Loons Looming: Streaking Vancouver Whitecaps expecting ‘difficult’ Minnesota United side despite slow start

The Vancouver Whitecaps take on Minnesota United on Wednesday in their 5th game of the 2021 MLS season. Here’s our preview ahead of that one. 

A chance to continue a strong start beckons. 

With 7 points from their first 4 games, the Vancouver Whitecaps will head to Minnesota on Wednesday looking to make that 10 from 5 on Wednesday, when they’ll take on Minnesota United in some rare midweek MLS action.

Facing off against a Minnesota side that is yet to pick up any points through 4 games, the ‘Caps will be expected to take care of business against the Loons, who have looked like a shell of their former selves so far this season. 

That doesn’t mean that Vancouver will approach this game with the idea that they’re guaranteed to win, as they know that this Minnesota team is still dangerous and will have the boost of playing in front of their home fans, but they know that if they approach things with the right mindset, things can go their way on Wednesday. 

“No, we know they’re going to come in hungrier,” ‘Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos admitted on Monday. “We know that any team that has four losses in a row, doesn’t want to stay like that. They have their fans that are going to be there, I don’t know how many, but they’re allowed fans, their fans are going to 100% push for them.”

“They know that one win could get them started, get them going. So we talk in the locker room, our locker room knows about this, they know that the first four games they played don’t count for us. What counts is how they could come out in this game, how we will approach it is to play a very serious game with high levels of concentration.”

And it certainly does feel like Minnesota is on the precipice of a breakthrough, for many reasons, so Dos Santos is right to remain cautious heading into this game. 

After a 4-0 week 1 drubbing at the hands of the Seattle Sounders, who currently sit as MLS leaders through 4 weeks, Minnesota lost all 3 of their next games by 1 goal, showing that they aren’t far off from finding that first victory. 

Coming off of a 2020 season where they made the Western Conference finals, keeping a lot of the same players from that team, they’re still a side to fear, so the ‘Caps will have to be careful to prepare for them with the proper respect that this sort of opponent deserves. 

“Minnesota is a team that a lot of people praised not long ago,” Dos Santos said. “They went to the final of the conference, (were) close to being in an MLS Cup final. It’s a team that did very well last year, but they didn’t start as well (picking up) points, but there are parts of the games that they played (where) they were really good.”

“The first half against Seattle was excellent, the first half against Colorado, excellent, plus it doesn’t happen a lot in soccer in the world that a team loses five consecutive games, so we’re all ready for a very difficult game. And then, in MLS standings, when you play the 90 minutes, they mean very little, the standings, they mean very little, and we’re very aware of their strengths, their weakness and we’re gonna have to be ready for a game like that.”

But while a lot of focus will be placed on Minnesota during this game, don’t forget about these ‘Caps, who come into this game riding high after a nice 2-0 win over their rivals, CF Montreal, on Saturday. 

It might not have been the prettiest game, but they defended well and were clinical when needed to be, allowing them to grab all 3 points. 

As a result, the mood in the team is strong right now, as they believe that they’ve got a team that will be able to maintain their current position as a top 5 team in the Western Conference. 

“Oh, I’m feeling good,” ‘Caps forward Lucas Cavallini said on Tuesday. “As long as the team is good, we’re in a good spot right now. Positive, last game we won, so I mean the energy is really good right now with the team and I mean we have to maintain this good vibe and keep the confidence up for the team. We can only get better from here, we just have to be humble, stick to being the same team, and just not get too ahead of ourselves.”

One wrinkle to watch for in this game, however? 

Squad rotation. 

With both teams playing this weekend, they’ll have to deal with the burden of having only a few days between games, due to this game being played in midweek. 

Last year, this was a regular occurrence in the second half of the season, as MLS had teams playing every 4 days to finish as many games as possible, but that hasn’t been the case yet this year, with there being no need to compress the schedule as tightly as they did in 2020. 

So for two teams like Vancouver and Minnesota, who haven’t had to deal with the CONCACAF Champions League, this is the first instance where they’ll be playing on short rest, putting an added emphasis on rotating their squad and turning to some depth pieces to give them the boost required to win. 

For some players, they actually prefer this busier schedule, but even then, their bodies might not always agree with them, making it important that they take care of their most prized assets with the short turnaround between games. 

“Obviously, recovery is important, especially when we have so many games, especially with (little) time,” Cavallini said. “This is where everybody has to be professional, and take care of their bodies. I know that guys know how to treat themselves and be prepared for moments like this in this season, just the same thing we had to deal with last year.”

“For me, I like playing games every 3-4 days, it gets you in the rhythm, you’re always on task, so for me, I like these moments of the season.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Cristian Dajome

Dajome in action for the ‘Caps in 2021 (Vancouver Whitecaps/Twitter)

And while Cavallini will look to get back on the scoresheet after 3 games without a goal, his teammate and strike partner, Cristian Dajome, will look to continue his good run of form, as he enters this game with 3 goals in his last 3 games, making him our player to watch. 

