The Vancouver Whitecaps are getting set to take on LAFC in a massive MLS matchup on Tuesday night, one filled with all sorts of playoff implications. Here’s our preview ahead of that one.
It’s all laid out so clearly for them.
After playing 32 out of 34 games in the 2021 MLS season to reach this point, the path towards the playoffs is as clear as ever for the Vancouver Whitecaps right now – if they beat LAFC in LA on Tuesday night, they’ll be guaranteed to finish top 7 in MLS’s Western Conference, allowing them to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Having gone through a rollercoaster ride of a season to reach this point, this is all the ‘Caps could dream of, and it’s just sitting there in front of them, begging to be grabbed with both hands.
It took a late summer and fall resurgence to rescue a slow start to the year, one where they’ve lost just 3 times in their last 23 MLS games, but they’ve been rolling as of late, and thanks to a massive win over Minnesota United last week, it’s made this dream a possibility, so they’ll look to take advantage of that.
Plus, adding to the pressure, if they lose, LAFC will pass them, so not only will they want to win to get into the playoffs, they’ll want to do so to avoid falling out of them, too, making this a do-or-die game of sorts.
“It’s a very important game,” Whitecaps head coach, Vanni Sartini, said earlier this week. “They’re 3 points behind us, so they want to catch us, and (if they win), they’d actually be ahead of us because of the number of wins, there are all the other teams that are playing, so we know that if we win, we’re in the playoffs, basically, and we need to get away from there with a result.”
Because of that, the ‘Caps are looking to bring the best version of themselves down to LA, knowing how big of a game this could be for them.
Having worked so hard to even be in this position, the last thing that they want to do is to throw it all away, so they’ll make sure to come into this game ready to play, and from there, they’re confident the rest can all align for them.
“So we need to go there to be the best version of ourselves,” Sartini continued. “And we know that it’s going to be very difficult, because I think that in the last 5-6 games, we’re (Vancouver and LAFC) the 2 teams that have been in some of the better runs of form, and they’ve got the advantage of playing at home, so we have to do another good performance, and I think we’ll do it, and of course the result we cannot predict, there’s also the opponents, but we’ll do our part for sure.”
And the good news is that their destiny remains in their own hands, which is huge at this stage of the season, where you can easily get caught scoreboard watching.
Instead, the ‘Caps do not need to rely on anyone else, which gives them a bit of an edge, knowing that they have the keys to the promised land, and it’s up to them to go and open them.
So heading into this game as healthy as they’ve been in months, with just Caio Alexandre and Tosaint Ricketts out injured, everything lined up quite nicely for the ‘Caps to make something happen, all while ignoring the out-of-town scoreboard as they do so.
“Yeah, it’s easy (to not look at) because we depend on us,” Sartini said. “We don’t have to take time to watch the other games, the other results, because we know that if we do the job, we’re in, so I think it’s easy because we’re just concentrating on us, our performance, again, it’s going to be very hard, but I think we can do.”
But while the ‘Caps are quite focused on what they can do, and rightfully so, they’ll have to be careful, because make no mistake – this is a very good LAFC team.
They might be sitting in 9th in the Western Conference, but they’re a much better team than their record suggests, as they’ve dealt with all sorts of injuries to key players, which has made it hard for them to find any sort of stability.
Plus, they’ve also been quite unlucky, as they sit 2nd in MLS in Expected Goals (xG) difference with 21.09, showing their ability to both generate chances and suppress them at an elite level.
So while they haven’t been scoring nor keeping the goals out as they should be, it shows that they’re not your typical 9th-placed team in the West, something that the ‘Caps have to remember.
There’s a reason why 2 of their last 3 visits to LA resulted in 5+ goal drubbings, so even though they pulled things back in their last trip to the city, drawing LAFC 2-2 earlier this year, there is still that psychological edge to fully get over, and the ‘Caps are well aware of that.
“We know how good of a team that LAFC is,” ‘Caps captain, Russell Teibert, said this week. “They’re a great team at home and away, it’s a tough place to play, but we’re just going to keep doing the things that we’ve done to get results in this last stretch to make the playoffs, and we know what’s on the line.”
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Cristian Dajome
So to win these big games, you need your big players to step up, and one of the players to watch out for in that regard on Vancouver is Dajome, who has remained one of the team’s most consistent performers all season long.
