The Vancouver Whitecaps take on Sporting Kansas City in MLS action at BC Place on Saturday. Here’s our preview from that one.
It’s a good chance to get things back on track.
Fresh off an international break, so far winless through 4 games of this young 2022 MLS season, a big opportunity awaits the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, as they get set to host Sporting Kansas City at BC Place.
Taking on an SKC side also looking to get back on track themselves here, as despite having 2 wins in 5 games, they haven’t really looked like their usual consistent self so far this campaign, it’s hoped that this can be a good opportunity for the ‘Caps to find their legs again in MLS play.
After how their 2021 season ended, it’s been a big letdown for the ‘Caps so far in 2022, who after capturing the imaginations of many with a magical late push to the playoffs last year, look like a shell of that team right now.
So seeing that, it’s been a pretty good time for an international break, one that the ‘Caps certainly won’t complain about, as it allowed them to really hit the restart button on this campaign.
Having just been unable to find their groove to start the season, they looked to use this break as a mini-preseason of sorts, and they’re hoping that what they worked on goes a long way towards finding some success.
They haven’t been awful to start the year, to be fair, as they’ve certainly been better than their 0W-3L-1D record suggests, but they just haven’t been executing in the right moments, which they hope now changes after the work they put in.
“We focused on trying to get a lot better on the things that we’re already doing,” ‘Caps head coach, Vanni Sartini, said this week. “I think in the big picture, the (recent) Los Angeles (FC) game was good, so we need to build on that performance, being more consistent, and I would say if I had to find something we need to be more clinical and effective in the final third.”
But while it’s easy to point to the ‘Caps slow start and suggest that what was needed was a restart, it’s worth noting that their struggles extend deeper than that. For example, they’ve been without leading 2021 scorer, Brian White, for all but part of one game, so far, and then suffered an even bigger blow when they lost their main offensive threat, attacking midfielder Ryan Gauld, for an injury in their last game before the break.
Along with continued injuries to regulars Caio Alexandre and Erik Godoy, which have been serious enough to keep the pair out of the lineup for every game so far, the ‘Caps haven’t exactly been dealt the best hand in that regard, something that has also set them back.
The good news, however, is that things are looking better on that front now. After returning to full training this week, White and Gauld should be back in some capacity for this game, while Alexandre continues to progress, with Godoy remaining as the wild card.
And for a ‘Caps team needing those players to return, that’s positive news, one that they hope can give a big boost to their squad, especially offensively, where they have just two goals so far, tied for worst in MLS.
“It means we have more options,” Sartini said of the impending Gauld and White returns. “We can use all of our attacking pieces in a way maybe we can start a game in a way, maybe we can finish a game in another, so we don’t have to put all of the attacking side of the game to a couple of players, but they can share the responsibility.”
“I don’t think they’re going to be able to play 90 minutes, Ryan and Brian, but they will be part of the game, for sure.”
So as the ‘Caps get set to play this SKC side, that’s perfect. As previously mentioned, this hasn’t looked like your typical SKC side so far this year, which to be fair can largely be down to the fact that they’ve been without stars Gadi Kinda and Alan Pulido, but even despite that, you’d still have thought they’d be closer to their regular selves than they have been.
But even if they’re not firing on all cylinders at the moment, there is still a lot to be wary of on this SKC lineup. Their front three of Johnny Russell, Khiry Shelton and Daniel Salloi can make any defence in MLS pay on their day, and they’ve got a solid cast of midfielders and defenders behind them.
And having knocked the ‘Caps out of the playoffs in the first round last year, they also have the ‘Caps number right now, which could give them a bit of an edge in this game.
“They do well when hunkering down and countering as well,” White said. “Khiry Shelton holds the ball up well, they have dangerous players like Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi, so it’s going to be a tough challenge.”
“I think there’s a bit of a sour taste in our mouth from the last time that we played them,” he continued. “So we’re looking forward to getting out there and competing.”
At the same time, though, the ‘Caps are looking to make up for that edge with a boost of their own – a return to their home crowd at BC Place.
Having played 3 of their first 4 games away from home, that certainly has factored into their slow start, as they were one of the best teams at home in 2021 for a reason.
And considering that they picked up their only point of this season at home, coming in a 0-0 draw to defending MLS Cup champions New York City FC, they’ve obviously kept some sort of comfort at home this year, of which they’ll want to build off of in this game.
