glimpses of what many had expected from them since the beginning of the season. They nearly threw away a second-half lead, as Zac MacMath made a goalkeeping error he will not want to remember anytime soon, but Fredy Montero found some late magic to give the BC Place faithful something to cheer about, a marked memory for a campaign that has not had many marquee moments to look back on. 

Columbus presents another good task for Vancouver, with Caleb Porter’s side only 6 points out of playoff contention with 3 games remaining. Given that 7th place New England has a game in hand on them, it’s pretty unlikely that the Crew find themselves over the playoff line come October, but they’ll be fighting to ensure that their elimination is not the result of a loss against a Vancouver team that has been ripe for the picking for much of the season. 

Vancouver Whitecaps:

Injuries/Absences: PC (Lower Body Injury), Michael Baldisimo (Questionable)

Record: 7W-15L-9D (30 Points)

Manager: Marc Dos Santos

The Caps face much less availability uncertainty than they did ahead of the Houston game, with many of the players facing various ailments and fatigue appear to be recovered ahead of Saturday. With players auditioning for playing time next year, it’ll be interesting to see how Marc Dos Santos decides to balance his squad, as he can either stick with his preferred lineup or decide to put in guys he is less certain about, giving them a chance to impress. 

It’ll be a tough line to balance, as he’ll want to also give some guys faith after strong performances. Say Fredy Montero, who scored a late winner in the Houston game, ends up on the bench, how might the move be perceived? Those are the kinds of questions Dos Santos faces ahead of his team sheet selection vs the crew. 

Defensively, it figures to be pretty straightforward, as Maxime Crepeau will slide back into his regular goalkeeping spot, while a back 4 of Ali Adnan, Derek Cornelius, Doneil Henry and Scott Sutter will probably stay in after putting up what was pretty much a clean sheet barring the MacMath error. One question mark could be around if Erik Godoy plays, as he looks to be nearly recovered from an injury that kept him out of action the last couple of weeks, and considering his loan status, it could be another good chance to evaluate him. But, considering that he was the Caps minutes leader before his injury, that point is moot, as Dos Santos surely knows where he stands with the Argentinean, so he might not even want to risk playing him if he knows a deal is lined up over the winter to bring him in permanently. 

Through the middle and up through the attack is where things get interesting. Will Jon Erice get another chance in the middle? Or will we see Andy Rose slot back in as the 6? It’s too bad that they moved on from David Norman Jr, because no matter how they think he might end up as a player, he has done well in the 6 role in his first couple of games for Pacific, making his move to the Island side before a December move to Miami seem more and more puzzling. Besides the 6 role, the other two spots look settled, as Hwang In Beom and Russell Teibert will probably stay in as midfield 8s, unless Dos Santos tries to slide Hwang back into a double midfield pivot and try Reyna back as a 10. 

Up front, Michaell Chirinos is almost guaranteed to play, given his strong play so far, as he has won 1 (pretty much 2) penalties, and has had a few good chances at goal. Beside him at striker, it’s unclear if it’ll be Tosaint Ricketts, Fredy Montero, Theo Bair or even the seemingly exiled Joaquin Ardaiz will play, as Dos Santos has options for who he wants to lead the line. On the right, Yordy Reyna figures to slot back in, but given he is most comfortable through the middle, trying a front three of Chirinos, Reyna and Lass Bangoura could be an interesting experiment as well. While Bangoura has split the opinion of many this season, he only makes 100 000$, so giving him one last try might not be the worst plan in the world to have. Given their early elimination, those kinds of experiments would be best suited now, so if Dos Santos has something in mind, hopefully he decides to go for it. 

BTSVancity Player(s) to Watch: Fredy Montero

Can Fredy Montero end this season on a high? (Keveren Guillou)

After scoring his late winner, careful eyes will be kept on the Colombian striker, who has struggled this season. With only 7 goals, including a paltry 3 from open-play, this second go-around in Vancouver has been less successful for Montero, who shined for the Caps back in 2017. Given that he has a contract for next year with Vancouver, finding some form in these last games could give hope to fans for the future, as he could still show that he belongs here, or at the very least show that he is attractive for a possible trade within MLS. 

Storylines:

Blender time?: Given Dos Santos has his full disposal of players available to him, how much will he rotate? With the team out of contention, might we see some new and forgotten players as the evaluation period for 2020 continues?

Scrappy Columbus: With Columbus fighting for their playoff lives, they come to Vancouver at a great time. For the Crew, it gives them a supposed lifeline against the last-place team in the West, while for the Caps it gives them another good test to show what they can offer for next year. 

Youth Served?: The Whitecaps Development Squad returned from Mexico this week, giving Dos Santos some youthful options to play if he so desires. Will MDS inject some youth in his side, giving them a chance ahead of next year? We’ll find out Saturday.

Columbus Crew: 

Record: 9W-15L-7D (34 Points)

Manager: Caleb Porter

The Crew have taken a step back this year, after losing to the New York Red Bulls last year in the Conference Semifinals, they currently sit second-to-last in the East, despite their decent proximity to the playoff line. They have had some tough losses to stomach, as they traded winger Justin Meram, attacking midfielder Fredrico Higuain has struggled with an ACL injury and star goalkeeper Zach Steffen was transferred to Bundesliga side Fortuna Dusseldorf. Combine that with the integration of new coach Caleb Porter, who was hired after longtime manager Gregg Berhalter moved onto a new job as the US Men’s National Team coach, it has meant for a tougher than expected adjustment for the Crew. 

They come into this game on a roll, undefeated in 3, including wins against rivals Cincinnati and against a surging Atlanta United. They have a good 1-2 punch up top, as Gyasi Zardes and Pedro Santos have 12 goals and 10 goals respectively, but after them, things are barren, with the next best tally is 4 players all tied with 2 (!!!) goals. Zardes’s total is pretty noticeable, as he has received loads of criticism for supposedly not living up to his new contract as he was rewarded with a new pact after a 19 goal season last year, but as Vancouver fans can surely attest to, 12 goals is nothing to scoff at.

Defensively, they are a lot more middle of the park, led by the solid Artur in the middle, who is backed up by a solid backline with Jonathan Mensah, who has paired nicely with 19-year-old Aboubacar Keita, who has filled in nicely for regular starter Josh Williams as of late. Combine that with solid goalkeeping from Ethan Room, and a nice fullback punch with Harrison Afful and Connor Maloney, they provide a tough unit to break down defensively. It will give a Vancouver team with a second-worst in MLS offence a good test as they try to improve their woes on that end of the pitch. 

Looking Forward:

It’s an early start for this match, as it’s a rare afternoon game in Vancouver, kicking off at 14:00 PST. Given the Caps struggles as of late, it will be interesting to see how the stadium fills up, as it can often be hard to attract numbers to those afternoon fixtures. Either way, it should be a good matchup, as one team fights for their playoff lives, while the other looks to build for the future, while doing their best to at least provide the paying faithful with something to cheer about. 

Vancouver Whitecaps vs Columbus Crew, Saturday, September 21st, 2019, 14:00 PST (BC Place, Vancouver)

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