Though the World Cup still rages on, the MLS season has kicked back into gear following a short break, and its return has brought new gloom to Whitecapsland. Vancouver Whitecaps’ four game winless-turned six games unbeaten run was emphatically crushed in Philadelphia last weekend, and the team will look to rebound at home on Sunday, in a Canada Day clash with Colorado Rapids.
The good news for the Whitecaps is that they are playing Colorado, who are 0-5-1 on the road and are only two points ahead of last place for the entire league. It was the Rapids who the ‘Caps beat 2-1 on June 1st to get back into the win column, and a second clash with the Commerce City club provides a similar opportunity to rack up some much-needed points in the crowded Western Conference playoff picture.
While the ‘Caps attack has grabbed some headlines as of late due to its surge in production (last game notwithstanding), the defence has been trending in the opposite direction. After a four-goal shellacking at the hands of the Union, the Whitecaps have now conceded 16 goals in their last seven matches, which is as many as Kansas City and NYRB have allowed all season. Brian Rowe’s solidly below-average play has underscored the importance of the still-injured Stefan Marinović, while Kendall Waston’s Russian adventures have left a hole in a backline that was already hurting before he left.
Waston will be back in Vancouver on Sunday, but whether or not he’ll be ready to play is another story. Given that José Aja is suspended after picking up a red card against Philadelphia, this might finally give Aaron Maund another opportunity to play. If Waston doesn’t start, Maund should slide in next to relative newcomer Doneil Henry, who is trying to cement his place in the first-choice XI.
The fullback slots have plenty of options but none that have stood out recently: Jake Nerwinski’s sophomore slump combined with Sean Franklin’s status as an average at-best player make up the right flank, while Marcel de Jong’s injury, Carl Robinson seemingly not trusting Brett Levis, and Brek Shea’s status as not a natural left-back have caused problems for that side of the pitch.
Further up the field, another red card for Yordy Reyna means changes will have to be made in the middle of the park as well, though surely Robinson would have been planning to make some anyway. Felipe has been the only assured starter in the midfield this season, starting all but two matches so far. Aly Ghazal seems to have taken over the second midfield slot for now (ahead of Russell Teibert and Efraín Juárez), but after a loss like last week’s any amount of change is possible. Jordon Mutch finally made his return from injury against Philadelphia, and could well be in contention to start.
Up front, Kei Kamara has continued to hold down the first-choice striker spot ahead of Anthony Blondell, while Alphonso Davies should still be a lock to start. The rest of the attack, however, has been thrown for a loop due to Cristian Techera receiving a three-game suspension for “use of offensive language” in the match again Philadelphia. It is unknown what exactly Techera said (he was also fined an undisclosed amount), but with both him and Reyna out of action it’s hard to tell who exactly Robinson will choose to replace them. Blondell could draw the start alongside Kamara, while Nicolas Mezquida would be more of a like-for-like replacement for Reyna. On the wing, both Shea and Bernie Ibini will be in contention to start, and Robinson could definitely throw a curveball and tweak his system; maybe bringing in the newly returned Jordon Mutch as a third centre-mid or even in somewhat of a winger’s role.
Looking at the visitors, Colorado finally got a win last week – their first since April – in a 3-2 home triumph over Minnesota United. It was a 97th minute winner from Tommy Smith that got them the three points after Minnesota’s Miguel Ibarra was sent off, continuing a recent trend of reds for both sides: there have been red cards in three straight matches involving Colorado, and in two straight for the ‘Caps.
Dominique Badji will be the one tasked with leading the line for the Rapids, and the Senegalese striker has built on the career year he had last season; scoring six goals so far in 2018 as one of the few bright spots in Colorado. Forward Joe Mason is the only other Rapid that’s reached the three-goal mark, while the aforementioned Smith has managed to chip in two goals and three assists from centre back.
The Rapids have not been hit with a huge number of injuries, but the ones they’ve suffered have been fairly severe. Centre back Kortne Ford suffered an MCL sprain less than a week before the opening game of the season, and he is still yet to make an appearance this year. Fellow centre back Axel Sjöberg suffered a head injury in the match against Vancouver on June 1st, with his timetable to return still unclear. And Marlon Hairston, who missed nine games with a knee injury, left the match against Minnesota last weekend, injured again in only his third game back.
The Whitecaps are currently tied for 4th place in the West, though because they’ve played the most games of anyone in the conference they’re only 7th in points per game. A home date against a team like the Rapids is one they can’t afford to drop if they’re going to keep pace with the likes of Portland, Real Salt Lake, and LAFC, not to mention hold off their current playoff place challengers, Houston and LA Galaxy.