Dynamo Duel: Vancouver Whitecaps ready for a ‘war’ against Houston Dynamo in pivotal MLS Western Conference clash

The Vancouver Whitecaps take on the Houston Dynamo down in Houston on Saturday. Here’s our preview ahead of that one. 

One last ride awaits before a short break. 

They might be only 6 games into their 34-game MLS season, but the Vancouver Whitecaps are getting set to play their last match for a month on Saturday, when they’ll take on the Houston Dynamo. 

Thanks to a scheduling quirk, due to a combination of a bye week and an extra-long international break, the ‘Caps won’t see the field as a team again until June 18th, when they’ll take on Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. 

So while it’s still early in the campaign, it makes this game a must-win of sorts, especially after having lost back-to-back games last week, as a win against Houston would raise spirits significantly ahead of the time away that awaits them. 

After having played their worst game of the season last Sunday against Sporting Kansas City, the ‘Caps are reeling coming into this one, but that doesn’t mean that they’re feeling down, either, knowing the value of a victory Saturday. 

“The first thing we looked at was to address a couple of problems we had against Sporting Kansas City,” Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos said on Wednesday. “And we went through, not only a video training session, but also repeated things on the field that would allow us to become better, if we have to deal with a situation like that again. I think it was a good morning for us today.”

“We were able to get a lot of good things done and a lot of good things out. So, the guys are back at it and ready to attack the next game.”

And what’s nice for Dos Santos is that for the first time this year, he’ll be able to turn to a full-strength roster, at least if you forget Ali Adnan’s complicated visa situation, as all of his other players are available for Saturday. 

Having dealt with a myriad of injury problems throughout the lineup in all of the games, it’s a big relief for Dos Santos, who can finally turn to his full complement of players to chase a result, which isn’t something he’s been able to do all that often this year. 

That doesn’t mean he can fully throw caution to the wind, as Bruno Gaspar, Jake Nerwinski and Andy Rose are all listed as questionable on the ‘Caps availability report, and Erik Godoy is still being eased back into action, but aside from minor concerns, Dos Santos can pretty much turn to anyone he wishes against the Dynamo. 

“Look, we have everybody available for this game,” Dos Santos explained. “The problem is, and I don’t want to talk about names, because I don’t want to, but the problem is that we have guys on the roster who are not 100% match fit that we have to manage, but at least we’re working with a full roster with nobody with injury problems.”

And against a stingy Dynamo side, it’s good that the ‘Caps have their full complement of players available, as well, especially seeing some of the results that Houston have picked up. 

With wins against San Jose and Sporting KC, two noted ‘Caps killers, along with draws against LAFC and FC Dallas, the Dynamo have quietly gotten off to a good start of the year, sitting 1 point ahead of Vancouver in the 6th playoff spot in the Western Conference to start 2021. 

Considering that they’ve got only 1 DP on their roster, Darwin Quintero, who has played just over a half an hour of minutes in 3 appearances, their success has come via a committee approach, as well, making them harder to contain. 

In a jam-packed Western Conference, where only 4 points separate 3rd and 11th, a win in this game could give either side a bit of breathing room heading into the break, making it important for the ‘Caps to come out with the right approach. 

“What I’ll tell you about Houston is that the Western Conference is so close,” Dos Santos said. “Teams with very close amount of points, everybody is losing, everybody is drawing and everybody is winning. It’s a very tight conference, and every game is (decided) by details when played, so it’s going to be another difficult Western Conference game.”

So with all of that in mind, the ‘Caps are getting set to put their best foot forward, knowing that an honest performance could go a long way this week. 

After the drubbing they faced in Kansas City, they’re itching to get back on the right path, with this Houston game being seen as the perfect opportunity to do so. 

“Yeah, I think everybody’s feeling good,” ‘Caps midfielder Janio Bikel said on Thursday. “And we are preparing for this week, and yeah, what I see is everybody’s ready to go again, another war.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Bruno Gaspar

Gaspar in action for the ‘Caps against TFC in his MLS debut (Vancouver Whitecaps/Twitter)

So with all of that in mind, heading into our player to watch section, we’ve decided to go with ‘Caps right back Gaspar here, as he’s expected to start despite still being listed as questionable on the injury report. 

And for the ‘Caps, that’s good news, as he looked fantastic in his first start of the season against Minnesota United a week and a half ago, but had to miss out against Kansas with a slight knock. 

As the ‘Caps continue their quest to find more offence, having an attacking-minded full back like Gaspar on the right side will be huge, allowing them to unlock some struggling players that sit ahead of him higher up the park. 

