It seems that whenever I give up on this team, they do something to raise my hopes, but as soon as I start to believe again they find some new way to disappoint. Maybe if I just remain completely neutral, everything will be fine! So here’s my attempt to assess the current situation while remaining neither too optimistic nor pessimistic.
Most of the negativity surrounding the Whitecaps (of which there is quite a bit) isn’t centred around their record or their position in the Western Conference standings, but rather the way in which they lose winnable (or at the very least drawable) games, playing so much worse than we know they can. I refuse to believe this is a bad team, and as I said last week, their poor performances as of late don’t make sense.
As soon as newcomer Wayne Rooney came on to make his debut for D.C. United in a 3-1 victory over Vancouver, it was clear that creativity was something the Whitecaps were lacking. We did see a brilliant flash of it from Alphonso Davies as he scored the stunning lone Whitecaps goal, but Rooney’s ability to see the game a few moves ahead led to two crucial goals that lifted D.C. United over the hapless Vancouver side.
I’m a Liverpool supporter – praising Wayne Rooney doesn’t sit especially well with me. But the Whitecaps need creativity to come from the centre of the pitch. Davies is an incredibly creative player when he’s allowed to be, and can make magic happen from whichever wing he happens to be on. He creates chances and conjures goals and assists from nothing. That type of creativity does need to come from more than one man on the pitch though. If it does, and the Whitecaps are actually able to create decent chances, the team will win the games they really should be winning.
With that being said, Wednesday’s match has no bearing on their perilous league position. It’s Canadian Championship season, as the pre-Canadian Premier League era of the competition draws to a close. When the new clubs enter the competition in the 2019 season, and bring the number of Canadian professional clubs to a very convenient 16, the tournament may take on a new life. For now, at least, it is just the tournament that awards entry into the CONCACAF Champions League to the winner.
Canadian clubs have had success in the continental tournament as of late – this year’s competition saw TFC get all the way to the penalty shootout of the final match before losing to Chivas Guadalajara. Montreal Impact reached the final in 2015, losing to Club America. And of course, last year’s tournament featured a semi-final appearance from our very own Vancouver Whitecaps, who lost to Tigres UANL. But we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves – the Whitecaps have to earn their place.
All of the Canadian clubs in MLS are having a bit of a down year, so the field is a quite open one. Montreal Impact are the first obstacle standing in the Whitecaps’ way. Vancouver has already defeated the Quebecois side this season, as Alphonso Davies’ first MLS goal was the match winner in a game that was much more one-sided than the 2-1 scoreline would have you believe.
Vancouver are more than capable of defeating the Impact, and will have a key player potentially returning from injury to help them do it. Stefan Marinovic has been in full training for a couple of weeks now, and the first leg of the Canadian Championship semi-final seems like a good place to test him out in a full game. Brian Rowe has performed admirably in the absence of the big Kiwi, but a return from Marinovic could do wonders to help out the porous Whitecap defence.
Kendall Waston is still recovering from the World Cup, and a strain he picked up in Russia and aggravated upon his return to the Whitecap line-up will likely keep him out of the midweek action. On only three days’ rest after the visit to D.C., and with a trip to Seattle waiting at the end of the week, expect some rare squad rotation from Robbo!
Starting XIs for matches like this are very difficult to predict, but expect to see appearances from some bit players such as Russell Teibert, Anthony Blondell, Nicolas Mezquida, and maybe even Brett Levis. I’m relatively confident that Alphonso Davies will start, and I doubt the centre-back pairing will change from last time out.
The Impact are a deep team and will put together a strong line-up to welcome the Whitecaps into Stade Saputo. Expect some rotation from ex-Aston Villa boss Remi Garde, but as with the Whitecaps and Davies, Montreal’s star man Ignacio Piatti is almost a lock to remain in the line-up.
The Canadian Championship is always a fun and somewhat strange competition, and while the arrival of Canadian Premier League clubs should add some much-needed variety, the 2018 edition is sure to be exciting, and with the Canadian MLS clubs struggling in the league, they have everything to play for in the cup. Don’t expect anyone to take this lightly.