After a big performance on Saturday, one in which he won and scored a penalty, before adding a second goal off of a corner kick, Dajome heads into this game fresh off of making MLS’s Team of the Week for his play against Montreal, and he’ll look to build off of that in this game. 

For a Whitecaps team that has struggled to score goals this season, Dajome has quietly emerged as a bright spot offensively, having scored 3/5 (60%) of the team’s goals to date, so look for him to feature prominently again in this match. 

Yes, two of his goals may have been via the penalty spot, but he’s played an active role in winning those penalties and generating other key chances, making him an early shout for team MVP through the first 4 games. 

It’s much too early to talk about MVP, of course, but Dajome has gotten out of the gates quite quickly in 2021, and will have a chance to build on that against the struggling Loons. 

Storylines:

Elsewhere, here are a few other storylines that stand out to us ahead of this game. 

Open play woes: 

Without a doubt, the biggest storyline to watch out for ahead of this game is probably the ‘Caps open play woes, as they’re yet to score a goal from that phase of play through the first 4 weeks. 

Dating back to last year, they’ve now only scored 4 open play goals in their last 9 games, 3 of which came in a dead rubber game against the LA Galaxy at the end of 2020. 

And what’s scary is that the ‘Caps haven’t come close to busting that slump, as they’re second-last in MLS for open play Expected Goals (xG) through 4 games, showing that they’re not generating much right now, either. 

Credit to them for being dangerous off of set pieces, as they lead the league in xG off of dead-ball situations, and have scored all 5 of their goals via that avenue, but they’ll need to diversify their attacking portfolio if they look to maintain their league position. 

Minnesota’s slump:

And against a struggling Minnesota team, the ‘Caps may get their chance to do just that, as Minnesota comes into this game having conceded 10 goals in 4 games, showing where their issues lie. 

As mentioned earlier, they’ve lost 3 of their 4 games by 1 goal, but it’s hard to win games when you’re conceding over 2.5 goals a game as they have so far this year. 

After conceding only 26 goals in 21 games last year, it’s been a big worry so far in 2021, so you have to wonder if they tighten things up versus the Whitecaps in order to grab some points. 

With the ‘Caps open play struggles, Minnesota will surely back themselves to put up a good defensive performance in this one, paving the way for a good result. 

Rotation coming?

Lastly, it’s going to be interesting to see what sort of squad rotation both teams offer up in this game, as they both played on Saturday, giving them a shorter turnaround than usual between games. 

For the ‘Caps, in particular, it’ll be fascinating to see Dos Santos’s plans, as he’s only made 1 change through 4 games this season, something which will surely change in this game. 

Having often lauded the depth of his roster, this is a first good chance for him to turn to some of those names waiting for a shot, especially knowing that another stiff test in Sporting Kansas City awaits them this weekend. 

Dos Santos isn’t often one to change a winning lineup, so who knows what his plan will be, but it certainly feels like his hand will be forced in that regard, making the prospect of squad rotation a near-inevitable one.  

Stats Splurge:

When looking at the numbers ahead of this game, there are plenty of stats that stick out on both sides, making this a fascinating match on paper. 

Possession-wise, both teams are very similar to each other, as the ‘Caps have averaged 48.8% of possession so far, compared to Minnesota’s 48.3%. 

Interestingly enough, though, Minnesota has been a lot more efficient with their possession, putting up 62 shots through 4 games, which compared to Vancouver’s 31, is quite a stark difference. 

The ‘Caps are much more efficient at putting their shots on goal, however, as they actually have more shots on target (13) than their opponents (11), giving an idea of where some of Minnesota’s struggles have stemmed from. 

Minnesota’s getting into good areas offensively, as indicated by their 1.25 xG for per game (compared to Vancouver’s 1.13 xG), but considering they’ve also allowed 1.71 xG per game (compared to Vancouver’s 1.52 xG), they’ve got some work to do at both ends of the field if they are to grab that elusive first point. 

Ultimately, it’s quite a tight matchup on paper, so it’ll be interesting to see if the game plays out accordingly. 

Projected XIs:

Vancouver Whitecaps: 

Record: 2W-1L-1D (7 PTS)

Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos

Minnesota United: 

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

Head Coach: Adrian Heath

Last Matchup:

Minnesota United 0-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

Looking Forward:

Ultimately, look for both teams to combine for an entertaining match on Wednesday, as they look to continue a fast and furious start to the MLS season. 

With it being MLS, Minnesota will probably find a way to bust their lengthy slump, but on the other hand, Vancouver has every chance to continue a hot start of their own, continuing their surprise assault on the Western Conference standings. 

So all-in-all, this should promise to be a good game, for a multitude of reasons, making it must-watch television on Wednesday night. 

Seeing that Vancouver has started the season by playing some pretty entertaining soccer so far, there hasn’t been much of a dull moment watching them so far in 2021, and they’ll look to continue that trend in this game on Wednesday. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Minnesota United, Wednesday, May 12th, 2021, 18:00 PDT, 21:00 EDT

Leave a Reply