Who’s up for a road trip? The Whitecaps better be, because after a – dare I say – exciting home draw against Colorado, the ‘Caps will play four road matches in fifteen days, three in MLS play and one in Calgary for the first leg of the heavily revamped Canadian Championship.
First up is Dallas on Wednesday. A team that the ‘Caps beat 2-1 at home back at the end of May. That match was a memorable one for a couple reasons: Ali Adnan scored a spectacular right-footed strike, and the ‘Caps as a team scored multiple goals in back-to-back games for the first time all season. They did give up 20 shot attempts and only had 39% possession, but that’s just how it’s gone at times this season.
Now, it might not feel like it, but the ‘Caps are quietly on a five-match unbeaten run. It’s a good mark for a team that lost five of its first eight to start the year, but it’s made a bit less impressive by the fact that four of those five matches were draws, with the win over Dallas being the lone exception. It’s good that they’re not losing, but continuous ties are not an efficient way to pick up points.
Frisco, Texas has not been kind to the ‘Caps in the club’s MLS era, though there has been some recent success there. From 2011 to 2016 the ‘Caps lost eight straight matches at Toyota Stadium, including the heartbreaking 2-1 loss in the 2014 playoffs. Their last two trips, however, have netted them points, with a 4-0 thrashing in 2017 and a dramatic 2-2 draw last year that saw Kei Kamara knock home a penalty in the 100th minute – the latest goal in MLS history.
The question for Marc Dos Santos is how much to rotate his squad for this match. This Texan tilt is just four days after the Colorado clash, and there’s a showdown with Seattle looming on Saturday. Playing the same XI in all three matches would be a tough ask, and given the Cascadian importance of the final match of the week, getting some fresh legs out on the pitch on Wednesday makes sense.
Here are the players I believe to be sure-fire bets to start: Zac MacMath, Érik Godoy, Andy Rose, Adnan, Jon Erice, Inbeom Hwang, Yordy Reyna, and Fredy Montero. The reasons for that include a stark lack of backup options (MacMath, Godoy, Rose, Montero), playing too well against Colorado to even consider taking out (Adnan, Reyna, Hwang) and being Jon Erice (Erice).
That leaves Jake Nerwinski, Felipe, and Lucas Venuto as the players most likely to be replaced in the starting line-up. Nerwinski is the most likely of those three, as he and Scott Sutter have been trading starts for a while, and Sutter also replaced Nerwinski as a substitute for the final half-hour against the Rapids.
Venuto was also replaced a few minutes after Nerwinski on Saturday, with PC coming on. Behind Sutter-Nerwinski, PC starting in place of Venuto is the second-most likely change to be made on Wednesday. Venuto’s performances have been up-and-down all year, and while PC is far from a wowing addition to the XI, he works hard and would keep the more talented – if a bit enigmatic – Venuto fresh for this weekend.
Felipe is the least likely of the three to be replaced, more due to a dearth of options behind him than anything else. With Russell Teibert at the Gold Cup and Andy Rose forced to play centre-back, the ‘Caps don’t have a ton in the way of additional midfield depth. It would be really cool to see Michael Baldisimo get some playing time, but throwing him a start in a tough road environment would be quite the baptism by fire.
Looking at the hosts, Dallas are coming off a 3-0 waxing of Toronto FC that saw them outshoot Toronto 22-6 (12-2 shots on target), and take the full three points off a Dominique Badji brace and the first goal for the club for Bressan. They are 2-0-1 in MLS play since that loss to the ‘Caps in May, though just like Colorado they were eliminated by a USL side, New Mexico United, in the US Open Cup over the Gold Cup break.
A big difference from these two teams’ clash a month ago is the return of attacking midfielder Paxton Pomykal, who was away with the US U-20 World Cup squad at the time. The teenager has two goals and two assists in ten appearances this season, registering an assist against Toronto on the weekend.
As I mentioned in my preview for the Colorado match, it’s very difficult to separate the bottom half of the Western Conference at the moment. Just five points separate 6th placed Minnesota from 12th placed Colorado, and the Whitecaps are caught right in the middle of the pack. Dallas are one of the teams currently hanging above the red line (in 4th place), so this would be a bit of a statement win for the ‘Caps if they can pull it off.