The Vancouver Whitecaps are preparing to head down to LA this weekend, where they’ll face off against the Galaxy in what promises to be an entertaining matchup. After a tough loss in their home opener vs SKC, they head down with redemption on their minds, as they look to pick up their first win of the season.
There’s no doubt, losses can be deflating.
For the Vancouver Whitecaps, it’s a feeling they know all too well, that pain of succumbing to their opponent, along with the sentiment of knowing that it could have gone oh so differently.
After the optimism of a strong preseason, it was hoped that the ‘Caps could have avoided that sort of feeling on opening day, but unfortunately for them, Sporting Kansas City had other ideas, as the former MLS Champions ruthlessly punished them at every opportunity, en route to a 3-1 loss.
It was the exact kind of loss that Vancouver faced so often last season, one where they just seemed unable to execute their game plan, instead allowing their opponents to dictate the game, which against a veteran team like SKC, is always a dangerous game to play.
But at the same time, it’s the kind of result that doesn’t seem indicative of what this squad is capable of producing, with many players turning up with what they’d certainly admit was far from their best 90 minutes of play. Be it the occasion of playing in front of their fans for the first time this year, or the confidence of SKC, the ‘Caps were unable to rise to the level required to win, bursting the bubble of optimism that had built up leading into opening day.
Luckily for them, the season is quite young, with 33 games still to play, and 99 points still up for grabs, which they get to continue fighting for this weekend with this next clash. They might not have started the way they would have liked, but the MLS campaign is a long one, so the emphasis has been on getting back to the game plan, while also learning from the many lessons that this first match had to teach them.
That’s meant a week of self-reflection and hard work. Yes, SKC collected all 3 points, but based on the nature of the game, it felt more like Vancouver lost, so the team is focused on what they can do better, instead of getting too caught up about what their opponents did.
“We just worry about ourselves,” striker Tosaint Ricketts said this week. “Obviously, the home opener didn’t go the way we planned, but we had the week to regroup, and we’re focused on Saturday.”
To beat others, however, you cannot lose the battle of wills before you step out on the pitch, which unfortunately the case on Saturday.
Despite a strong opening-day BC Place crowd, one filled with several supporters that are on the fence about their commitment to this team, they were unable to give them a performance that could help sway their emotions completely towards the positive ledger, but that’s just the nature of the game sometimes.
But luckily for the ‘Caps, they get to jump right back into the swing of things this weekend, with a clash with the LA Galaxy looming. They’re familiar with them, having lost to the Galaxy by a score of 4-1 during the preseason, but the ‘Caps know that despite that result, they can hang with them, as they’ve shown throughout the years.
After a preseason where they pressed high up the pitch, while also comfortably playing out of the back when in possession, coming a long way in both aspects of the game, they will want to show that the drop off in both of those areas against SKC was a blip, not the start of the trend.
To show that, they’ll have to come in hot against the Galaxy, something that the team has been preparing for all week.
“We all think, rewatching the video today and film, it was so disappointing our level of pressure in the game,” head coach Marc Dos Santos said on Tuesday. “When you go through a preseason where 80% of the time you’re on the opponent (pressing), and you did that job well, in the games against Dallas, Portland, New England, Minnesota, and then what happened, right? We felt like we were just kind of blocked.”
“The positive thing is that the guys really care, and really cared about doing well, and I feel that us caring so much about doing well to give back to a crowd that received us in such a way, sometimes it could have another effect, an effect that this willingness of doing so well blocked us in some way. And some of our guys that had a fantastic preseason, and our key players, were not at the level that we expected. And that’s it. We’re going to work on all of that this week, we started today, and hopefully we can grow from that.”
Saturday might have been a repeat of what we saw a lot last year, but that 2019 team was mostly without an identity. This year’s squad has been aiming to change that, and they’ve made big strides already, yet they’re not quite there yet, with that kind of shift being hard to implement right away.
So look for them to get back onto that right path, starting with this weekend.
“We build on a lot of things, a lot about our identity,” Ricketts said. “We didn’t show exactly what we showed in preseason, and that’s what disappoints us, because we know the quality that we have, we know what we need to do to be a successful team, and we didn’t really impose our identity in the home opener, but we’re going to correct that.”