So seeing that they’re yet to win, but are returning to the same BC Place that they made a fortress last year, you’d hardly be surprised if they’d be champing at the bit to come out strong, grabbing that first win and drawing their first ‘Stand By Me’ victory song of the year.
“BC Place is our home, and the fans help us a lot,” Sartini said. “I’ve said that a million times, but it’s true. We never would have been in the playoffs last year without the support of the fans, when we win and do a great performance, we win all together because they’re part of the team, they give us the extra boost when we’re a little down.”
And through all of that, the ‘Caps are hoping that can be enough to push them forward just enough to grab that win, hopefully putting their season back on track.
While it might feel like the sky is falling in ‘Caps land, it’s still very early in the campaign, so there’s no reason why they can’t find their mojo again with a couple of wins.
Of course, a couple of losses could really signify that there’s a problem, but for now, the panic button remains hidden for the ‘Caps, and they’re looking to keep it that way with a strong game on Saturday.
“It’s easy to see that the start of our season hasn’t been good enough,” Gauld said. “(I think we need) to add that intensity, work a little bit harder, so when it comes to the games, and our backs are up against the ropes like it has been in the first games, we’re just trying to bring up the fitness and make sure we’re going out there to win something.”
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Brian White
But if the ‘Caps are to go out and win, it really feels like they could use an uptick from their offence, especially given their struggles in that area.
As a result, it only feels right to highlight someone who can certainly fix that, and that is the returning White, who you have to imagine is eager to get back out on the pitch and scoring goals after his injury struggles to start the year.
Because of that, it only feels right to expect him to score in this game. Especially at BC Place, where he did his most damage in 2021, you’d almost be surprised if he doesn’t score, which for a ‘Caps team needing goals, is the exact reason why the news of White’s return was welcomed quite warmly.
Needing a hero, the ‘Caps are hoping their fellow namesake can continue to channel that ‘White for Whitecaps’ magic, picking up where he left off last year.
The Big Question:
Will we finally see strikers Brian White and Lucas Cavallini get a run of minutes together?
And speaking of White, he really factors into this piece quite heavily, as he is also the subject of conversation in this week’s big question.
But with the ‘Caps offensive struggles, that’s only natural, as the ‘Caps have certainly missed him so far this year.
At the same time, it’s not as if there has been a gaping void up front. He might not bring the same profile as White at striker, but it’s worth noting that Cavallini has actually been one of the best ‘Caps through the first few games, making it hard to imagine that he’ll be dropped even with White back.
Because of that, it could pave the way for something that was teased in the preseason, and that’s to have the pair of them play together, leading the ‘Caps attacking line as dual strikers.
Might it work? It’s too early to tell, but for a Vancouver side looking for any sort of ideas right now, the option of having the pair play off of each other does sound intriguing, especially if Cavallini can maintain his current form and White can recapture his previous form.
So although it could be a bit of a surprise to see from the start, as it’s hard to tell if White is ready for starting minutes, you do feel like we’ll see it at some point, making it something to watch for.
Stat to Watch:
WIll the ‘Caps winless run extend to 8?
It feels like it’s snuck up on us here, but all of a sudden, should the ‘Caps lose or draw on Saturday, they’ll be 8 games (regular season+playoffs) without a win, their longest such run since they went 8 games without winning in May, June and July of last year.
And considering how much different this ‘Caps side feels from that team, that’s surprising, but it shows how fortunes have changed as of late, as well as why it’s so important that they can grab a win here.
With the momentum from last year’s playoff push continuing to fade by the game, they need to find a way to snatch it back before it’s too late, and a win on Saturday would be a great way to do that.
In the first round of MLS playoffs, these teams traded early blows in an entertaining game, as Khiry Shelton’s 17th-minute opener was cancelled out by a Cristian Dajome penalty in the 39th minute, but the ‘Caps would then be sunk by a 45+3 Nicolas Isimat-Mirin goal, which ended up standing as the winner in a 3-1 SKC victory.
Record: 0W-3L-1D (1 PT)
Head Coach: Vanni Sartini
Sporting Kansas City:
Record: 2W-3L-0D (6 PTS)
Head Coach: Peter Vermes
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, April 2nd, 2022, 17:00 PDT, 20:00 EDT (BC Place, Vancouver)