2019 Match Preview #33: Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs LA Galaxy: Hollywood provides empty script

For the last time this season, the Vancouver Whitecaps head out on the road, this time to face the high-flying LA Galaxy on Sunday. 

The Vancouver Whitecaps make the trek down to Los Angeles this weekend, as they prepare to take on the LA Galaxy this Sunday. After dropping a 2-0 result to them last time around at BC Place, the Whitecaps will look to return the favour in the city of Angels. With the star talent on display in LA, it won’t be easy, so Vancouver will have to bring it’s A-game to have any sort of hope of leaving with all 3 points. 

Despite all the star players LA has to offer, this will be one of the most meaningless games of the season, with Vancouver already eliminated from playoff contention, while the Galaxy have already clinched their spot in the postseason, removing plenty of potentially intriguing storylines. While seeding for the playoffs will be a huge talking point, especially considering the tiny 5 point difference between 2nd and 7th in the West, LA will probably use this game as a rest opportunity. Given they are coming off playing with their best lineup 2 times in the last 5 days, it would not be surprising to see some of the bigger names given a night off on Sunday. 

For the Whitecaps, it will all once again be about building something. Building an identity, building a style of play and building trust between each other. They have shown glimpses of that all season, but it has been a rare sight to see it put all together as part of a cohesive puzzle. Doing so in LA would be no small feat, so if they do manage to put together a solid 90-minute performance at Dignity Health Sports Park, it will be a big win for the Optimists Union heading into the last game of the season. 

Vancouver Whitecaps:

Injuries/Absences: PC (Lower Body Injury), Erik Godoy (Lower Body Injury, Questionable), Michael Baldisimo (Questionable), Ali Adnan (Yellow Card Accumulation)

Record: 7W-15L-10D (31 Points)

Manager: Marc Dos Santos

As usual, the Caps face an interesting string of lineup questions. With Ali Adnan getting suspended for Yellow Card accumulation and Erik Godoy likely continuing his late-season rest, the backline may have a new look for this one, possibly boosted by the debut of winter signing Jhesser Khemiri. The big Tunisian, who seemed like a tantalizing signing based on his technical skills and physical attributes, has suffered through a tough year in Vancouver as he recovers from knee surgery. With Dos Santos making comments on Friday that suggests his time may have come to pick up that MLS debut, it will finally put an end to the question that had been on the lips of many all year long: Where was Jhesser?

With the suspension of Adnan, it also means the backline around Khemiri will be different. It appears the Caps will shift to a 5 at the back formation, inserting in Brett Levis at left-back, while Scott Sutter will probably stay in on the right after back-to-back solid shifts against Houston and Columbus. At centre back, it looks like Canadian Internationals Doneil Henry and Derek Cornelius will keep their spots in the squad, as they have been immense as of late, leaving Godoy a chance to rest before likely coming in around the 60th minute for Khemiri. Behind them all, Max Crepeau will likely return to his perch in Between the Sticks, where he will look to finish an already strong campaign even stronger. 

Through the midfield and up into attack, the shift to a 5 means a change in attack. The midfield will stay the same, as a 3 man trio remains preferred, with it probably consisting of Russell Teibert, Hwang In Beom and Andy Rose. The extra centre back, however, means that the forward line loses a man, dropping from a 3 to a 2, as the Caps will be forced to adjust to a 3-5-2 from the usual 4-3-3 of late. But with the 2 likely being the in-form Fredy Montero and the craft Yordy Reyna, they may benefit from the change, so the jury is still out on which is better for this squad. 

With Adnan out, it’ll be interesting to see how the full-backs provided width for the attack. With the only 5 men forward, they’ll be limited in how they attack, so having support from their defenders will be key if they are to find some offence. With the 3-5-2 looking like a real possibility for next year, seeing positive performances from some key players, mainly the centre backs, midfielders and forwards, would be a key step towards the 2020 season.  

