Next Step: Vancouver Whitecaps aiming to be ‘even better’ against Impact after win over TFC last week (Preview #5)

The Vancouver Whitecaps take on the Montreal Impact in a big game for both sides on Sunday. Here is our preview ahead of that one, as the ‘Caps look to make it two wins from two games at BC Place in September, after they did well to beat TFC at home last week. 

After getting a taste of victory last week, they’re looking to repeat the trick again on Sunday. 

For only the third time in 9 MLS regular-season games this season, the Vancouver Whitecaps picked up points in a game, and for the third time, they would ensure that it would be all 3 points by winning, as they beat Toronto FC by a 3-2 scoreline. 

Now, 8 days on from that result, they get a chance to do something that they haven’t done since May of 2019, and that’s win in consecutive games, as the Montreal Impact awaits them in a match with big implications for both teams. 

In their 2nd game of 3 consecutive matches at BC Place, they’re looking to use some home-cooking to their advantage once again, much as they did against Toronto in a surprising victory over the 2019 MLS Cup finalists. 

With a gruelling MLS phase 2 schedule awaiting them once this phase 1 wraps up, they’ll want to put BC Place to full use, knowing that a long road is laid out in front of them. 

“To take advantage of BC place like we did the other day against Toronto, that gave us a huge, huge boost of confidence,” ‘Caps defender/midfielder, Andy Rose, told the media this week. “And we’ve got two massive games against Montreal both at home on our turf. We’re excited about that. Of course, we wish we could be playing in front of our fans, and that’s still not the case, but without a doubt, (these are) huge games before going down to the States.”

And no doubt, the ‘Caps will feel like they’ve got everything falling nicely for them after that result, at least compared to some of the nightmares they’ve faced so far this season, so they’ll want to hope that their recent victory was a case of them finding a vein of fine form. 

At home, with just about everyone fit for the first time, aside from Janio Bikel, who is close enough to be a candidate to at least have a cameo in the next two matches, the ‘Caps know that they’ve got an excellent chance at turning that Toronto FC victory into a little streak. 

With training sessions supposedly being conducted at a high level of intensity, at least according to their head coach, Marc Dos Santos, they’re heading into this match full of confidence. 

“Good, the training was good,” Dos Santos said on Tuesday. “(With) the guys, each one of them is an option, each one of them are working hard, the intensity of training was good, we have fewer injuries, almost pretty much the majority of players are available the game, so it’s been a good mentality, good set-up to what’s next.”

But while the ‘Caps will feel good about their chances, they know that in Montreal, they have a stingy opponent awaiting them. 

Montreal might not present the same threats that Toronto presented, with TFC being an elite possession-based team that aims to wear sides down by making them run around, the Impact prefers to sit back, soak up pressure and pounce, as the ‘Caps know very well from a 2-0 loss to Montreal back in August. 

They’ve got speed to burn up front, their back 4 and goalkeeper have mostly been solid aside from a few patches, and they’ve got one of the most talented midfield quartets in MLS, so the ‘Caps will be wary of the threat that Montreal presents in transition. 

“Montreal is a team that loves and excels by attacking the space behind opponents,” Dos Santos said. “And those runs from (Lassi) Lappalainen, those runs from (Orji) Okwonkwo, those runs from (Romell) Quioto, how (Saphir) Taider is able to find them is all dangerous, so we’re aware of that, and when we prepare, we prepare accordingly to that.”

On top of that, Montreal will come to Vancouver with hunger in their minds, as they look to stay alive in the Canadian Championship race, with their hopes on life support after a tough late loss to Toronto FC earlier in the week. 

To qualify for the final of that competition, they need 6 points out of 6 in their 2 game trip to Vancouver, as well as a decent amount of goals, which won’t be easy, but considering that they beat the ‘Caps 2-0 before, they’ll also feel confident in being able to accomplish that task. 

But that’s easier said than done against Vancouver, who despite their elimination from the Canadian Championship due to the aforementioned Toronto result, will still have everything to play for, as they find themselves right in the thick of a congested Western Conference playoff race. 

So even though the easy narrative is to point at Vancouver looking to play spoiler for Montreal’s hopes, they also have other reasons to want to win, which Dos Santos finds more important to his squad at the moment. 

“No, we’re not thinking about being spoilers,” he said on Thursday. “We’re just thinking about the points for the MLS standings and the points for the MLS playoffs in top eighth position, so that’s our focus. Our focus is to get our second win in a row. Our focus is to build on what we did against Toronto and to be even better, because like I said after the Toronto game, the three points were important the three goals were important but there’s still a lot of margins to progress and to become better.”

And while he made sure to keep an eye on the present when talking about these two games, he’s also aware that the next stretch won’t be favourable to the ‘Caps, who will likely have to travel to the US for at least a month once these games are done. 

Playing on the road is never easy, especially not when you’re travelling to a country in the midst of a pandemic in which they’ve struggled to grab control of, while also dealing with situations of political unrest sparked by police brutality and climate change, among others, with the prospect of having to stay 1 to 2 months in said country being a real possibility. 

That’s why Dos Santos says he is worried travelling to a country that he describes as a place “he doesn’t trust today”, and that “is not stable”, making for a tough road trip for him and his players. 

He knows a long road awaits them with that prospect, so he just wants to make sure his team maximizes the chances that they do get to play at home, which means putting their best forward for these next two games with Montreal, and then dealing with the other stuff later. 

With a playoff format that does favour them based on how the results have so far transpired, 6 points could all of a sudden see them in a good spot ahead of that long trip, so he wants to see his team aim for that, and then figure out the rest a few days from now. 

