The Vancouver Whitecaps are right back in action on Tuesday night against a rested Montreal Impact side in a match which has both MLS and Canadian Championship implications.
The message coming from the Whitecaps following their training session on Monday was to continue improving.
Their last match against Toronto FC, a 1-0 loss, was not an excellent performance, nor a favourable result. However, the consensus opinion was that it was a stride in the right direction after a lustless 3-0 loss just three nights prior versus the same team. The focus within the team was to continue building on the latest result. As coach Marc Dos Santos put it, what is missing is “a little time to put all the pieces together”.
That being said, if the Whitecaps still want a shot at a spot in the Canadian Championship final (accorded to the top team in this three-team mini group) when their schedule resumes in Vancouver, they will need to fit some of those pieces together right away. The schedule, made to minimize travel and time away, means that Vancouver will be playing their third match in eight days. Not much time to think about the past, or even train. The squad underwent a 14 day quarantine upon return to Vancouver, add onto that the fact that a dozen players had stayed in Vancouver and couldn’t train with the rest of the team right away, and it didn’t give Dos Santos much time to have his whole squad on the training pitch together.
Montreal’s last few weeks have looked a little different. They were eliminated from MLS is Back a day before the Whitecaps, but this will mark their first match back since the tournament, giving Dos Santos’s counterpart, Thierry Henry, more time to work with his squad ahead of their next match.
Of course, the different schedules will have implications regarding fitness as well. While Marc Dos Santos is left balancing trying to play his best players, maintaining continuity in the starting XI and putting out a fresh team, Montreal will be fully rested and their only concern will be some rust, given it will be exactly one month since they last played. How will it play out? It’s anyone’s guess, really.
Vancouver has not looked consistently dangerous this season so far, but on a couple of occasions when they’ve stepped up when it was the least expected. Think back to March away against the Galaxy or in their third match with a thin squad at MLS is Back against the Chicago Fire. So, even though it is a third game in a short period of time, the possibility of a spark of offence is never to be ruled out. On the other side, Montreal is a team which hasn’t seemed to find much consistency of their own. Coach Henry, having arrived in the offseason, has yet to find which set up gets the most out of his players. He has pivoted between a 3-5-2 and a 4-3-3 throughout the season. Given this lack of consistency in the squad, a long break could prove to be an added challenge for them.
“Let’s not only say what our problems are”
While one could endlessly lament the problems riddling Vancouver in the latest phase of MLS play, Marc Dos Santos made sure to note that the side they were up against was no small task. Toronto FC has been the most successful Canadian club over the last five or so years, and have no shortage of big names in their roster. Now as the Whitecaps shift their attention from The Reds to ‘Le bleu-blanc-noir’, they will find a squad who haven’t had the success Toronto has of late, but still has a few names which stand out on a match sheet. New arrival of Kenyan Victor Wanyama is one of the biggest moves in the league, while the likes of Saphir Taïder in midfield and forward Bojan are players with no shortage of talent. Therefore, despite the strong play of Toronto over the last couple of matches, it will still take a step up from the ‘Caps to find any joy against a quality Impact side.
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When looking for goals, any Whitecaps fan will point out Lucas Cavallini and the record price tag that came with him. Yet, for Cava to find his first goal, it is not a question of him finding form as much as it is the team finding him. Finding the link from midfield to forward has been an issue for some time now for the Whitecaps, and has only been exacerbated with the departure of Inbeom. The significance of the loss was not dismissed by Dos Santos.
“We lost probably our most creative midfielder… What we have to do is to find solutions within our roster that are going to allow Cava to be in a better position”Marc Dos Santos
As we look at the other pieces which could fill the void, Russel Teibert is first to come to mind. He had a strong MLS is Back tournament and is one of the players in the midfield capable of playing a slightly more offensive role. He has started the past two matches, and presuming as he’s in form for a third straight start, the perpetual Niagara Falls native will be a key factor in trying to get the attacking engine revved up on Tuesday night. On the other side of the ball, he will be responsible for stymieing an Impact midfield with an Important presence. Canadian international Samuel Piette and maestro Saphir Taïder, joined by Victor Wanyama from Tottenham Hotspur earlier this season, are all players any team would love to have in a midfield. Therefore, it will take a wholehearted performance from the Whitecaps midfield to control the middle of the park.
A lack of attack
In each of the losses against Toronto, the ‘Caps only mustered up one shot on target. The 5-3-2 plugged some of the defensive holes, but it didn’t quite rectify the offensive issues. While Vancouver pushed late and looked slightly more dangerous, it was a performance which lacked offensive inspiration. As they say, you can’t win the game without scoring a goal. Whether they line up in a 4 or 5 man backline, the key will be in the midfield. Russel Teibert and Co will need to provide the forwards and wide players with service and provide some more creativity if Vancouver wants to be a more potent side.
Minutes for young Canadians
Last match saw Patrick Metcalfe make his first MLS start and a compressed schedule could mean even more minutes for Vancouver’s young Canucks. If Marc Dos Santos prioritizes numbers in the centre of the park, Metcalfe could see himself make his second straight start. Depending on what Dos Santos decides to do with Yordy Reyna, Theo Bair could make his way back into the starting XI, either alongside Cavallini up top or on the wing, depending on the formation deployed. Ryan Raposo is another young Canadian who has stepped up lately, and he could be turned to to create some offensive inspiration. Finally, are we far from Michael Baldisimo’s first team debut?
That’s right, and no, not on a bogus big screen. If you hear some cheering while watching the match on TV Tuesday, don’t presume that it was artificially added to the feed. The match will mark the first Canadian sporting event with spectators since the suspension of all sporting competitions due to COVID-19. Quebec health authorities have allowed up to 250 spectators into the stadium. How it will all work, look and feel we will only know after the match, but it could provide some insight into what sporting events in a pandemic will look like in the future.
Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos
Regular Season Record: 2W-5L-0T (6PTS)
Question marks surround Yordy Reyna, as he was punished in the last match for showing up late to team activities. Marc Dos Santos said he is available against the Impact, but whether he slots straight back into the starting eleven or is held to minutes off the bench is still to see. Otherwise, except a largely unchanged lineup, as is the norm for Dos Santos. The 5-3-2 against Toronto provided a more solid defensive performance, and it will most likely be redeployed on Tuesday.
Head Coach: Thierry Henry
Regular Season Record: 2W-2L-1T (7PTS)
Question marks surround both camps, leaving it hard to pick which way the balance will tilt in this one. Whether Vancouver can keep up its fitness levels and if the lack of competition over the last month affects Montreal’s ability to get up to speed will determine the flow of the match. It should be primarily a question of the response of individual players, rather than tactics which will decide this all important clash in the hunt for a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.
Up Next: Montreal Impact vs Vancouver Whitecaps, Tuesday, August 25th, 2020, 17:00 PT/20:00 ET (Stade Saputo, Montreal)
TV: TSN, TVA Sports (french)
Vancouver Radio: TSN 1040
Montreal Radio: TSN 690, 98.5fm (french)
Cover Photo: Matthew Stith