Time is running out. Games are running out. Points are running out. Is hope running out?
The Whitecaps have to get as many points as possible out of their remaining six games to get into the playoffs. They may even have to win all six matches. With the loss against the Red Bulls we are now in ‘every game is a cup final match’ mode, although such talk began weeks ago and to paraphrase Bob Lenarduzzi, we’ve lost a lot of cup finals these past few weeks.
Major League Soccer is highly competitive and a win on the road against a struggling Columbus side could help the ‘Caps right the ship, but the danger is they’ve already taken on too much water. They need to pull out of this recent freefall, but recent form and performances suggest this is far easier said than done.
While the ‘Caps are struggling, Columbus Crew have been able to get some decent results and have won two of their last four games. The Crew were propelled to last season’s MLS Cup final on a high flying attack, but after a slow start, it may be too little too late. The gap between the playoff teams and the non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference is widening, so Columbus is also in desperation mode. It’s a battle at the bottom.
TACTICS AND PROJECTED LINE-UP:
Carl Robinson will likely go back to the 4-2-3-1. It worked great and created lots of chances against NYRB, and it seems Robbo is married to that formation right now. It was unfortunate that Erik Hurtado couldn’t finish, and that’s putting it nicely. Will that be the game that was the camel-breaking straw for Robinson and we’ll see some new life up front?
Masato Kudo is back, fit, and feeling good. Will he be getting more chances down this stretch? It already feels like a washout of a season for the Japanese striker. Or we could go with Blas Perez, who can’t seem to get a start for some reason. He’s good enough for international football with his country though. Giles Barnes is also back and in the mix after being away with Jamaica.
Then there’s the wildcard option. The one shown in a brilliant move by Canadian men’s national team manager Benito Floro – play centre back David Edgar as a striker. He bagged a goal on Tuesday night, in fewer chances than any other ‘Caps striker recently!
The real problem though is that we don’t have the striker for a one striker formation. None of them have all the skills needed to play in that role. Hurtado has strength, pace, and a good workrate. He’s getting into the situations to get chances. If he had a partner up top that he could play off, it would be better, taking the pressure of Hurtado’s shoulders and having someone on hand to mop up any possible rebounds.
The striking position is one of the puzzling ones for Vancouver this week, but at the other end of the park, the defence should be pretty much as expected.
Daivd Ousted is going to get the nod in goal, that’s the given. He has shown that he cares lots about this club and has a good fiery passion. If we want to keep going and get results we are going to need it and from far more players than him. He’s made his mistakes, but he’s also made some big point saving stops and he is one of the few ‘Caps players who can’t be blamed for this poor season, and comes across as doing all in his power to stop the way things have been going.
Out in front of him should be Jordan Smith continuing at right back, and it was great to see Jordan Harvey come back in and show that he has not lost that consistent ability to play at a high level so soon after an injury.
There’s been many defensive blunders this year, and a lot of them stemming from the centre of the defence. I would let Andrew Jacobson play more time while Kendall Waston rests from international duty. He’s looked good as a centre back so far, and played well alongside Tim Parker. I’d keep both of them in, but that’s allowing for me playing Edgar up front. In reality it will likely see Waston returning to the starting line-up and partnering Edgar. Let international tiredness be damned!
Matias Laba and Russell Teibert should once again be the defensive midfield shield in front of the back four. Throughout this year it has been shown that Laba does not have the ability to play without two defensive midfielders. With ‘Rusty’ back in the line-up, things in the midfield have looked better defensively. When Laba has a partner he can add more dimension to his game and vice versa. He’s impressed since returning back to the starting 11, but hopefully Teibert can add to his skill set (pick a forward pass once in awhile) and become a more box-to-box player, because he has a good engine.
With Columbus playing a very attacking game and putting their fullbacks forward, I would look for more wing play. I think that Fraser Aird and Cristian Techera can get the start again. I would really like to compliment the Aird and Smith combo. Smith can bomb up the line, and Aird has the stamina and learned some defensive smarts to cover for Smith. So far they are bringing out the best from each other. I want to see this partnership continue to develop and it looks promising.
Pedro Morales has been very limp wristed recently. He will need to find his form fast in order for this team to turn it around, especially if they want to reach the playoffs. He’s likely to get the nod as the number ten for this one, but play the first hour or so. Cristian Bolanos looks to be the much better option, returning after a great two-goal performance midweek for Costa Rica, but Robinson may want to give him some rest, starting him on the bench and keeping him for Tuesday Champions League game in KC.
Columbus has been finding some form lately. They like to play a very fun attacking style of soccer with fullbacks pushing up high. That may leave them vulnerable to some counter attacks. We shall see if the Caps can exploit that. The important thing to note is the Crew can score, while the ‘Caps seem to be unable to. That may tip the game in their favour as it’s really hard to see that changing right now.
Who is going to be the striker? Hurtado? Kudo? Perez? Barnes? Edgar?!
Can Pedro get out of this slump?
Can the Whitecaps counterattack any spaces Columbus leave?
AFTN’S MAN TO WATCH
Ethan Finlay – the man on the wings has some great passing quality and can score a goal. If he is on his game the Crew can score at will, and it doesn’t take much to do this against the ‘Caps defence at times this season.
THE VIEW FROM 202 CREW’S PREDICTIONS
Joe: 4-1 Columbus
Nick: 2-0 Columbus, because they can actually score