Last Friday, the Whitecaps came back from a 2-1 deficit to draw with Houston, a weaker side that had no business coming away with a point. On Wednesday the script was exactly the same, just against San Jose and minus the late dramatics. While there is reasonable concern that these types of games need to be won in order to succeed in the MLS season, the team does look much better than the one that lost 6-0 to SKC and fell to a 10-man Minnesota United.
There have been so many chances created, and the Whitecaps have been incredibly unlucky in front of goal. I’m not saying I’m not disappointed or upset with the team’s performances against Houston and San Jose, but I think they have shown genuine and significant improvement over the past week. So on to the next one.
The Whitecaps are in Dallas to take on the club just above them in the standings. The Texans sit just a point ahead of Vancouver with three games in hand. Vancouver has played the most matches in the MLS so far with twelve, which is worrying as they have less time to make up ground. They sit in fourth, but the last-place Seattle Sounders have just seven fewer points and also have three games in hand – two wins and a draw in those three games would see them catch up to Vancouver.
The Whitecaps have thrown away an incredible amount of points this season in matches they should have won – the two recent draws at home, the visits to Salt Lake City and Minnesota, the home matches against the LA clubs. As they’ve played the most matches in the league, they have to start winning pretty soon or the consequences will be dire when the rest of the Conference plays catch up.
Carl Robinson will want to keep his line-up together as much as he can – despite the disappointments, the ‘Caps looked in fine form against the Dynamo and Earthquakes in certain areas. Goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic and Midfielder Jordon Mutch are still out injured, with Brian Rowe and the out-of-form Efrain Juarez likely slotting in to replace them. Juarez looked as disinterested as previous games against San Jose, missing a sitter in the first half and tracking back poorly on the Quakes second, but Robbo seems to insist on picking him when available. If he comes to his senses and benches Juarez, Russell Teibert is a good option to partner with mainstay Aly Ghazal in central midfield.
In front of Brian Rowe will we see the back four Robinson seems to have settled on, preferring Sean Franklin to Jake Nerwinski? Or is this game in the searing heat the match for the younger guys and we see Nerwinski finally return to the line-up on the right and Brett Levis coming back in on the left? Marcel De Jong had a man of the match outing against San Jose, but his older legs may get a rest for this one. Kendall Waston and Jose Aja should continue in the middle. The ‘Caps only have two more games with this pairing before the World Cup.
Yordy Reyna finally got that elusive goal to open his account for the season and is likely to be rewarded with another start, with Kei Kamara and one of Alphonso Davies, Bernie Ibini or Brek Shea, likely joining the attacking core. Shea seems most likely due to Robbo’s penchant for starting him away from home and the Texan connections.
The 10th and final outfield position will likely be occupied by an additional midfielder. Robinson could start another of the aforementioned wingers in an attacking midfield role to give a stronger offensive presence, or another of the Juarez-Teibert-Ghazal triumvirate to shore up defensively.
Given that it’s a road game against an aggressive FC Dallas side, and that their last two matches have involved the concession of bad goals and the scoring of great ones, the latter option seems to be the better pick.
The Toros have recently switched to a 4-2-3-1 that seems to be working, so not much will change from recent weeks. Crucial to that new formation is the reintroduction of Mauro Diaz, who had a man-of-the-match performance in his return to the Dallas starting XI against the Galaxy.
Diaz assisted on all three goals in a 3-2 victory and will be crucial to the high-octane offense Dallas like to bring. Defender Reto Ziegler was sent off in that LA match and should be replaced by new signing Anton Nedyalkov. Kellyn Acosta has returned from a sports hernia to rejoin the FC Dallas line-up, and will be a big addition in the midfield, although he is still shaking the rust off after uninspiring performances against the two LA clubs.
Expect striker Maxi Urruti to be the lone man up front in a 4-2-3-1, a prolific striker who is having an excellent season. The formation may not sound particularly positive, but with an excellent creative midfielder in Diaz and two pacy wingers to support Urruti, FC Dallas will be very dangerous in attack.
The last time the ‘Caps visited Toyota Stadium, they battered the hosts 4-0, but somehow I don’t think that will be the case on Saturday. But I do think the ‘Caps can come away with three points if they play their cards right. They deserved victories against Houston and San Jose, but there are no moral victories in football. Their play has been good, they just need to find a way to be more clinical in front of goal. They’re definitely capable of beating most, if not all of the teams in their conference. Whether they actually do is a different story.