Heavy-Handed: Vancouver Whitecaps ready to punch back versus LAFC after taking knockout punch in 6-0 loss 3 weeks ago

The Vancouver Whitecaps take on LAFC on Wednesday with revenge on their minds, as they look to bounce back from a 6-0 loss against LA the last time these two teams met. Here is our preview ahead of that one, as the ‘Caps look to jump back into a playoff spot with a win. 

After taking some heavy blows last time out, they’re still ready to keep their gloves up in this one. 

Mere weeks after taking a 6-0 beating at the hand of LAFC, the Vancouver Whitecaps have a chance to exact revenge on their Californian foes on Wednesday, as they get set to take on LA at ‘home’ in Portland. 

Despite taking one of the heaviest losses in MLS history down in LA, the Whitecaps feel like they still have a chance to take out LA in this rematch, as they look to exact revenge for the knockout blow that was levied against them in that one. 

By conjuring up the image of one of the most feared boxers of our time, the ‘Caps are looking to land some surprise strikes on Wednesday, while this time keeping their feet on the ground when LA strikes back. 

“What I feel, though, is that even after losing there 6-0, we don’t have any complex of inferiority,” ‘Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos said on Tuesday. “We’re excited about tomorrow, we believe that we can get something in the game tomorrow, and we’re going to fight to go again, tomorrow.”

“I told the guys in our team meeting, I shared a video of a fight from Muhammed Ali, and everybody talks about how Muhammed Ali was incredible, and what a champion he was, but nobody talks a lot about how many times he got punched, and punched and punched, and that’s actually why he had health problems at the end, because of the amount of times he got punched, so in life, you need to be strong, we got punched a lot in LA, but we’re going to try and punch back in here in our game tomorrow, that’s what we want to do.”

Fresh off of a big victory over Real Salt Lake on the weekend, they’ll be feeling extra confident heading into this one, as they did well to overcome a 1-0 deficit to win their first game in 2020 where they’ve conceded the first goal. 

Down 1 at half, in the midst of a 4-game losing streak, the ‘Caps had every reason to fold, but with their season hanging in the balance, they found some air, allowing them to propel to a surprise comeback. 

But even though it may have seemed all doom and gloom from the outside, Dos Santos says that the belief in the room never wavered, allowing them to snatch the result. 

“The fact that you’re down at half, but only the people that were in the locker room when we speak at half could talk about the belief that we had,” he said. “We were in a stage of, again, can that be possible that again in the first half we feel that we were better than the opponent, but it doesn’t translate into us being in front of the score. But there was still a big belief of what we have to do in the next 45 minutes. I felt that the locker room, when we gave instructions for the second half, was very calm, guys very aware of what we had to do in the second half to get the result.”

It wasn’t the most complex speech, nor plan, that motivated the team, but just calmness and confidence in what they showed in the first half, using that to continue into a strong second half. 

Now, heading into a strong game with LAFC, it’s hoped that they can build off of the belief that they showed against RSL, because with only 6 games to go, a victory over LAFC could very well disrupt an already tight Western Conference table. 

“We said clearly that first, we have to find the first goal, without conceding the second,” Dos Santos continued. “If we would’ve conceded the second, now the game starts to get far and away from us. We were able to tie in a good moment, and of course, that goal gave a boost of bigger confidence to go. And then, the first time this year that you turn a game around, and you get the two goals in the second half, well, it brings even more belief.”

“It brings even more ‘we can do this’, ‘we do have a chance here’, and all of the guys are very aware of the opportunity that we have in front of us, we know it’s going to be incredibly challenging the last 6 games in the schedule, we’re also playing teams that want to be in the playoffs, and fighting for the Supporters Shield and things like that, but we want to punch back, we want to be there. We want to fight until the end.”

It won’t be easy to take out LA, a team that dominates opponents through their superior play in midfield, an area that the ‘Caps have struggled in all year long. 

That’s how LA played through them so easily a few weeks ago, and it’s how they’ve become one of the top offensive teams in MLS, as they just know how to move the ball around in the middle of the park when they get it there. 

At the same time, they’ve shown some frailties both this year and last. Defensively, they leave a lot to be desired at times, and they are prone to low blocks and counter-attacks, two things that this ‘Caps team can do well when they’re on their game. 

But before they look at that part of their game, they need to find a way to nullify LA’s midfield superiority, because if not, it might be a tough game for them on Wednesday. 