Part of that change is going to have to come from within, as some of the best players from preseason faded off against SKC, which after their lengthy preseason, was disappointing to see. After looking the part in the tune-up games, several key pieces fell off the mark in the home opener, so you’d hope they return to their earlier standard, which should push the team forwards.
But luckily for the team, they got a big outside boost this week, as well, with the recent arrivals of midfielders Leonard Owusu and Janio Bikel providing the squad with a bit of a lift. Despite the strong preseason, the midfield was always going to be a hole on this roster, a chasm that Owusu and Bikel were brought in to help fill.
No matter what camp that people found themselves in after Saturday, with their being contention over how well the team looked visually versus what the stats said, a common point of agreement was that the midfield looked stretched, unable to keep up with the pace over 90 minutes.
Russell Teibert and Hwang In Beom had individual flashes in the middle, no doubt, but they looked overmatched physically, just unable to impose themselves defensively, which against a team like SKC, made things tough for them in midfield.
Luckily for the ‘Caps, in Bikel and Owusu, the team gets two midfield lynchpins, with both players capable of destroying attacks and progressing the ball forward, which are two things the midfield struggled with most on Saturday.
It’s unsure when Owusu will be ready for action, however, with his fitness still remaining a question mark, as a visa issue kept him out of game action for a month, clouding the optimism surrounding his signing.
Bikel faces no such problems, however, having gone 90 minutes with his old club less than two weeks ago, so expect him to feature at some point Saturday. By all accounts, he’s fit in well this week, so he should slot in on Saturday, with Owusu’s debut expected to follow not long after, likely coming as a substitute sometime during the next 2 weeks or so.
“A lot of bite, a lot of energy,” Dos Santos said to describe his two newest charges. “You still feel that they have to gel with everybody, and understand what we want to do here, but it’s a good start for them, and it’s a good way of starting knowing the teammates and get going.”
With Bikel expected to play this weekend, despite his recent arrival, what can we expect from him? We dove into some of his numbers and game tape this week, but besides that, he’s a relatively unknown commodity.
But fortunately for those wondering, he took the time to speak about his game this week, describing his play as intense. After the ‘Caps opening day performance, that should add a little bit of spice to the middle of the park, which considering the physicality of MLS, could be fun to watch.
“I prefer to play in the midfield, but I can also play right back if needed,” Bikel said this week.
“I’m really aggressive, a ball-winner, technical.”
After an opening day performance that can probably be best described as the ‘Caps hitting a 4 on their gearstick, Bikel is going to help them push it up to 6, with those around him also determined to do the same, as well.
“I like the training, this was my second training, and the intensity is very high,” Bikel added. “I really do like it, this is my kind of training, also my style.”
BTSVancity Player to watch: Cristian Dajome
We could have easily gone with Lucas Cavallini this week, with the striker coming off of a performance he’d surely soon like to forget, but with a lot of people already keeping tabs on the Canadian, we’re going to shift the attention towards one of his attacking partners, winger Cristian Dajome.
The Colombian winger looked good in his MLS debut, making magic happen when he had the ball, but he was starved of service at times, which really limited his effectiveness. With the likely introduction of Bikel, that will change, which after the flashes we saw of him on the ball, will be exciting to see.
Yes, he did end up on the floor a little too much for the liking of many, which is something that he’ll have to deal with as the season goes along, but the talent is clearly there, it just needs to be unlocked.
With the team shifting things around a bit, along with an impending matchup with the Galaxy, a team that most would definitely not describe as ‘defensively-sound’, Dajome could have some fun this weekend, showing more of that player that the ‘Caps fought to bring in this offseason.
Tough starts: Much like the Whitecaps, the Galaxy had a rough start to 2020, drawing away to the Houston Dynamo. With their expectations being through the roof to start the season (just call it the Chicharito effect), they’ll want to get that first win out of the way early, with this weekend being a great opportunity to do just that.
Against a Whitecaps side that most will expect them to handily beat, they’ll feel confident, especially with the backing of their home fans to spur them on, but as we know in football, no victory is ever guaranteed, so they’ll also have to be careful.
It’s been less than 6 months since the ‘Caps went down to LA and won, even despite the double-digit point gap that separated the two teams in the standings at the time, so expect this game to be close, no matter what people think the gap is between both sides.
