The Vancouver Whitecaps take on Toronto FC for the 3rd time in 3 weeks on Saturday. Ahead of that one, here is our match preview, as we look at what we can possibly expect from the ‘Caps ahead of what is a pretty big match for them, for a multitude of reasons.
Can the 3rd time be the charm?
After falling short in their first 2 attempts to take down Toronto FC last month, the Vancouver Whitecaps will get a third opportunity to overcome their Eastern rivals on Saturday, as they get a chance to take them on for the 3rd and final time in phase 1 of MLS’s return to play plan.
With their Canadian Championship hopes hanging on the line, along with the sting of those 2 earlier defeats, there is more than enough incentive for Vancouver to want to get 3 points on the board Saturday, as they look to snap a 3-game losing streak.
While it’ll take a huge team effort to do that, especially when you consider how thoroughly Toronto dominated them in the first two games, the ‘Caps will have a lot better idea of how to stop the TFC juggernaut, with over 180 minutes of direct footage to go back to.
It’s not often that you get a chance to play the same team this many times in a short span, at least not in this sport, so the ‘Caps will look to use what they learned from the first two games in this rematch, in which they hope that the third time will be the right time for them to snatch a win.
“Yeah, they’re a good team, a good team for sure,” Whitecaps goalkeeper, Thomas Hasal, told reporters on Thursday. “We spoke a lot after the first game about limiting their space and limiting the spaces between our lines, which I believe helped us a bit in the second game. We definitely had a better performance, we improved as a team, but we want to keep growing and we need to keep growing now when we play them again.”
“But there’s a lot of different keys when playing Toronto, we’ve seen them play a lot now and we want to take away their space and different areas of the field and, importantly, we want to get more of the ball as well. So, we’ve worked on a few things this week in training, and there’s been a lot of work from the players and the coaching staff to improve and be ready for Saturday.”
But while the ‘Caps have their 2 games with TFC to look back on, they’ve also got 2 other games worth of tape to study, as well, as Toronto has played Montreal twice since the ‘Caps returned home.
And even though the first game was a bit of a wash, with both teams combining for a 1-0 snooze fest in Montreal that was only broken apart by an Alejandro Pozuelo penalty goal, the second game was an entertaining, back-and-forth affair, in which Montreal travelled to Toronto and snatched a 1-0 victory of their own, keeping the ‘Caps alive in the Canadian Championship race.
It’s a game that Dos Santos kept a close eye on, as it showed him some of the frailties that this Toronto FC team has, which considering that the loss broke an 18-game regular season unbeaten run, they understandably don’t have a lot of right now.
Yes, Toronto had their chances to snatch at least a point, including a painful cheeky penalty miss from the usually reliable Pozuelo, who attempted to sneakily pass a ball to an encroaching Pablo Piatti, but they showed something they haven’t really shown much over the past year: they can be beaten, especially if you can get behind their lines defensively.
“Yes, there are things that we could take from that,” Dos Santos said of the match. “There are interesting things that happened in that game that could fit into what we can be about, (which is) something else that I don’t want to talk too much or give hints towards in how we want to address the game. But of course, any game that you watch from (your) opponents, or even internationally, it allows you to grow and learn from it, and I still think Toronto is strong.”
“I still think that Toronto had more opportunities to win, (Montreal’s goalkeeper, Clement) Diop had a very good night, then there’s that penalty shot that normally when they’re in a serious mood, (because) they were a little bit, like Greg Vanney said, a little bit too creative in that penalty shot, that could have changed the game. Of course, credit to a lot of what Montreal did, but I didn’t watch that game without noticing still the volume of attacks that Toronto had, and the volume of opportunities that they had.”
But other games aside, this game is going to be a chance for the ‘Caps to start fresh, as they return home to BC Place for the first time in over 6 months.
After playing Toronto twice at BMO Field in the first two games, a return to BC Place could help Vancouver turn around their fortunes, especially considering how long it’s been since the ‘Caps have played there.
Playing into their hands is the fact that BC Place is an artificial turf surface, compared to the hybrid grass/turf mix that BMO Field has, which can have an effect on how a team plays their game.
And with the ‘Caps returning home last week after a 3-game swing in which they were shut out 3 times, twice in those aforementioned TFC games, with the 3rd one coming in a clash with the Montreal Impact, they’ve worked hard on fixing their offence this past week, and understandably so.
Even more interesting than that, however, is that they’ve exclusively trained their offensive game on turf, instead of on grass as they usually do, as they look to use any sort of advantage that they can get against this TFC team.
