“We’re excited to be back”: After rough start to MLS season, Vancouver Whitecaps looking to turn the page in home opener vs NYCFC 

The Vancouver Whitecaps take on New York City FC in their home opener at BC Place on Saturday. Here’s our preview ahead of that one. 

After an opening day drubbing, revenge is on their minds. 

For the Vancouver Whitecaps, the sky might not be falling quite yet after their embarrassing 4-0 loss to the Columbus Crew last weekend, but that result certainly has ramped up the urgency for them to win ahead of their next game, their home opener against New York City FC at BC Place this weekend. 

As they get set to play their first home game back at BC Place in 118 days, when they drew the Seattle Sounders 1-1 in their last game of the 2021 MLS season to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2017, they’ll be hoping to bring some of that same magic in this game. 

Having only started playing home games halfway through last season due to the pandemic, they turned BC Place into a fortress for the short time that they were there in 2021, winning 7 games, drawing 1 and losing 1 in the 9 games that they played at home, helping them make that unlikely run to the playoffs.

So now that they’re able to return and have their first proper home opener since 2020, they’ll want to pick up where they left off last year, turning the stadium into a fortress once again this season. 

“Yeah, it’s exciting, we had a lot of fans here last year, pushing us all away,” ‘Caps striker, Brian White, said Friday of the home opener. “And their support during the games was incredible. So I think we’re all really excited to be back, and we’re looking forward to seeing all of the fans again.” 

“We’re really looking forward to tomorrow,” ‘Caps head coach, Vanni Sartini, added. “To have our fans behind us, and supporting us, and pushing us to do our best.”

But while a lot of focus will be on the ‘Caps return home, especially given that they’re returning to a brand-new turf surface for the first time in 7+ years, it’s no secret – the ‘Caps need to be far better in this NYCFC clash than they were in that Crew game.

Not only did they lose 4-0, but the result was completely deserved, too, as it’s not like the ‘Caps can point to luck or some other external factor as the cause of their result. 

They were second-best for most of the game, and the Crew made them pay for that, teaching them a lesson of the ruthlessness of MLS, something that the ‘Caps didn’t get much of a taste of during their fairytale run last season. 

So seeing that, all they were able to do in reaction to that loss was to take it in, absorb what they learned, and try and bring that into this game Saturday. In front of what is expected to be just above 20 000 fans, as per CEO Axel Schuster, those fans are hoping to see the version of the ‘Caps that made the playoffs last season, not the one that they were exposed to on TV last week. 

“Obviously it was tough,” White, who missed out on last week’s game through injury, said of that match. “I think you need to be ready to turn the page, essentially, it’s the first game, sometimes you’ll be a bit sluggish after preseason, maybe that’s what it was, but we have to wake up a little, turn the page, and look forward.”

But while the team will certainly have soaked in that game, and learned from it, at the same time, they’re also looking to try and forget it as soon as possible. 

Obviously, until they play this game, it’ll be hard to forget about it, but for Tosaint Ricketts, who also missed out on last week’s game as he was unsigned (he signed a new contract on Friday), as a 14-year veteran of this sport, he says that’s just part of the process as you deal with the ebbs and flows of an MLS season. 

“Last week was last week, this week is this week,” Ricketts said. “You know how MLS seasons go, you can’t really focus on the past, just have to look forward, and we’re home, we finished last year in a very good way, and we’re just going to build off of that. Our season starts now.”

And speaking of now, it’s important to talk about what the ‘Caps will be up against in NYCFC. 

Some might notice that they haven’t gotten off to the brightest start to their MLS season, either, because while the scoreline was a lot closer in their opening day game away against the LA Galaxy, which they lost 1-0, that one goal did come pretty late on into the game. 

Because of that, they were left reeling after dropping points in a game that they felt they could’ve gotten something out of, instead of leaving them to start the season on the back foot. 

But at the same time, that shouldn’t bother them too much. As the defending MLS Cup Champions, Ronny Deila’s side is no stranger to adversity, and having so far navigated this year’s CONCACAF Champions League smoothly, beating Costa Rica’s Santos de Guapiles 6-0 on aggregate in the Round of 16, this team means business. 

Plus, it’s not as if the ‘Caps can claim that NYCFC will at least be tired from travel, either, as they’ve stayed on the West Coast before and after their game against LA, as they actually played their home Champions League tie there beforehand, and stayed knowing that this game was next. 

So because of that, the ‘Caps should expect the strongest version of the defending champions on Saturday, adding to the challenge that awaits them in this game. 