Can the #9s get off the mark? This game, much like the last, will also be a battle of #9s, with Lucas Cavallini and Javier Hernandez leading the line for both teams.
For “Chicharito”, as Hernandez is more commonly known as, he’ll desperately want to get off the mark in this one, after he was unable to do so down in Houston. His transfer was among one of the higher-publicized ones in MLS history, so the sooner he scores, the better for him, with many global eyeballs keeping tabs on the popular Mexican International.
On the other side, Lucas Cavallini will be equally as motivated, with the Canadian unable to open his account at home last week, as 2 missed chances surely set something off in the back of his mind. He might not have the same league-wide pressure as Chicharito, but he’s Vancouver’s record-signing, so he’ll definitely want to start pouring in the goals sooner rather than later, as well.
Lock it down? Even though they were separated by 17 points last season, both teams conceded 59 goals, tied for 3rd-worst in the Western Conference. Luckily for LA, they had a world-beater offence, which was enough to drag them into the 2nd round of the playoffs, but those defensive concerns would eventually prove to be too much to overcome, with a rollercoaster of a 5-3 loss to rivals LAFC overall quite emblematic of their season.
The ‘Caps did not have that same offensive luxury, however, as they scored 21 fewer goals than the Galaxy, which is why they brought in the likes of Cavallini, Dajome and David Milinkovic to help remedy that this offseason.
But for both teams, how they defend may prove to make or break their season. Considering that LA didn’t really upgrade their backline, their weakest link last year, they’ll know that they have to defend better as a unit, which they showed signs of doing against Houston. On the other side, Vancouver may have a better collection of individuals, at least, but they’re still yet to collectively figure everything out, with the 3 goals they conceded against SKC a big example of that.
So keep an eye on that area of the pitch in this one, because if not, things could get stretched out, which considering the offensive punch both teams hold up front, may make for a really interesting matchup.
The stats suggest that both teams were actually unlucky in their performances last week, which means that if they pick things up in this one, it could make for an interesting matchup.
Vancouver won the Expected goals battle 1.75-0.63 over SKC, even despite the 3-1 loss, so had they defended tighter on the first 2 goals, while finishing their chances at the other end, they could have easily grabbed a result.
In Houston, LA was a bit less unlucky on their end, as they only won that XG battle by 1.21 to 0.90, with a 1-1 draw ultimately best reflecting the course of the game, but at the same time, they still had the better chances to sway the game in their favour. Considering that they have the likes of Aleksandar Katai, Cristian Pavon and Chicharito in attack, it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine them outperforming their XG in the future, which for the ‘Caps, they’ll have to defend extra tightly to avoid.
On the other hand, the Galaxy allowed Houston to outpossess them – 60% to 40% – and outshoot them – 15 to 11 – with the Dynamo only failing to turn those metrics, along with their 500 passes, into more shots and target and goals.
Considering that Vancouver is aiming to play quite similarly how the Dynamo played in that one, they may be able to take advantage of how the Galaxy are set up, which may prove to be advantageous over the course of 90 minutes.
Head coach: Marc Dos Santos
Head coach: Guillermo Barros Schelotto
Vancouver Whitecaps 0-2 LA Galaxy
LA Galaxy 3-4 Vancouver Whitecaps
Similar to last week’s scheduling, the ‘Caps get hit with another late Saturday start, as this one kicks off at 19h00 down in LA, rounding off what should be a busy day of MLS action.
After a tough start to their MLS season, it’ll be a good opportunity for them to test themselves on the road, with the Galaxy sure to provide them with a good challenge. Can the ‘Caps pull off the unlikely again, as they did last year? They’ll certainly try their best to replicate that.
With LA coming into this one with revenge on their mind, as they attempt to avenge both that 2019 loss and their opening day draw, it won’t be easy, so Vancouver will have to be at their best on Saturday.
If not, it could be another rough performance, which in front of a tough LA crowd, won’t be easy to weather.
But as we saw this week, they’ve been preparing to avoid that, so expect them to come out strong on Saturday, taking the game to their opponents more, while also chasing those pivotal 3 points that are on the line.
Up next: Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs LA Galaxy, March 7th, 2020, 19h00 PST (Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson)