Match Preview: Colorado Rapids vs Vancouver Whitecaps – Looking for a Rocky Mountain high
The Whitecaps’ long unbeaten run finally came to an end against Portland last weekend, and that one loss shows just how precarious the ‘Caps’ playoff hopes are. Despite that strong streak of points, just one slip-up has cast them back down to 9th, four points out of a playoff spot and only two points ahead of 11th.
The ‘Caps left it quite late to begin this push for a postseason spot, and unless they can string a decent number of wins together to close the season it might be a bridge too far. They can ill-afford two losses in a row, and face a tough test in that regard with a trip to high-flying Colorado.
The Rapids have made a climb out of the Western Conference basement in recent years. After finishing with a bottom-three record in the league in both 2017 and 2018, they finished 9th in the West in 2019, 5th in 2020, and currently sit 3rd this season within striking distance of the top spot.
If the ‘Caps’ are to steal a win they’ll need all hands on deck, so it would be nice if they’re able to play with proper outside backs in this match. Playing a 3-4-2-1 with Russell Teibert and Patrick Metcalfe as the two wingbacks was some mad scientist behaviour from Vanni Sartini, and it did not work that well.
Javain Brown did provide some much-needed life when he was brought in as a sub, and he will surely start on the weekend. Playing as a wingback (assuming the ‘Caps stick with the three-back formation which Sartini said he envisions them playing) means he has license to make his marauding runs forward and be more of a force in the offensive side of the field.
The left side, meanwhile, is absolutely crying out for the return of Cristián Gutiérrez, whose setbacks in his injury recovery have left a gaping hole that the ‘Caps have been unable to adequately paper over. A cobbled together rotation of two right-backs and a midfielder aren’t ideal cover, and the ‘Caps definitely won’t be able to play towards their full potential without Gutiérrez in the fold.
In the centre of the defence, the return of Érik Godoy has facilitated the use of the three-back next to Ranko Veselinović and Florian Jungwirth, and this experiment has shown better in the early going than previous ‘Caps’ attempts at this type of formation over the years (the bar is quite low). It’s not something we’ve seen much from the club ever in the MLS era, and it’ll be interesting to see whether it becomes the default over the final ten matches of this season.
Up front, Lucas Cavallini made his return off the bench last weekend after the combination of injury and international duty and looked thoroughly unimpressive when he did so. Of course, it might not be fair to be drawing conclusions when he’s been that long away, but if he doesn’t kick up a level with Ryan Gauld now in the fold (like Brian White has), then the writing could be on the wall for the DP number nine.
He’ll surely get his chances, and if he’s healthy he’ll surely start on the weekend. Gauld and Cristian Dájome have been locked in as the starters behind the striker since Sartini took over, though Déiber Caicedo has shown well off the bench and could be an option to start. It’s just a little harder to fit him into the line-up if Sartini chooses to stick with this new system.
Looking at the hosts, Colorado also just played Portland, disappointedly drawing 2-2 on Wednesday after conceding a stoppage time equalizer despite being up a man. It was their second draw in a row after one against the Galaxy, though overall they’re on a nine-match unbeaten run that dates back to the end of July.
The Rapids have been stingy defensively this season, conceding just 23 goals, third-best in MLS. That draw against Portland this week was just the third time in the last four months that they’ve given up multiple goals in a match. Interestingly, they have fairly similar records at home (6-1-4) compared to on the road (6-3-3), showing that they haven’t been easy to beat anywhere.
The Whitecaps are now facing some true adversity coming into a match for the first time since Marc Dos Santos was fired. They’re coming off a loss, are on the road against a tough opponent, and need to pick up points if they are to keep their perhaps slim playoff hopes alive. Let’s see how they respond.