BTSVancity Player(s) to Watch: Jhesser Khemiri

Jhesser Khemiri looks to make his long anticipated debut on Sunday (Keveren Guillou)

The Tunisian International looks like he will make his long-awaited debut on Sunday, much to the relief of the Whitecaps faithful. He’ll probably look rusty, and that’s okay, but given his big frame, good offensive IQ and tough tackling, he’ll be a big piece for the future. So even if he has a rough time against the likes of Ibrahimovic, Pavon and Antuna, it’ll be good just to see him get minutes ahead of 2020. 

Storylines:

Looking for improvement: The Whitecaps have been about as Jekyll and Hyde as they come this season, as their form could drastically change from half to half, frustrating fans as they only show flashes of what they can be. The last few games, they have appeared to have found some consistency in building up from the back, they have just lacked the ability to now get the ball into areas to finish. If they can show some progress in that regard Sunday, it’ll be the kind of improvement the fans will be desperate to see. 

Stopping history: But while they look to score, they will have a handful at keeping goals out. LA has some good offensive options, with Jonathan Dos Santos, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristian Pavon the notable threats, and that’s without mentioning dangerous support pieces like Sebastian Lletget. With Ibrahimovic only 2 goals behind league leader Carlos Vela’s 30 goal tally, and 3 away from tying the all-time MLS record of 31 set by Josef Martinez, would anyone put it past him to find a hat trick against Vancouver? Khemiri, Godoy, Henry, Cornelius and Crepeau will look to stop him from doing just that. 

Win some, lose some: Speaking of Jekyll and Hyde, the Galaxy are another example of that phenomenon, but over a game-to-game basis. With a staggering 16 wins, but an equally as painful 13 losses, their games often end with 3 points given out to someone. For a Whitecaps team with 10 draws, knowing that it’s likely they either win and lose should at least be entertaining if anything. 

Will Chirinos and company find another win on Sunday? (Keveren Guillou)

LA Galaxy:

Record: 16W-13L-3D (51 Points)

Manager: Guillermo Barros Schelotto

The Galaxy are a fun side, as evidenced by some of their dynamic attackers, but also by their not as good defensive line. Despite already having clinched a playoff spot, they have conceded 51 goals, only 4 less than the last in the West Whitecaps. And if it weren’t for David Bingham, who’s had himself a strong campaign, all things considered, it would be worse for the Galaxy, so they can even consider themselves lucky to have that going for them. 

But when you got offensive players like the Galaxy do, who needs to play defence? Ibrahimovic continues to tear apart the league, with his 28 goals a pretty impressive tally for a 37-year-old, one who has even missed a few games this year to boot. Alongside him, the Argentinian National team player Pavon is one of the poster boys for MLS 3.0/4.0, as the Galaxy managed to bring him in on a loan that technically fits in under the MLS rules, but one that is quite obviously cap circumvention due to a “loan to buy option”. But with the Argentine, who is only a year removed from starting games at the World Cup, wanted to play for LA badly enough to make it happen, so the Galaxy certainly aren’t complaining about this stroke of fortune. He’s played a big role in their resurgence as of late, as they recovered strongly from a summer swoon, and with Jonathan Dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget pulling the strings, while Joe Corona and Uriel Antuna bringing some grit, it appears they have found the right combination offensively.

If centre backs Diego Polenta and Daniel Steres, along with the midfield and full backs, can tighten things up, there is no reason to not imagine this team making some noise in the playoffs. They can score, they have some offensive pedigree, and they have league-leaders LAFC’s number, so they’ll be certainly amped when the postseason kicks off. For the Whitecaps, it’ll be a great offensive and defensive test, with their preseason 2020 quest continuing on with its latest quest. 

Looking Forward:

The Caps get things going on a very rare Sunday game, as they kick things off at 4:30 as part of a league-wide scheduling decision to makes all Western Conference games kick off at the same time. There will be some huge games on the slate, as some teams fight for their playoff lives, but this game should still have some promise for both outfits. With Vancouver’s building process continuing, this will be yet another big step towards meeting their goals and ambitions for the future. 

Vancouver Whitecaps vs LA Galaxy, Sunday, September 29th, 2019, 16:30 (Dignity Health Sports Park, Los Angeles)

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