The Last Hurrah: ‘Focused’ Vancouver Whitecaps looking to finish tough 2020 season with win over Galaxy(Preview #23)

The Vancouver Whitecaps conclude their 2020 MLS season on Sunday, as they take on the LA Galaxy on ‘Decision Day’. Here is our preview ahead of that one, as the ‘Caps look to make the most of a dead-rubber match between two already-eliminated teams. 

While it might not be the finale that they envisioned, the end is here. 

After a gruelling few months of MLS action, the Vancouver Whitecaps have arrived at the end of the road, as they get set to play the LA Galaxy in their last game of the 2020 MLS season. 

With both teams already eliminated from the playoff race, it won’t quite be the Decision Day clash that the schedule-makers hoped it would be, leaving it to be a dead-rubber affair, instead. 

But despite that, the ‘Caps feel that their group has done a good job of preparing for this game, maintaining a good level of professionalism heading into this game.

“You had to be at training today, the focus, the mentality, the professionalism of everyone towards the game is very, very high,” Whitecaps head coach, Marc Dos Santos, said on Friday. “It’s not a game that we want to take and say: ‘oh after this game nothing’s gonna change, we go on vacation’, no, we want to finish the season as close as we can from the playoff spot, so we could evaluate what the year was about.”

“We want to finish with nine wins, we want to win and you guys are going to see that by our approach. Nobody’s going to see us slacking, that the three points are not important for us. They have a lot of importance this game.”

With the playoffs out of the picture, however, what can the ‘Caps play for? Will they use this game as a chance to experiment with lineups? Or can some of their kids get a run out? 

But while there are some who might elect to do either of those two things, Dos Santos is instead going to go for it full throttle, giving a run out to whoever he thinks is the best 11 players to do the job for him on Sunday. 

“Who gets the run? The guys that we think could help us win the game,” Dos Santos said. “So if you guys think it’s gonna be a game of rotation, opportunities for guys who don’t play, no, you’ll see that everybody is taking these three points extremely seriously. We want to win for our fans, we want to win for the three points, we want to win to get nine wins, instead of eight. We want to beat a team that put a little bit of break on our run and got that win 1-0 in LA in the last minute.”

“For all of those reasons, it’s not time to try players. You try players in preseason, we have still a lot of respect for the season, we want to finish as high as we can, so for all those reasons, I think that even in training I didn’t feel a lack of professionalism, everybody’s focused, everybody knows that if we want to win this game and we’ve got to enter with the right and positive mindset.”

And while this could be an excellent chance to give some players minutes, his approach certainly isn’t that off the mark, at least when put in context. 

In a shortened MLS season, this is another chance to evaluate a group that he just hasn’t had all that much time to look at, especially not at its full capacity. 

So while it would be nice to see some of the kids get a chance, maybe that can come later in the game, as Dos Santos and his staff use this game as one last chance to see this group together before deciding to make changes this offseason. 

For the players, knowing that some of their jobs are at stake this offseason, that could give them the boost required to finish the season strong, as they look to prove to the ‘Caps that they’re worth keeping around in 2021. 

“Given the circumstances I mean, it’s always tough,” ‘Caps captain, Russell Teibert, said on Friday. “ You’re always dealing with disappointment when you don’t make the playoffs, you never want to be familiar with that feeling, you always want to have a winning mentality, but unfortunately, this happened, we didn’t get in, we’re a little bit short.”

“So you try and deal with that disappointment as best as you can, takes a couple of days to get over that disappointment, I think we’ve not necessarily turned the page, but we’ve been able to bounce back and create a healthy positive environment here, that we’re all geared up for this last game to finish it off on a good note.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Fredy Montero

Montero celebrates a goal with fellow Colombian, Cristian Dajome, in September at BC Place (Keveren Guillou)

Ultimately, while the futures of David Milinkovic and Ali Adnan are certainly going to be stories worth watching this offsesaon, there may be no ‘Caps players with more question marks around their future than Montero. 

After seeming all but out of the team a few months ago, he has been excellent since his re-insertion, proving that he still has a lot to give as a player despite nearing his mid-30s. 

