The Vancouver Whitecaps head to LA to take on LAFC on Wednesday, with the ‘Caps looking to win 3 consecutive games for the first time in the Marc Dos Santos era. Here is our match preview ahead of that one, as the streaking ‘Caps side gets set to take on a reeling but hungry LA side.
It’s amazing what a few wins can do for you.
All of a sudden, after winning 3 of their last 4 games, things are looking a bit better for the Vancouver Whitecaps than they did a few weeks prior, as they get set to travel to Los Angeles to take on LAFC on Wednesday.
Thanks to their recent streak, they head to LA in a playoff spot, tied with that same LAFC team with 15 points, with the ‘Caps only ahead via the virtue of having more wins than their LA counterparts.
After finishing a whopping 38 points behind LAFC last season, in a year where the Los Angeles-based side set the MLS record for most points in a year, while the ‘Caps toiled in the Western Conference basement, Vancouver will be happy to be where they are at the halfway point of this strange campaign.
While LA has suffered from injuries to key players like Carlos Vela and Eduard Atuesta, as well as the sale of standout defender Walker Zimmerman to Nashville this offseason, making them less of a juggernaut than they were last season, they’re still a really good team.
That’s why after finishing 1st in goals for in 2019, they’re still 3rd in the league in goals for so far this season, as they can hurt teams offensively, but where their problem lies is on the defensive end, as they are 2nd-last in the league for goals against, a far cry from the league-best defensive record they held last year.
So for Vancouver, while there’s no doubt that they can feel confident heading into this match, they still have to be wary of LAFC’s looming offensive danger, no matter how enticing their weakened defence looks to pounce on.
As a former LAFC assistant coach, ‘Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos knows exactly what this LAFC team can do, so he’ll be keeping a close eye on his former employers ahead of this encounter.
“Yeah, I know exactly the team that we’re going to face,” Dos Santos told media on Tuesday. “I know that their soccer, their football, doesn’t change. It’s a team with a lot of play inside, a lot of possession, a lot of creativity, a huge reaction to the loss of possession. The moment where they counter-press and they lose the ball, that’s all going to be there. And I have huge respect for what they’re about, for what they do, for the talent they have in the roster. And again, in soccer, the only thing that matters is the 90 minutes on that day, everything before that and everything that was done before doesn’t count.”
“So, we expect a team motivated LAFC team, a LAFC team that wants to win, the same like us, and we will be ready for them and I’m sure they’re gonna be also ready to show up and play because I know how their organization goes about things and I know how Bob (Bradley) goes about things.”
And while his team has every right to feel confident, as they find themselves with back-to-back wins for the first time since May of 2019 as part of this run of 3 wins in 4 games, he knows that all of that means nothing heading in the context of this game.
In MLS, teams have notoriously short memories, so while some may fancy the ‘Caps, especially against an LAFC side fresh off of a 3-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders, Dos Santos is making sure his team heads into this one with a fresh mindset.
With a short turnaround from their last game, leaving little time for recovery, it won’t be an easy game to win, especially given the travel headache that awaits Vancouver on Wednesday, as they have to fly in on gameday as part of the new MLS protocols with COVID-19.
“You need to forget the last game, the last game doesn’t matter anymore,” Dos Santos said of his team’s last game, a victory over Real Salt Lake. “You always have to think about the next one, to think about how you want to keep getting the right results.”
“Of course, recovery was very important, the way we dealt with the last two days to make sure that everybody was at the best of their ability, and that was an important part for us in the last two days, knowing that it’s going to be a new kind of day on Wednesday for us, we’ve never been in a situation where we fly almost two hours to a place where we’re a couple of hours at a hotel, and then go straight to the stadium to play, so that’s going to be a challenging and learning experience for us but it allows us to develop an incredible mindset. And that’s a good place to be.”
So while this game promises to be exciting, with LAFC being arguably one of the most entertaining teams to watch in this league with the number of goals they score and give up, this is no normal game, and as part of a special year, Dos Santos is ready for anything.
As his team gets used to their new home away from home for the next month and a half, Portland, Oregon, a wild 2020 MLS season continues on, with this matchup LAFC being yet another chapter in what may be one of the most memorable seasons in the league’s history.
“Well, only one group trained yesterday, The group that hadn’t played the game against RSL, and that today the session was very light, so hopefully tomorrow, we can have a much more active session, the day before the game, to make sure we’re ready for Wednesday,” Dos Santos said. “I’ll tell you, it’s not a comfortable situation, but the year has been like that, so we cannot be surprised about anything right now, it’s been a very uncomfortable year, a year where if it’s not COVID, it’s the smoke, if it’s not the smoke, it’s the riots it’s, it’s just an incredible 2020 and we just have to manage the time we’re outside, we have to manage the time we’re at the training facility.”
“At least what’s positive is that the University of Portland and the quality of the grass they provide and the quality of the facility is absolutely fantastic and that allows us to be in a position that at least there’s a little bit of comfort there.”
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Lucas Cavallini
After opening his MLS account 4 games ago against Toronto FC, Cavallini, the ‘Caps record-signing, got sent off against Montreal Impact the game after that, leaving him to watch from the stands as the ‘Caps beat Montreal in a rematch a few days later.