Based on what we saw from him in that debut, he can be a difference-maker for this team, and this Dynamo game could be a fantastic chance for him to build on some of the flashes he showed against the Loons. 

Storylines:

Elsewhere, here are some storylines that we’re keeping an eye on heading into this game. 

Finish strong:

As mentioned earlier, with a lengthy break sitting just around the corner, it’s important that the ‘Caps find a way to snatch a result out of this one, raising their morale heading into a quiet few weeks. 

Having lost back-to-back games heading into Saturday, which has already dampened the positive mood that was surrounding the team after a bright start, a win could go a long way for the ‘Caps right now. 

Given their recent road struggles, it won’t be easy, but if they can find a way to make it happen, it could be the sort of catalyst they need heading into a busy summer of action that awaits when they do return.

Just score that open play goal:

And a good way to snatch that win? 

Fix their offensive troubles. 

It’s been well-documented that the ‘Caps have struggled to score an open play goal, having yet done so throughout the first 6 games of this season, continuing a trend from the end of last season. 

Heading into this game, the ‘Caps have now only scored 5 open play goals in their last 16 league games, with 3 of them coming in a dead rubber against the LA Galaxy last year. 

They’ve made up for it by being deadly on set pieces, scoring 10 goals via that route over that same time span, but with only 15 goals in their last 16 games, they need to start scoring from open play if they want to start winning consistently, or else more frustration awaits them. 

So for Dos Santos, the goal has to be to find a way to fix that some way or another, or else it’s going to be a long 28 games to close out this season. 

Tighten up at the back:

And until they figure out how to fix that part of their game, they’re going to need their defence to come up big once again, returning to what they showed in the first 5 games of the season, where they only conceded 4 goals in the first 5 games. 

Having conceded 3 goals against SKC, they took a step back on Sunday, so they’ll look to show that game was just a blip on the radar, instead of the start of a concerning trend. 

They’ve only conceded 3 or more goals twice in their last 16 games, so their defence hasn’t been much of a problem as of late, but with their offence continuing to sputter, they need to be close to perfect to snatch results, making it imperative that they keep Houston to 1 goal or fewer on Saturday. 

If they can do that, the ‘Caps should be in business, allowing them to grab that much-needed win before the break. 

Stats Splurge: 

And looking at the numbers, it’s fascinating to see how these teams match up, making this an intriguing game on paper. 

Possession-wise, neither team has held onto the ball much, with the ‘Caps sitting 4th-worst in MLS with 45.7% of the ball on average, which is slightly better than the Dynamo, who sit 2nd-worst with an average of 43.3% through 6 games. 

As a result, the Dynamo are 3rd-worst in Expected Goals (xG) for per game with 0.98, just one spot behind the ‘Caps, who are 4th-worst with an average of 1.01 xG for per game, but interestingly, the ‘Caps are underperforming their xG having only scored 0.83 goals per game, while the Dynamo are overperforming their xG having scored an average of a goal per game. 

Defensively, both teams are underperforming, as the Dynamo have only conceded an average of 1.33 goals against per game, along with an xG against of 1.60, while the ‘Caps have allowed 1.17 goals against per game despite conceding an average of 1.84 xG against per game. 

So based on what we’ve seen, don’t expect many goals, making a 1-0 or a 1-1 the likeliest result. 

Considering that both teams have combined for 6 of those 1-0 or 1-1 results among their 12 matches, that seems the likeliest outcome, based on what the numbers have to say. 

Projected XIs: 

Vancouver Whitecaps: 

Record: 2W-3L-1D (7 PTS)

Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos

Houston Dynamo: 

Record: 2W-2L-2D (8 PTS)

Head Coach: Tab Ramos: 

Last Matchup: 

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Houston Dynamo

Looking Forward:

So now, it’ll make it intriguing to see what actually happens when these two teams take the field on Saturday. 

Logically, a low-scoring game seems the natural outcome, but it’s MLS, so for all we know we could see a 4-3 thriller. 

Considering the two scores of the last games these two played were 2-1 and 3-2, it isn’t completely out of the question, and could add a bit of spice to what could be a quickly forgettable game. 

For the ‘Caps, they won’t mind if it’s 1-0 or 7-6, as long as they win, but seeing how close these two teams match up, the logical outcome should be a tight result, one that the ‘Caps will hope favours them. 

We’ll see if that ends up being the case on Saturday, but based on what we’ve seen, that seems where we’re destined for. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Houston Dynamo, Saturday, May 22nd, 2021, 18:00 PDT, 21:00 EDT (BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston)

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