“Sometimes when you do bad, or you have a series of games that are very difficult, like we did in the East when we went to play those two games against Toronto and Montreal, you look so much at the negative side, and you forget that while you lost, many other teams lost also, and many teams drew, so with our (recent) win against Toronto, we’re 3 points from that (playoff) line, it’s 1 win from that line, you have to take advantage of that, so the game on Sunday is a very important game to get us across that line, to get us at the same amount of games and points as LAFC,” he said. 

“And then, (we want) to continue building on that, because what’s going to happen is after Sunday and Wednesday is that it’s going to be extremely difficult for all of the Canadian teams, not only for Vancouver, but for Toronto and Montreal, to be in a season where the majority of your games are all played in the United States, and you’re not at home, so when you’re home, when you’re comfortable, when you’re training home, when you’re at BC Place, we have to take full advantage of that.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Fredy Montero

Montero in action for the ‘Caps during their home opener back in February (Keveren Guillou)

Usually one of the most entertaining ‘Caps players on the pitch, Montero’s season has been more marked by the fact that he‘s only seen the field for a total of 20 minutes this year, as he’s struggled to work his way into Dos Santos’s lineup with the arrival of Cavallini. 

But after finding himself out of the squad for a bit despite being fit and available for selection after opting out of MLS is Back, he returned to the matchday squad for last week’s game, and he seems to be a very strong candidate to get minutes in this game. 

While we don’t know if he’ll start or come off of the bench, ‘Caps sporting director Axel Schuster did call him the “best player in the box” in the club earlier this week, so if he does play, look for him to try and prove Schuster right.  

Storylines:

Was the win a fluke? Having seen the ‘Caps fail to build off of victories twice now this season, there are certainly some who are wondering if the result versus Toronto last week was a fluke, and justifiably so. 

As mentioned earlier, they haven’t won back-to-back games since May of 2019, so they’ll have every reason to want to prove their doubters wrong with a follow-up victory, because if not, it may throw their claim to last week’s victory as a result of their progress behind them. 

Can they score again? After breaking their lengthy scoring slump last week, it’ll be interesting to see if the ‘Caps can get some more goals on the board in this one, especially against a stingy Montreal team. 

In the Impact’s 4 games since returning from MLS is Back, they’ve allowed 0, 1, 0 and 2 goals, with the 1 in the 2nd game being a penalty. 

Essentially, they went 3 games without conceding from open play, and while Toronto scored two counter-attacking goals in their recent game to break that streak, considering Vancouver’s offensive struggles, you just have to wonder how they’ll fare against this stingy Impact team. 

Can Cava find some form? It was good news for Lucas Cavallini and Vancouver fans to see the ‘Caps record-signing get off of the mark last week, but you do want to see if he can turn that goal into a rich run of form. 

As he said when he was in the midst of a 5 game drought to start his MLS career, when he starts scoring, he’ll feel like he won’t stop, so you do want to see if he’ll be able to back up those claims. 

If there is one thing the Canadian International doesn’t lack for already, it’s confidence, so with the boost of the goal behind him, might we see a breakout game versus Montreal?

Could very much happen. 

Stats Splurge:

This game certainly poses some interesting statistical storylines to monitor, especially in the possession department. 

In 13 competitive games (Champions League, MLS, MLS is Back), the Impact has only held more than 50% of possession 4 times, twice against New England, once against CD Olimpia, and once against Toronto FC. 

On the other side, the ‘Caps have only held more than 50% of possession in 2 out of their 10 competitive games, 1 of which being their clash against Montreal, which shows that these two teams struggle to play without the ball. 

Given that Montreal seems to mostly prefer to sit back and let the game come to them, whereas the ‘Caps have stated that they want to keep more of the ball, expect the ‘Caps to have more of the ball once again in this one, but it’s an interesting stat to note nonetheless. 

And while the possession battle is an intriguing storyline to watch, the Expected Goals battle will also be very up in the air, with the ‘Caps 1.05 xG/game and the Impact’s 1.04 xG/game (regular season only) placing them as 6th and 5th worse teams in MLS. 

When you also factor in that the ‘Caps 1.94 xG against/game is 2nd-worst in MLS, while Montreal’s 1.61 is 5th-worst, and this game could prove to be a special one. 

Considering that both teams have been without the ball in most of their games, these stats aren’t surprising (if you don’t have the ball, it’s harder to generate chances, and you’ll give up more chances), but it also shows that they maybe haven’t been as tight as hoped. 

So when watching this game, either expect a wide-open affair or a cagey one, at least if the numbers have anything to say about it. 

Projected XIs:

Vancouver Whitecaps:

Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos

Regular Season Record: 3W-6L-0D (9 PTS)

Montreal Impact: 

Head Coach: Thierry Henry

Regular Season Record: 4W-4L-1D (13 PTS)

2020 Matchup: 

Montreal Impact 2-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

Looking Forward:

Now, it’ll be interesting to see what this game has to offer. 

There are several storylines to monitor, both from a statistical standpoint but from a competitive perspective, with both teams having every reason to be desperate for 3 points at this stage of the season, knowing what lies ahead. 

And at the very least, it’s a Canadian rivalry match, which usually doesn’t disappoint. 

While this rivalry isn’t as strong as it used to be in the 2000s, there is still some disdain there between both sets of fans, so let’s see if some of the players start to show similar sentiments on the pitch, starting on Sunday. 

With the ‘Caps coming off the high of victory, while the Impact reels after a tough loss, we’ll be hoping that this match lives up in terms of entertainment value, similarly to how the ‘Caps vs TFC game played out. 

So stay tuned Sunday, as both teams continue what has been an unusual season, all part of what has been a very strange year from a sporting perspective. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs Montreal Impact, Sunday, September 13th, 18h30 PST/21H30 EST (BC Place, Vancouver)

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