While preseason may not be coming to an end for most MLS teams, for the Whitecaps it is a bit different. The first hurdle of this long season will be a CONCACAF Champions League match up against New York Red Bulls on Wednesday evening.
So far it has not been a very exciting preseason in terms of trades and player movements. The only two things of note are adding ex-Sounder Freddy Montero from Chinese Super League side Tianjin, and the signing of Peruvian playmaker Yordy Reyna. Neither of whom are available for this one.
Montero is expected to at least make next week’s second leg, but Reyna is now confirmed out till the summer after surgery on a broken fifth metatarsal in his foot. Horrible news for Vancouver and the player.
There’s no doubt both teams will try to make a statement going forward by getting a positive result in this game. It’s the ideal way to get their season off to a strong start and have a chance at making a bit of history as the first MLS side to win the tournament.
The Red Bulls will be coming into the game with a somewhat changed roster. The big MLS names are still there – Robles, Collin, Kljestan, and BWP. However the supporting cast have changed slightly, having shipped Dax McCarty out to Chicago. The New York backline looks to be having a complete change over too, and will be under heavy scrutiny over the two-legged matchup with the ‘Caps.
With this being a home and away aggregate tie, it is going to be important for the Whitecaps to get a good result in New York. Some goals would be great, with the away goals rule in effect. If not, it is not the end of the world, but makes it a much harder prospect at BC Place eight days later.
Formation and Line-up
Well at this point it looks like Robbo is crazy in love with the 4-2-3-1 look and it isn’t going anywhere any time soon. It seems the plan is the same one Robbo has had since being here. Defend well and deep, then hit fast on the counter. This tactic could have particular success on the road, and especially with the wingers and speed at Vancouver’s disposal.
Let us start with the easy part. David Ousted will be in goal. He has been fantastic so far, especially in the game against Portland, so he should get the start if Robinson is true to his word about playing his strongest team.
Speaking of the game against Portland; Kendall Waston looked very lost out there. The opposition offense is not giving him headers to latch onto, and his positioning and awareness has been very poor. I would look for him to start, but the ‘Caps need to see improvements from him as the ‘cornerstone’ defensive piece. Tim Parker will likely line up alongside him. He has been decent against some lesser opposition in the preseason, but will have to turn up the class against Red Bulls talent.
The ever steady Jordan Harvey will be the starting left back. Goes without saying and the options there are slim picking right now anyway. He looked good and seems to be aging like a fine wine. While on the right back side, Sheanon Williams should be starting his first competitive game as a Whitecap. He is a solid addition, and so is his back up Jake Nerwinski, who has also looked good (if at some points inexperienced, as his mauling by the Timbers showed at times). He’s a good depth signing and one for the future. Right back has humorously become one of our strongest positions after last years debacle.
At the other end of the pitch, who will Robbo go with in attack – Erik Hurtado or Giles Barnes? I guess I would go with Barnes considering how he can play decent football on his day, and that Hurtado seemed to continue to fluff chances in the preseason.
Slotting in behind him would have been Reyna, but the best laid plans an all. He had looked very slick in the preseason, but now the ‘Caps are scrambling at the number 10 position with second and third choices Christian Bolanos (knee) and Nicolas Mezquida (hip) also missing the match through injuries. It’s a nightmare situation for Vancouver.
Perhaps this is a chance for one of the younger ‘Caps to step into that spot? Marco Bustos is the only natural number 10 left standing. Or maybe we put the crafty “Bug” there. He was drawing fouls well and he can deliver a pass or set piece. Plus Techera and the Champions League have been a marriage made in heaven so far.
With most of our creative players out, I would not mind seeing the Whitecaps just use the pace on the wings. It would be great, and potentially lethal, to have Kekuta Manneh and Alphonso Davies playing on either wing. New York Red Bulls like to press, and they do like to win the ball high up the pitch. There will be lots of space for them to gallop forward. If we are going to get a result it will likely come from one of our speedsters.
In the midfield, you expect to see Matias Laba starting. Although he has not been at his best just yet, he seems to be getting warmed up for the season, and hopefully he returns to form sooner rather than later. Beside him I would like to see Russell Teibert.
He has shown a bit more willingness to get forward with the ball, although he has perhaps not developed as we’d have liked when he burst onto the scene a few years ago. I feel this is the year he needs to show some growth or he may just be let go. If we could see more driving forward with the ball from him, better forward passing, and some output from his scoring game, he would be the component that was missing since Gershon Koffie left.
How will a weakened squad fair against a top team from the East?
Could the absence of a pure number 10 signal a move from 4-2-3-1 to more of a two striker formation?
Can Vancouver get at least one crucial away goal to set them up for the second leg?
BWP – You simply can’t look past Bradley Wright-Phillips, the two-time Golden Boot Winner. More often than not he will put in some chances generated.
Predictions From The 202 Crew
Nick – 2-0 NYRB. I think the Whitecaps just have not gelled together, and with a line up mostly missing the best attacking punch, we would do good to draw.
Joe – A heartbreaking 1-0 loss.