“Expect them to be a very strong team, it’s going to be really hard tomorrow,” Sartini admitted. “They are here, we can’t even count on the fact that they’re going to have a long flight, because they’ve been on the west coast for the last few weeks. They’re a very technical team, they like to play a lot, and if you give them space, they’re going to be a problem.”

The one bonus for the ‘Caps, however? NYCFC does have a Champions League tie coming up this week, as they’re taking on Guatemala’s Comunicaciones in Hartford on Tuesday, so New York does have to keep an eye on that, too.

But even despite that, Sartini feels that while they’ll have their eye on that game, having come out with a duck in their opener against the Galaxy, that’ll incentivize them to come out even harder in this game here against the ‘Caps. 

“If they had a good result in LA, I thought they’d come here with some rotation, and thinking more about the Champions League,” Sartini said. “But due to the fact that they lost, I think they’re going to come here fully concentrated and with their top team to try and get the 3 points, because they won’t want to have 0 points after two games, so I envision a very tough game.”

As a result, expect the ‘Caps to come out strongly in this game. With the sting of their opening match still sticking around, and knowing what awaits them here in NYCFC, they are fully aware of the importance of needing to have a strong game here, and will look to live up to that. 

They’ll know that while it’s still early in the season, making it hard to pull out the panic button quite yet, you can also make things much harder for you down the road with a slow start, making it imperative that they find a way to step up in this match.

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Lucas Cavallini

And one player that will be key in any ‘Caps effort to come out strong this week is Cavallini, who enters this weekend’s game as our player to watch. 

After earning a surprise start last weekend, as White’s injury and Ricketts’s contract situation left him as the main option up top, it looks like he’ll keep his spot there for this game, as he was actually one of the team’s stronger performers in last week’s blowout. 

Considering that he hardly got any touches in the dangerous areas where you’d want your striker to be, he did very well to even be involved in the game despite that, and Sartini was happy with that, giving his striker some good praise at training on Friday.

“I think his game was positive,” Sartini said of Cavallini. “I like the fact that he was always linked (to the match).”

So seeing that, all that’s left is for Cavallini to turn that positive performance into a goal this time out, something that he’s sorely looking to do, especially considering that he hasn’t done that at a competitive level (club or country) since July 4th of last year. 

Because of all that, look for a motivated Cavallini on Saturday. Typically a streaker scorer, if he can get a goal, you’d have to imagine some more follow soon, which for the ‘Caps, they’d love to see right now. 

Lucas Cavallini in action for Canada last year (Keveren Guillou)

The Big Question: 

Was last week’s loss just a one-off, or a sign of things to come?

Heading into this game, our big question is understandably centred around last week’s match, because while you’d want to quickly forget what happened in that one, it will remain as an important case study for this ‘Caps season, no matter what happens.

Either the ‘Caps will go on and have a great campaign, making it a great case study for sample size, or they’ll struggle, making it look like a great warning sign in hindsight. 

As a result, the ‘Caps will certainly want to make sure that it’s more of the former than the latter, and there’s no doubt that a victory in this game would make a big difference for them in that regard. 

Stat to Watch:

Thomas Hasal’s record at BC Place: 3W-1L-0D (9 PTS)

With it being the ‘Caps opener, we decided to hone in on a specific individual and his record at BC Place for this game, and that’s the record of the expected ‘Caps starting goalkeeper, Thomas Hasal. 

And given some of the discussion that was surrounding the 22-year-old Canadian after the last game, it feels relevant, as while he couldn’t do much about the 4 goals that he and his team conceded, some onlookers disagreed with that sentiment. 

So for his sake, you know that he’ll be itching to come out strong with a win here, making them forget that game. And considering his record at BC Place, you’d certainly back him in that quest. 

One thing to watch for there, however? He’s yet to actually keep a clean sheet at BC Place, so while his record has been sparkling, and he’s had some good performances to match, he’s yet to bring home that goose egg. 

Obviously, you have to imagine that he (and his defence) look to change that this weekend, making up for that afternoon to forget 7 days prior.  

Last Meeting:

A struggling Whitecaps side welcomed NYCFC to BC Place on August 31st, 2019, and it ended up being a less than an ideal result for the hosts on the night, as a Yordy Reyna goal would not be enough to cancel out goals from Heber, Gary Mackay-Steven and Alexandru Mitrita in a 3-1 win for the visitors. 

Projected XIs:

Vancouver Whitecaps:

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

Head Coach: Vanni Sartini

NYCFC:

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

Head Coach: Ronny Deila

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs New York City FC, Saturday, March 5th, 2022, 15:00 PST, 18:00 EST (BC Place, Vancouver)

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