Having recently snapped a lengthy scoring drought, the ‘Caps 2nd-leading scorer is also in good form, having played one of his best games in months last week against Minnesota, so keep an eye on Dajome as he looks to add to his 9 goals and 4 assists that he’s generated so far this season.
Plus, the last time he came to LA, he scored a goal and helped directly create another, so he’s not afraid of the ‘house of horrors’ that Banc of California Stadium can be for the ‘Caps, who will expect him to come up with a similar performance again in this one.
Otherwise, here are some storylines that we’re keeping an eye out for ahead of this one.
Can recent history be reversed:
To start, it’ll be interesting to see if the ‘Caps can snatch an away win in this game, because if they do, they’ll reverse the recent trend between both of these teams.
Dating back to when LAFC entered the league in 2018, in the 8 meetings these teams have had since, the away team has won just once, as LA nicked a 2-0 win off of Vancouver in their first matchup back in 2018, meaning that no away team has won in the 7 games they’ve played since.
There have been 2 draws (1 in each building), but otherwise, the 5 other games have been won by the home team, which certainly favours LA in this game, so it’ll be interesting to see if that trend continues here again tonight.
One bogeyman gone, one remains:
Otherwise, one player to keep an eye out on this game will be former MLS MVP and best single-season goalscorer in league history, Carlos Vela, who has had fun in this fixture in the past, scoring 4 goals against the ‘Caps over the years.
Having recently returned from an injury, it feels almost convenient that he’s fresh and ready for this game, as you just feel that he’s going to make an impact right at a big moment, as he always seems to do against the ‘Caps.
But while the ‘Caps will have a lot to deal with in terms of marking Vela, the good news is that their true bogeyman over the years has actually been his former running mate, Diego Rossi, who has 6 goals in 8 games against the ‘Caps, but won’t be playing in this matchup as he is currently on loan from LA to Fenerbahce in Turkey.
That doesn’t mean that it’ll be an easy night for the ‘Caps, as Vela and the in-form Cristian Arango is more than enough firepower to give them something to worry about, but not having to worry about Rossi is a nice bonus, one that some ‘Caps defenders might certainly appreciate.
Can the White show continue?
And the nice news for the ‘Caps is that they’ve now got a few offensive options of their own to lean on in this game, including Dajome, Deiber Caicedo, Ryan Gauld and Lucas Cavallini, among others.
But while all of those players are certainly ones for LA to keep an eye on, the one that has arguably been in the best form of them all as of late is ‘Caps striker, Brian White, who comes into this game having scored 11 goals in his last 14 MLS games, putting him up to 12 on the year, which leads the ‘Caps.
He might not be scoring any goals that’ll stick out in one’s memory, but he just keeps popping up in the right areas and scoring goals, which is all that the ‘Caps need right now, and they’ll want him to continue that in this game.
The one thing to watch out for is the fact that just 4 of those 11 goals have been on the road, as White has preferred scoring at home to away, but that stat is skewed by the fact that he had a home hat trick, as he’s actually scored in almost as many games away (4) as he has at home (5) in this 14-game run, to be fair.
So because of that, it’ll be interesting to see if he can continue his ‘White’-hot form in this game, as it could go a long way towards the ‘Caps playoff hopes if he does, helping them make their dream a reality.
Record: 12W-9L-11D (47 PTS)
Head Coach: Vanni Sartini
Record: 12W-12L-8D (44 PTS)
Head Coach: Bob Bradley
LAFC 2-2 Vancouver Whitecaps
Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 LAFC
So overall, there’s a lot at stake for the ‘Caps in this game, and they’re well aware of that, as their season could very well boil down to these 90 minutes.
With the Seattle Sounders awaiting them in their last game, the last thing that they’ll want is to head into that game against the current Western Conference leaders needing to win, so they’ll want to take care of business in this LA game in order to make that happen.
It won’t be easy, without a doubt, but this ‘Caps team has been one to prove the doubters wrong as of late, and there might be no better time for them to continue that than by picking up a victory in this game.
Having ran most of their marathon just to get to this point, it’s time for them to start sprinting, and lying ahead of them is one of their biggest races of the year, one that can put them on the path towards having a chance to finish this long journey near the top of the pile, instead of the back, as they’ve been used to in recent years.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs LAFC, Tuesday, November 2nd, 2021, 19:30 PDT, 22:30 EDT