Been a Minute: Vancouver Whitecaps wary of ‘dangerous’ Colorado Rapids in long-awaited matchup

The Vancouver Whitecaps will take on the Colorado Rapids in MLS action on Sunday. Here’s our preview ahead of that game. 

It’s been a while since they met, but they’re ready to renew acquaintances this weekend. 

Having been nearly 2 years since they last met in June of 2019, the Vancouver Whitecaps will take on the Colorado Rapids on Sunday, in what will be expected to be an entertaining game between two teams who have been on a similar trajectory over the past 3 seasons. 

After finishing near the bottom of the standings in 2019, both teams took a step forward in 2020, and will be hoping to become true playoff contenders in 2021, continuing their parallel rise. 

But while this game will be the first test to see how the teams have progressed since they met in the aptly named ‘Toilet Bowl’ 2 years ago, this wasn’t supposed to be the first matchup since then, as both teams were supposed to meet in week 3 of MLS action back in 2020. 

Obviously, that game ultimately never happened due to the pandemic, leaving them to have to wait until now, week 3 of the 2021 MLS season, to try and make up for the lost time.  

The long wait between games (679 days, to be exact) shouldn’t have too much influence on the game, however, but it’ll certainly be something that might play on the minds of both sides at the beginning of it. 

“Yeah, we haven’t played them, they haven’t played us,” ‘Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos told reporters on Wednesday. “We were looking a lot at the details of their team. We’re watching them the same way that they’re watching us.”

“And then I think the first 15 minutes of the game are always going to be a little bit more tactical, the 2 teams may be more careful with doing mistakes. But then, the game is going to settle the same way that we play any other opponent, we’re going to prepare the game the same way.”

And as Dos Santos mentioned, with all of the scouting and preparation that teams put in ahead of games nowadays, that will mean that both teams will be quite familiar with one another well before kick off. 

Despite a 3-1 Rapids loss last weekend to expansion side Austin FC, he expects a very dangerous Colorado side, one that can do damage to the ‘Caps in transition and on set pieces, as he feels that the Austin result didn’t necessarily tell the full story of that game. 

“Colorado is an experienced team, Colorado is a team that did well in the games that they played in last season, and made the playoffs,” Dos Santos said. “They were already dangerous on set plays last season, so they’re continuing in those moments. Colorado is a team that in transition are very dangerous with the type of players that they have, the 3-1 against Austin FC is a very tricky result, when you watch the game again, and we watched the game, Colorado and Austin, and we felt the result doesn’t really reflect everything that happened in the game.”

“But we have a group that is able to forget very quickly about yesterday and focus a lot on the game we have on Sunday,” he continued. “So again, we’re preparing for this game with very high levels of responsibility and awareness of the type of opponent, and the points are very close. We started out with a win and a draw, they started with a draw a loss but at the end, only three points separate the two teams, so it’s going to be again like every game that we see in our schedule, every game is going to be difficult, and this is another one.”

But while the Rapids will be picking themselves up after that Austin result, the ‘Caps head into this game flying decently high, having picked up 4 points from their first two matches, two tough clashes against the Portland Timbers and Toronto FC. 

They’ll feel like they easily could’ve picked up all 6 points, as they ended up sharing the spoils against TFC after an 83rd minute Toronto equalizer, but for the most part, they’ve been pretty happy with how things have gone to start this 2021 season. 

At the same time, they know that they’ve only played 2 of 34 games, with a long marathon of games still awaiting them, so they’re just looking to stay positive and leverage the good mood of the team into more positive results. 

“I mean it’s good, the mood is always a lot better when the team is winning, when the team is doing good, getting results,” ‘Caps defender, Derek Cornelius, said on Thursday. “That being said, we’re very aware that there’s a lot harder games coming up, and that we have to remain humble, continue to work hard, and just keep getting better each game, whether we win, lose or draw.”

“So yeah, the mindset is good, the morale of the team is high right now, so it’s just about continuing to work and trying to get better each day.”

And even though they’ll want to add to their point total, they’ll also look to build off of how they got those results, as they showed plenty of good flashes against the Portland Timbers and Toronto in their first two games. 

There is still some work to do offensively in the final third, but they’ve done a good job at holding possession, doing damage on the counter-attack, and have defended relatively well, for the most part. 

For Dos Santos, the lack of finish in the final third remains a worry, but it’s something that he and his staff will continue to work on, hoping that it soon catches up to the rest of their game. 

“Me, I don’t think about personnel, I’m a coach, so I only have to think about coaching,” Dos Santos said. “And on that part of the field, I think that sometimes we’re in a position to put a cross in the box and we play (the ball) back. We create superiority in wide areas, and then we’re not decisive enough with the last pass or with the cross. Sometimes the two forwards show for the ball when one has to get in behind and the other one show, that’s all related to coaching, and that’s my job.”

“Then, of course, there’s pieces that you get that are faster at taking decisions in those moments. But right now, I feel that we have possession in the opponent’s half in good portions of the game, our fullbacks get high in good portions of the game. But then, once we get into some areas, we need to decide better on what we’re going to do.”

Plus, while a lot of the ‘Caps improvements will come as they continue to grow tactically, the continued integration of more personnel can only help that cause, as they’ve received a good boost in terms of players returning from injury this week. 