“Well, we’re helping that adjustment through training on turf,” ‘Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos said on Thursday. “The more we train on turf, the more we’re being able to deal with the different types of bounces and everything. Of course, when you go from grass to turf, there’s always an adaptation period, but we played all our games on grass in Toronto and Montreal.”
“Now we’re slowly adjusting, what we did is for part of the (training) session, when it was the warm-up and for some of the smaller exercises, we stayed on the grass, and then every tactical exercise that was more related to what we when we wanted to work in the game, all of those ones were done on turf. And hopefully, it’s gonna put us in a more comfortable situation for the game.”
It’s made for a gruelling week of work, as they continue to work on fixing the holes in their offensive game, which as we mentioned earlier, have been a real sore spot as of late.
They know they need to be better, and they’ve taken this time off between games to work on those problems, so they’re hoping that this hard work can start turning into results, beginning with the game on Saturday.
Just make sure not to call it time off, as the ‘Caps made sure to point out on Thursday.
“I wouldn’t call it time off, it’s rarely time off these days, we’re consistently working,” ‘Caps veteran midfielder, Russel Teibert, said on Thursday. “We know we need to be better and we will be better. We know that the things we do in training are to prep ourselves for the games. And like I said, we know we need to better and we will be, so we worked a lot on the offensive framework, how we’re going to get more bodies closer to the net and get more shots, get more opportunities.”
“And I think that’s the answer in itself, it’s just to create more opportunities for ourselves and give our give ourselves a better chance at scoring.”
So now, look for Vancouver to get their campaign back on track.
It won’t be easy, especially against this Toronto team, but they’re still hanging on in the Canadian Championship race, and are clinging on in the MLS playoff race, so the sooner they get points on the board, the better.
After a rough couple of weeks, it’s a good opportunity to turn the page, so look for them to do just that on Saturday.
“I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves, whichever game we go into again,” Hasal said. “Knowing where we are in the standings we know it’s important to get points especially now every single point counts so it doesn’t put any pressure on us, but we understand the situation.”
Some fresh bodies return:
Ahead of the Toronto FC clash, the ‘Caps roster remains pretty much as it was for their last game, but there is the chance for some surprises.
While Janio Bikel, who’s been injured since MLS is Back, is unlikely to be ready for another week, there is a chance that Erik Godoy, who has yet to see the pitch in 2020 due to injury woes, could be in the squad on Saturday.
He’s unlikely to play, but he appears to be in the hunt for a couple of minutes, which considering the new 5-sub rule, could make him a likely candidate to at least make a cameo on Saturday.
Dos Santos confirmed as much this week, as he updated the status of both players.
“Both are training, Erik (Godoy) is training fully right now, and Erik is, I would say, at 80% of his full capacity,” Dos Santos said on Tuesday. “What Erik is going to need is some minutes and games to keep growing. And then with Janio (Bikel), he has been training in every training session, but is still limited, in some exercises he’s fully in, and others he’s not fully in, but what I feel is that Janio is maybe one week away from training every single exercise with the team.”
“Already to have both of them on the field training with the guys, even if it’s with some limitations, it’s positive, because they’re getting closer and closer. Maybe Erik could be an option for the game against Toronto, or maybe we’ll have to wait another few days, we’re on it, we’re evaluating that in training. Janio is incredibly close, I’m very positive that Janio is going to play one of the games against Montreal. That’s how close I feel it is.”
Considering the ‘Caps lack of midfield options after the sale of In Beom Hwang, they could use all of the depth they could get right now, which makes the impending return of Bikel positive news.
And while the ‘Caps are quite deep at centre back, there is no doubt that getting Godoy back into the mix would be a huge boost for their defence, who have been quite inconsistent this year.
So while they’re both not quite yet ready for a regular return to action, it’s positive news to see that they’re so close, so hopefully we can see Godoy as soon as Saturday, before getting the chance to see Bikel sometime next week.
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Michael Baldisimo
After putting in such a spectacular shift on his MLS debut against Montreal last time out, it’ll be interesting to see what he has up his sleeve for act 2 this weekend, especially against this Toronto FC side.
With the aforementioned Bikel yet to return, Baldisimo is going to be key for the ‘Caps in this one, as he’ll be counted on to destroy attacks, spray the ball, and just overall be the sort of #6 that frees up Leonard Owusu to play further forward.
Considering that a lot of the ‘Caps offensive woes has come down to some shy play from their midfield, another boisterous performance from Baldisimo would go a long way towards fixing that, especially with a rested Owusu alongside him.