“Yes, we looked at that,” Dos Santos said of adjusting his tactics to stop LA’s midfield. “We also looked at what we want to build as an identity as a team. So you always have the choice to say: ‘the opponent does this, so we’re going to do that’, but maybe the way we’re going to be set up is also going to create problems to LAFC. We’re very aware of the qualities that they have, and of course, I believe the heart of the team is a lot of what they do when the midfield is able to get rhythm, so we have to make sure that we disrupt that.”

“But, you disrupt that collectively, you disrupt that by eleven players closing down the spaces in the right way, not always (saying) they have 3 midfielders, we put 4 there, now we’re going to win the midfield. No, if it was easy like that, everybody would do it.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Janio Bikel

Janio Bikel goes in for a tackle against Portland in September (Craig Mitchelldyer/Vancouver Whitecaps)

In a game where having strong midfield play is going to be so key, it makes sense to pick a midfielder as our player to watch, hence why we went with Bikel. 

After a couple of rough games, Bikel looked good against RSL, so in a game where the ‘Caps will desperately need the ‘Destroy and Progress’ attributes that he brings to midfield, look for Bikel to try and build off of that in this one. 

Storylines:

Was that home win a fluke? In the first meeting between Dos Santos’s ‘Caps and LAFC, Vancouver won 1-0 in a memorable victory at BC Place last season. 

Since then, however, things have been less rosy, as the ‘Caps have lost 6-1 and 6-0 in a pair of clashes at Banc of California stadium in 2019 and 2020, respectively. 

Now that this game will be the first ‘home’ game since that 1-0 victory, this is a chance for the ‘Caps to prove that those losses were just a case of road woes, and that they can take care of business in familiar surroundings. 

No Rossi, no Rodriguez, no Vela, no problem? Despite missing their 3 best wingers, including 2019 MVP and all-time MLS single-season goalscorer record-holder, Carlos Vela, and current 2020 Golden Boot leader, Diego Rossi, LA won 3-1 against a good defensive team in Seattle on Sunday. 

For a ‘Caps team that has been all over the map defensively this season, they’ll be relieved not to see Vela, Rossi or Brian Rodriguez, but they’ll still have to be wary of an LA team that seems to score no matter who they play up front. 

Especially considering the damage that someone that likely starter Bradley Wright-Phillips did to them in the 6-0 loss, if they switch off, this LA team can do damage. 

Can the ‘Caps find some offence? At the other end, the ‘Caps will look to build off of their win over RSL, in which they broke a lengthy open-play goalless drought. 

Considering how important scoring the first goal against LAFC can be, the ‘Caps will need to find some early magic, be it in open-play or via a set-piece, as their inability to convert key chances last time out turned the game from a potential track meet into a rout. 

Obviously, the ‘Caps don’t want a track meet, either, but if they can snatch a lead, the game will be less likely to turn out that way. 

Stats Splurge:

This 2020 schedule has been unfriendly to the ‘Caps, as they’ve faced each of the top 4 teams in terms of Expected Goals (xG) for this season, which consists of Seattle, LAFC, Toronto FC and Sporting KC.  

Maybe that’s partly why they lead the league in xG against per game with 1.98, a number that will surely get a stiff test against an LA team that blitzed the ‘Caps with 2.72 xG last time out (it would’ve been more, but the ‘Caps scored 2 own goals). 

Let’s not kid ourselves, this LAFC team has the advantage over the ‘Caps in every offensive statistical category, such as possession, shots, key passes, and xG, so it’ll all be about surviving defensively for Vancouver in this one. 

On the other hand, LA does have the 10th-worst xG with 1.47 xG against per game, and the 3rd-worst goals-against tally with 31 goals, so the ‘Caps could do some damage on them offensively. 

Ultimately, the way that this battle will swing will depend on how the ‘Caps end up doing in those two areas, stemming from their play in the midfield. 

Projected XIs:

Vancouver Whitecaps:

Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos

Regular Season Record:

LAFC:

Head Coach: Bob Bradley

Reguar Season Record:

2020 Matchup:

LAFC 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

Looking Forward:

So with all of that in mind, it’ll be interesting to see how this matchup ends up playing out. 

Will we see more dominance from LAFC? Or will Vancouver find some fighting spirit and punch back? 

At the very least, considering the ‘Caps 2020 record against non-Portland opponents when they play in Portland (3W-0L-0D, including preseason), this game will probably be closer than the last one was, as Vancouver has done well in games at Providence Park this season. 

It won’t be easy for them, but off of the backs of a big victory on the weekend, they’ll have every reason to believe in themselves heading into this one. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs LAFC, Wednesday, October 14th, 2020, 19:00 PST (Providence Park, Portland)

Leave a Reply