3rd time lucky?: Vancouver Whitecaps looking to avoid another LA horrorshow in trip to LAFC

 The Vancouver Whitecaps take on LAFC on Saturday night in MLS action. Here is our preview ahead of that one. 

It’s a chance for redemption on multiple fronts. 

For the Vancouver Whitecaps, a big clash awaits them on Saturday, when they travel to LA to take on an in-form LAFC side at Banc of California Stadium. 

With 4 wins in their last 6 games, this LA side has been cruising as of late, starting to look more and more like LA of old, after a slow start to this campaign saw them stuck close to the bottom of the MLS’s Western Conference standings. 

On the other side, the Whitecaps find themselves in just that position, however, sitting 12th out of 13 teams in the West, just 2 points ahead of last-place Dallas. 

Despite that, though, they’ve been in decent form themselves, having picked up points in 4 of their last 5 games, pushing them from the bottom to within 5 points of a playoff spot. They could be doing a lot better, with only 1 win in their last 10 games, but they’ve turned the corner as of late by starting to pick up draws, draws they’ll soon hope can start turning into wins. 

But to do that, they face off against an LA side whom they’ve had mixed results against these past 2 years. Under head coach Marc Dos Santos, who used to work at LAFC as an assistant coach, the ‘Caps have a record of 2W-2L-0D (6 PTS) against LA, but despite that, LA has outscored them 13-4 in their 4 games. 

The reason for that?

In the past 2 ‘Caps trips to LA, they’ve lost by a combined 12-1, as LA’s not only had their number at home, but they’ve made sure to drive that fact home in the ‘Caps two visits there under Dos Santos. 

So although this ‘Caps team has shown to be capable of beating LAFC at home, they have a big hurdle to overcome by making this trip down to LA, one which could prove to be a defining moment for this team. 

With a return to Vancouver looming on the horizon, some new players not far from joining the team, and overall just the improved atmosphere from around the team right now, the last thing they want is yet another lopsided loss to drive home that they’ve still got a way to go before being an MLS playoff contender. 

Even if they don’t win, they’ll want to establish respect, showing that the ‘Caps team that lost 6-1 and 6-0 in their last 2 visits to the Banc of California Stadium no longer exists, and this team is indeed one that can start dreaming of big things after a rough start to the season. 

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Thomas Hasal

But returning to this LA game, we’ve elected to go with the ‘Caps likely starting goalkeeper on Saturday, Hasal, as he’ll likely get a lot of action based on how this LA team likes to play. 

Interestingly, if he does start, he’ll be the 3rd different ‘Caps goalkeeper to play against LAFC on the road, as Maxime Crepeau and Bryan Meredith were the goalies that had to put up with the heavy shellackings from years prior, so the 22-year-old will want to avoid joining them with a multi-goal performance. 

To do that, though, he’ll have to overcome a night of heavy offensive volume, possibly making a few five-alarm saves along the way, all while playing in front of one of the tougher atmospheres in MLS. 

But based on what we’ve seen out of him these past few games, he has that in him, so hopefully he can bring it out on Saturday, putting up a performance to remember. 

Storylines:

Elsewhere, here are some stories to watch out for on Saturday.

Shots, shots, shots:

To start, it’ll be interesting if the ‘Caps can improve from their performance in midweek, when they took on the Houston Dynamo in a dull matchup, one that finished 0-0 as both teams combined for a measly 1 shot on target, which came from the Dynamo. 

So for the ‘Caps, even though a 0-0 result like that would feel a lot better coming against this LA side, that’s very unlikely to happen, so they need to find a way to get their offence going. 

Be it via a tactical change, or a personnel change, or a bit of both, it feels like their offence is going to have to come alive in some form or another, because if not, LA can make the night a long one for their visitors. 

Road woes: 

Otherwise, it’ll be intriguing to see if the ‘Caps can finally snap a lengthy streak on Saturday, as they enter this game winless in 12 on the road, with their last win away from home coming in September of last year, when they beat RSL. 

Yes, every game has essentially been a road game for the ‘Caps since last year, as they’ve been stationed in the US due to the pandemic, but it’s interesting to see their struggles in games where they’ve been listed as the away team, for whatever reason. 

It’ll be tough to snap that streak against a tough LA side, no doubt, but having picked up draws in their last 2 road games, including 1 against the current Supporter’s Shield leaders, the Seattle Sounders, they’ll have some confidence in their ability to make something happen against LA. 

Clean sheets?

Lastly, it’s worth noting that the ‘Caps are coming into this game having kept a clean sheet, something they hadn’t done in 9 games prior, as their defence came up big for them against the Dynamo. 

Because of that, one can only wonder if they can find a way to maintain that sort of defensive solidity on Saturday, allowing them to at least grab a point, if not more. 

With just 18 goals in 14 games, this LA side isn’t scoring like LAFC of old, either, so it’s not like it’s a totally unrealistic task. 

Yes, LA has their number at home these past few years, but no better way to put that recent history out the window than with a solid defensive performance. 

Stats Splurge: 

But despite LA’s lack of offensive production, that’s not down to a lack of trying, as they enter this game 5th in Expected Goals (xG) per game with 1.67, as they’ve been underperforming their xG by a whopping 0.60 a game, which is nearly unheard of. 

Against a ‘Caps team that sits 8th-last in MLS with 1.56 xG against per game, it could mean that it might end up being quite the onslaught that they’ll have to deal with on Saturday, putting a lot of stress on their defenders. 

Otherwise, a lot of pressure is going to be on the ‘Caps offence, as their 1.10 xG per game is going to have a tough time against LAFC’s impressive 0.84 xG against per game, which is best in the league. 

With LA also leading the possession matchup heading into this, 51.9 to 48.1, it’s going to be a night where the ‘Caps will have to get ready to hold on for dear life and make the most of this game, at least if the numbers have anything to say about it. 

Projected XIs:

Vancouver Whitecaps:

Record: 3W-7L-4D (13 PTS)

Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos

LAFC: 

Record: 6W-5L-3D (21 PTS)

Head Coach: Bob Bradley

2020 Matchups:

LAFC 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 LAFC

Looking Forward:

So now, the ‘Caps and LA will get set to tango very late on Saturday night, in front of a nice LA sunset and a raucous crowd, making for quite the spectacle. 

Hopefully for the ‘Caps sake, though, they can ruin the party that LA will want to have in front of their home fans, putting up a memorable performance. 

After their last few visits to the Banc of California Stadium ended up being memorable for all of the wrong reasons, they’ll want to finally mark a trip to LA with a positive memory, something they’ll aim to do on Saturday. 

As the dog days of the MLS season continues, with a return home on the horizon, the ‘Caps will want to start to turn the corner ahead of their next chapter, and no better way to mark that new chapter starting than a victory on Saturday night. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs LAFC, Saturday, July 24th, 2021, 19:30 PDT, 22:30 EDT (Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles)

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