Can some home cooking help break the slump? We won’t spend too much time on the ‘Caps offensive slump, as a lot of ink has already been spilled about that already, but having been shut out in 5 of the last 6 games, the ‘Caps absolutely need to get on the board in this one.
In their first game at home in over 6 months, it’ll be hoped that some home-cooking helps them do just that, because if not, it’ll start to feel like it’ll take a miraculous act of football magic to break this slump.
The kids continue to impress: But while the ‘Caps inability to score goals has surprisingly mostly been a veteran problem, the kids have impressed as of late, as they’ve fully taken advantage of the minutes given to them recently.
Be it Thomas Hasal in goal, Patrick Metcalfe and Michael Baldisimo in midfield, or Theo Bair and Ryan Raposo off of the bench, you cannot fault the play of the ‘Caps U21 players as of late.
As the veterans continue to work through injuries and other struggles, the kids seem more than happy to take advantage of that, which for the long-term future of this team, isn’t the worst thing in the world to have happen.
Is Toronto slowing down? After scoring 3 goals in their first game against Vancouver, TFC only scored 1 in the rematch, had 1 in their 3rd match, which was against Montreal, and failed to score in their 4th match, also coming against Montreal.
For those of you who like trends, things have been heading in the wrong direction for TFC, so for a Vancouver team who is looking to keep a clean sheet for the first time in phase 1, this could be a good chance for them to do just that.
It won’t be easy, as Toronto can wear you down over the course of a game, but having seen TFC slow down as of late, the ‘Caps defence will feel confident it can hold them off enough for their attackers to possibly find that much-awaited offensive breakthrough.
In this one, the 2 most-interesting battles will be the possession one and the Expected Goals one.
When the ‘Caps played TFC, they only kept 24% and 32% possession, which to put it bluntly, is just not good enough.
And when they got the ball, they didn’t do much with it, either, only completing a hair over 600 passes over the 2 games, which to give you an idea of how bad that is, TFC had 851 in the first game alone.
As a result, the ‘Caps only generated 0.49 Expected Goals (xG) in those 2 games, which could be considered a below-average number for an attacking player over two games, let alone a whole team.
On the other side, Toronto had just under 4 xG, which if you consider that they won the two games by a combined score of 4-0, does make sense.
Against Montreal, however, the ‘Caps did have 56% possession, and while they only turned that into 0.49 non-penalty xG (Lucas Cavallini’s penalty miss had an xG of 0.78 on it’s own), it shows that they did turn a bit of a corner offensively.
While it’s hard to imagine them having that much possession against TFC in this one, as their possession numbers through 4 games are 76%, 68%, 61% and 62%, respectively, if they can improve their quality of chances, that number will be irrelevant.
As Montreal showed this past week, you can generate some good xG numbers when you don’t have much of the ball, as they got 1.19 xG despite only having 38% of possession, but you’ve also got to keep TFC away from your goal, which aside from some lucky bounces, Montreal didn’t do enough of despite their win.
So all-in-all, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with the ‘Caps in this one.
Can they surprise and win the xG and possession battle, of which they nor Montreal has done through 4 TFC games in this phase?
We find out on Saturday.
Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos
Regular Season Record: 2W-6L-0D (6 PTS)
Head Coach: Greg Vanney
Regular Season Record: 5W-1L-3D (18 PTS)
Toronto FC 3-0 Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Toronto FC 1-0 Toronto FC
So it’ll be interesting to see what the ‘Caps have up their sleeve on Saturday.
After a tough couple of results, it’s understandably tough to imagine them getting much out of this one, but considering what they’ve said these past few days, there is certainly a lot to watch for, as well.
They’ve clearly been working hard, and they’ve got a game plan, now it’s just time to see if that can turn into a result against a good Toronto FC team.
There is still everything to play for, so until the math tells them that they can no longer accomplish anything, all they can do is just put their head down and try and get some results.
And even if they don’t find a way to do that, if we can see some continued growth from the kids, along with an improved tactical set-up, that’ll bode well for future matches, at the very least.
It’s tough to find yourself in a slump like this, but if you can use it to grow, then they can prove to be valuable.
Having played Toronto twice already, the ‘Caps get a chance to show off some of that growth this weekend, so we’ll be keeping an eye out on them Saturday.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Toronto FC, Saturday, September 5th, 2020, 18:30 PST/20:30 EST (BC Place, Vancouver)
Cover Photo via: Matthew Stith/MLS