The big question now, however, is seeing where he gets to play next year, as he will become a free agent once the season ends. Will it be in Vancouver? Or will another team, inside or outside MLS, give the veteran Colombian striker a chance?

Either way, a few goals from Montero in this game could be a good way for him to pad his resume ahead of negotiations with the ‘Caps and other teams this offseason. 

Storylines:

Another close one? In the first two matchups between these two teams, each team won by a score of 1-0, as not much separated the two teams who come into this one only 2 points away from each other in the standings. 

Despite being 2 of the worst defensive teams in the Western Conference, caginess has reigned in their first two meetings, making one wonder if the floodgates may open in this one. 

Given some of the offensive pieces that each team has, it does feel like they have the potential to combine for a 4-3 game, one not too dissimilar to the one they combined for in the second-last game in 2019. 

While the ‘New Coach bump’ that the Galaxy are experiencing could throw a wrench in those plans, with the recent firing of Guillermo Barros Schelotto seeming to wake up this team, you do have to wonder.

Can the ‘Caps bust their ‘zero’ slumps? Adding onto the last point, the ‘Caps come into this one having been shutout in 3 of their last 4 games, as they’ve hit a bit of a rut offensively as of late. 

At the other end of the pitch, they’ve been unable to keep a clean sheet in 17 games, with their last shutout coming against the Chicago Fire at the MLS is Back tournament. 

While it’ll be a little more important for them to focus on scoring some goals, it would be nice for some of the ‘Caps defenders, especially Evan Bush in goal, to finish on a high note defensively by busting that slump. 

Adieu, Portland: And with this game, the ‘Caps will end their stint at Providence Park, a place in which they’ve surprisingly been solid at this year.

Heading into this game, they’ve got a record of 5W-1L-0D against non-Portland opposition (preseason and regular season), with their lone loss coming against probably one of the teams most familiar with the stadium aside from Portland – their rivals, the Seattle Sounders. 

So look for them to finish off their stay in the Rose City strongly in this one, showing that whenever they do return in 2021, as the home team or away team, they’ll know that they have the experience to weather whatever is thrown at them. 

A draw on the cards? A rare 4th storyline, but it’s worth noting that the ‘Caps have the chance to be the first team in MLS since the removal of regular-season penalty kicks to go a full season without getting a draw in this game. 

Given the oddity of that stat, expect it to be one that is on the lips of many, especially as the game drags on.

Stats Splurge:

Considering that the ‘Caps ship a league-leading 1.81 Expected Goals (xG) per game, you’d be surprised to know that they only allowed 2.3 xG over the 180 minutes they’ve played against LA this season. 

Even despite LA’s standing as a decent xG-generating team, as they sit 11th in MLS with 1.41 xG per game, the ‘Caps have done pretty well against them defensively in their two matchups. 

The problem for the ‘Caps? They only got just over 2 xG in those 2 games, which considering that they missed a penalty in the first game, means that they’ve really only generated around 1.3 xG from open play in 180 minutes against LA. 

Against a team that ships xG at an 8th-worst rate in MLS of 1.47 per game, the ‘Caps need to make sure they put more pressure on a backline that has shown the ability to crack in games, while also keeping up their strong defensive work against a solid Galaxy offensive corps. 

Projected XIs:

Vancouver Whitecaps:

Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos

Regular Season Record: 8W-14L-0D (24 PTS)

LA Galaxy:

Head Coach: Dom Kinnear (Interim)

Regular Season Record: 6W-11L-4D (22 PTS)

2020 Matchups:

LA Galaxy 0-1 Vancouver Whitecaps

LA Galaxy 1-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

Looking Forward:

So now, there are just 90 minutes that stand between the ‘Caps and the end of the season, so it’ll be interesting to see how they handle that ‘last dance’. 

Will they make some sweet, sweet salsa, dancing around the Galaxy in one last hurrah to close out the year? Or will they be without ideas on the dance floor, leaving the Galaxy to control the affair? 

We find out Sunday, as both teams put bows on what has been a wild MLS season, for all parties involved. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs LA Galaxy, Sunday, November 8th, 2020, 15h30 PST (Providence Park, Portland)

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