(Photo Credit: LA Galaxy)
Ten matches left, five at home and five on the road. Sitting in 11th place but only three points back of 7th and six points back of 3rd. That’s the situation Vancouver Whitecaps find themselves in, and the next couple months could see them finish with anything from a home playoff match to settling down into the basement of the West once again.
Let’s hope it’s much closer to the former!
Thankfully, the club’s most recent COVID outbreak seems to have gone away, which gives a big boost with the return of Andrés Cubas, Cristian Dájome, and Marcus Godinho (among a few others) to the squad. Given that Saturday’s match is on the road against the Galaxy, who the ‘Caps are tied with, it’s a critical juncture (although they are all critical at this point).
The biggest question is the striker situation, with Lucas Cavallini suspended and Brian White hurt. Tosaint Ricketts is left as the one first-team striker available, meaning that WFC2 reinforcements are in order once again. Simon Becher will surely make the trip after scoring the tying goal last weekend, while newcomer Easton Ongaro has earned a short-term call up and is another option as he’s in a good run of form at the moment with three goals from three starts in MLS Next Pro.
Assuming that neither of those call-ups get a start, the question up top is whether it will be Dájome or Pedro Vite starting alongside Ryan Gauld. Vite has been a bit mercurial this season, at times showing clear quality and driving play, and other times completely fading into the background. Dájome has had his moments as well though they’ve been in the wingback spot just as much as a part of the front three.
If Vanni Sartini wants Vite in the lineup then Dájome could take Ryan Raposo’s spot at wingback, with Julian Gressel likely to keep a firm hold on the right flank. With Sebastian Berhalter, Janio Bikel, and Alessandro Schöpf all not ready yet, the duo of Cubas and Russell Teibert is primed to slot into the middle of the park once again. Once those three not-quite-fit players are ready to go it’ll be interesting to see who Sartini selects as part of his best XI.
At the back, the main question is whether Javain Brown or Jake Nerwinski will be the third centre-back, as Florian Jungwirth has fallen out of favour, leaving four defenders in the regular rotation. It was interesting to see Nerwinski come in for Tristan Blackmon as a substitute against the Dynamo, but I can’t see Sartini benching Blackmon entirely in this match due to how important he’s been to the backline this season.
Looking at the hosts, the Galaxy are in a bit of a freefall as of late, losing five of their last six matches. They’ve been decent at home this year with a 6-5-1 record, but they’re coming off a surprising 4-2 loss to last-place SKC and have fallen below the red line in the West. The ‘Caps have actually won three of their last six trips to Dignity Health Sports Park, and points are there for the taking once again.
While Chicharito is the more well-known attacker in LA, young Dejan Joveljić shares the team-lead in goals with nine, despite only starting six matches this season. He’s been the Galaxy’s super-sub for the most part, although he has started more often in recent weeks. In a reversal of recent years LA’s defense has been solid in 2022, as they sit 6th in the West in goals against and that’s despite a slight underperformance compared to their expected goals against metric.
The Whitecaps have done well to get points away from home recently, but they still have just two road wins all year. Given their position in the table, that has to change if they are to make it to the playoffs. This is one of the final five chances they have to do so.