Centre back Erik Godoy and forward Tosaint Ricketts have been back in full training this week, now only leaving midfielder Leonard Owusu (injury) and full back Ali Adnan (visa) as the only two absentees in the squad right now, giving the ‘Caps a nearly full-strength team. 

That has raised the level of competition in the squad significantly, as there aren’t many secured spots in the lineup, even despite the good results, and the ‘Caps will hope that they can use that competition to push to bigger heights, starting with the Rapids clash on Sunday.

“Yeah, for sure, we’re all fighting for spots,” Cornelius said. “There’s great competition in the team. everyone has to be 110% every day and that’s what you want in our group, it’s going to get the best out of each player, and then ultimately the best out of the Vancouver Whitecaps, so we’re all working to get on the field, we’re working to help the team, to get to the goals that we’ve set.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Caio Alexandre

Caio Alexandre in action during his ‘Caps debut last weekend (Vancouver Whitecaps/Twitter)

And speaking of someone who’s recently come into the squad, there’s midfielder Caio Alexandre, the ‘Caps $4 million dollar offseason signing out of Brazil, who is fresh off making his MLS debut off of the bench against Toronto. 

He might have not been on the field for long, but he left a very positive impression, showing a glimpse of what he might provide as a two-way lynchpin to a midfield group that could certainly use one. 

As a result, he earns our nod as the ‘Caps player to watch this weekend, as he seems due to make his first MLS start against the Rapids, building off of what he showed in his strong but short debut as a substitute. 

From what we saw there, and seeing what he accomplished in Brazil, he seems destined to do some good things in MLS, and he’ll take a first step towards doing that on Sunday. 

Storylines:

Elsewhere, here are 3 storylines that are catching our eyes ahead of this clash, one that should have no shortage of drama on Sunday. 

Parallel paths meet again:

As mentioned earlier, it’s interesting to see where both teams are at ahead of this game, as they’ve kind of been on a parallel rebuilding path over the past 3 years. 

In 2019, they were two of the worst teams in MLS, before taking a step forward in 2020, and now, they’ll look to become contenders in 2021. 

Considering that the Rapids actually made the playoffs last year, something the ‘Caps fell just short in their quest towards doing, Colorado is slightly ahead of Vancouver in this process, but this game could serve as a chance to see a visual representation of where both teams are at in their similar journeys. 

Do the ‘Caps have more goals in them?

Offensively, it’ll be interesting to see if the ‘Caps can keep up a solid start in that area of the pitch, as they’ve done well to score 3 goals in their first two games, even despite their lack of cutting edge in the final third that Dos Santos referenced earlier. 

Considering all 3 goals came via set pieces, however, it’ll be interesting to see if the ‘Caps keep profiting via dead balls in this game, or if they indeed find some magic in open play, as Dos Santos is certainly hoping for. 

Either way, as long as they pick up all 3 points, they won’t care how they score them, but finding the back of the net on a couple of occasions will go a long way towards quelling some of the doubts some people have about this team so far this season. 

Lineup changes coming?

Lastly, one has to wonder if Marc Dos Santos will make any changes to a lineup that has remained unchanged since opening day, as more and more players continue to become available to him. 

Understandably, Dos Santos has not often been one to tinker with a lineup that is picking up points, but looking at the Toronto game last weekend, there were certainly a few players that looked like they could be rotated out of the lineup for this Colorado game. 

With new arrivals Alexandre and Bruno Gaspar itching for a debut, along with the return of players such as Godoy and Ricketts from injury, might that tempt Dos Santos to integrate some of them into the lineup?

It’s too early to tell, but it could certainly be a way for the ‘Caps to catch the Rapids by surprise, helping them continue their undefeated start to the season. 

Stats Splurge:

Statistically, this promises to be a fascinating game, as there is no particular mismatch between the two sides based on the two games they’ve played so far this MLS season. 

Possession-wise, the ‘Caps have averaged 49.5% possession, while the Rapids have averaged 47%, showing a quiet split there. 

In terms of the advanced stats, the ‘Caps have averaged 1.12 Expected Goals (xG) for, and 1.42 xG against, while the Rapids have only averaged 0.89 xG for, and 1.09 xG against. 

All of that to say, the ‘Caps have held the ball more and generated better chances, but the Rapids have defended better, and looking at the close split in between stats, it screams low-event soccer. 

Knowing MLS, that’ll mean that this game will be a 3-2 barnburner, but on paper, it doesn’t project that way at the moment. 

Projected XIs: 

Vancouver Whitecaps:

Record: 1W-0L-1D (4 PTS)

Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos

Colorado Rapids: 

Record: 0W-1L-1D (1 PTS)

Head Coach: Robin Fraser

Looking Forward:

So now, the ‘Caps will continue some last-minute preparations ahead of their game on Sunday, as they’ll look to build off of their strong start to the season. 

In a long-awaited clash between these two teams, it’ll be curious to see who comes up on top, as they look to make up for the lost time that has elapsed since their last meeting. 

At the very least, the hope will be that they can emulate the high-scoring spirit they had back in 2019, where they combined for 9 goals in 2 games against each other, giving plenty for interested onlookers to enjoy. 

Based on their first two games of this MLS season, it doesn’t appear like that sort of free-scoring game is in the forecast for this weekend, but hopefully there can be some entertainment, at the bare minimum. 

Considering the importance of the match for both teams, caution could be left to the wind, and that could make for a fun matchup. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Colorado Rapids, Sunday, May 2nd, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy)

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