Back in the lineup this past Saturday against RSL, he came off of the bench to score his first-ever winner in MLS, as he did well to burst behind the Salt Lake centre backs and bounce on a nice Fredy Montero cross in the 84th minute, giving the ‘Caps all 3 points.
Given that strong end to the game, expect to see him back in the starting lineup on Wednesday, and considering the struggles that this LAFC team has faced on the defensive end of things, look for Cavallini to bag a few goals, helping him truly get up and running in a Whitecaps strip.
Tale of 2 games in 2019: While as we mentioned earlier, this LAFC team is not the same side that dominated MLS last season, this Vancouver side so far looks a lot better, as well, so it’s hard to take stock in their 2019 matchups, in which they split the spoils with 3 points apiece, with each team winning in their own building.
But while they split the points, the 2 results couldn’t have been any different, as the ‘Caps beat LAFC 1-0 at home, before LAFC returned the favour with a shocking 6-1 defeat at home a few months after, as part of a mid-summer swoon that saw Vancouver sink to the bottom of the standings.
It shouldn’t have any impact on this year’s games, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on ahead of Wednesday.
‘Caps need to keep things tight: With their victory on Saturday, the Whitecaps improved to 5W-2L-0D when conceding 2 or fewer goals, and 5W-0L-0D when they concede less than 2 goals and score at least 1.
When they concede 3 or more goals, however, their record is 0W-5L-0D, which shows that when they let themselves open up, it usually doesn’t lead to good results.
Against this LAFC offence, it won’t be an easy task, but if they can, knowing how LAFC’s defence has been, you’d figure that the ‘Caps could score at least 1, which if they keep LA to 2 or fewer goals, is the exact sort of game they’ve shown themselves to be good at winning this year.
If they open things up, however, that plays right into LA’s hands, so it’ll be all about toeing the tightrope on Wednesday.
Can Fredy Time continue? Fresh off of making the MLS TOTW for his impressive performance in 2 starts last week, as he scored 2 goals, and added 3 assists (1 primary, 2 secondary) as part of the 2 ‘Caps wins, can Montero continue to make magic for the ‘Caps against LAFC?
Based on what we saw Saturday, it’s very likely that he’ll play underneath Lucas Cavallini in a 4-2-3-1, and given how strong the chemistry between those 2 is, that could lead to some more goals like the one Cavallini score versus RSL.
As a motivated Montero continues his ‘comeback tour’ with this recent run of games, look for him to make a difference once again for the ‘Caps on Wednesday.
While a lot of focus is going to be made on LAFC’s porous defence this year, and rightly so, it’s worth noting that LA has conceded a whopping 9 goals more than they’ve allowed Expected Goals (xG), which does indicate that they’ve been let down by a mix of inconsistent goalkeeping as much as they have been their defending.
Yes, if their defence doesn’t close down opposition players at the top of the box, for example, which despite being a typically low xG shot, professional attackers can typically turn it into a high-percentage look, so you do wonder if some of that is at play.
At the same time, considering that their two goalkeepers, Kenneth Vermeer and Pablo Sisniega, have the 2nd and 3rd worst save percentages of all goalkeepers who have faced 10 shots this season, clearly something isn’t adding up there.
So for Vancouver, it’ll be all about building off of their 23rd ranked 1.17 xG per game, which to give credit to them, has slowly risen during this run of wins, and try to make LA’s defenders and goalkeepers sweat.
It won’t be easy for the ‘Caps, as LA holds the 3rd most possession in MLS with an average of 55% (WhoScored), a far cry from the 45% that Vancouver holds on average, but as the Whitecaps have shown as of late, possession doesn’t matter as long you get good shots, and limit the quality chances your opponents get.
(xG stats taken via American Soccer Analysis)
Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos
Regular Season Record: 5W-7L-0D (15 PTS)
Head Coach: Bob Bradley
Regular Season Record: 4W-5L-3D (15 PTS)
Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 LAFC
LAFC 6-1 Vancouver Whitecaps
With all of this in mind, stay tuned for Wednesday, as these two teams in the thick of the MLS Western Conference playoff race get set for a pivotal clash at LA’s Banc of California Stadium.
For Vancouver, it’ll be tough, no doubt, as they look for their first win in LAFC’s home ground, after coming home with a draw and a tough loss in their first two attempts.
On the other side, it’s a big game for LAFC, as they’ll be expected to take care of business against the Whitecaps, but they’ll be wary of what the ‘Caps can do in light of this most recent mini-streak.
Therefore, it could be a cagey affair, but if things open up, as has been the case in both of these team’s matches at times this season, it could get real fun.
So strap up, hang on and get ready for what can hopefully be an entertaining game, as has usually been the case when these two teams have met in games of recent past.
And if you’re the Whitecaps, just try to avoid anything similiar to the 6-1 defeat they were handed last year, and try to snatch something closer to the 1-0 victory that broke LA’s undefeated run at the beginning of the 2019 season.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs LAFC, Wednesday, September 23, 19:30 PST (Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles)