Over their last 480 minutes of play, the Whitecaps have scored a grand total of two goals. This dates back to midway through the second half of the heartbreaking loss to San Jose in their first match in Orlando, and includes four shutout losses (to Seattle, Sporting KC, and Toronto x2). The one win, against Chicago, now seems like it was less of a turning point and more of a freak aberration (and also, the Fire are tied for the third-worst record in MLS, worse than the ‘Caps).
Okay, deep breath. I’m not usually this bleak, but it’s hard to remain positive when you watch your team gets its collective ass handed to them two times in four nights. Toronto FC absolutely ran the ‘Caps off the pitch in a 3-0 drubbing last Tuesday, and though the second loss was just 1-0 it still never felt like the ‘Caps were going to actually get anything out of it.
Those defeats at BMO Field, especially the first, felt close to the darkest days of 2019, and it’s hard not to feel a sense of hopelessness due to the simple fact that nothing seems to have changed. The ‘Caps still seem completely incapable of controlling the play against any opponent, always sitting deep and never forcing the opposition to do the same in return.
What, then, can be different at Stade Saputo this Tuesday night? There’s actually going to be a small number of fans inside the stadium, which feels crazy, and if the ‘Caps are going to silence those 250 ticket-holders they need to figure out how they’re going to get the ball close to the Impact’s penalty area. Maybe then they can get some shots on target, but baby steps first.
The most pressing issue is that no one on the ‘Caps seems capable of carrying the ball through the midfield. They pass it around the back, maybe hit one of the wide players who gives it back or turns it over, and eventually they just kick it down the field in the hope that poor Lucas Cavallini can get on the end of it.
I was a fan of the switch to the 3-5-2, mainly because it – in theory – puts more bodies in the midfield area, and two of the three centre-backs (Ranko Veselinović and Andy Rose) should be – in theory – confident enough on the ball to push it forward a bit when they have possession. In actuality, that rarely happened, and it was astounding how rarely one of the three midfielders made themselves available for a ground pass from the defence.
If I was in charge of picking the line-up against Montreal I would stick with the 3-5-2, and probably keep more or less the same XI, with one change of Theo Bair in place of Tosaint Ricketts up front. I feel the changes needed are all down to tactics, not personnel, or rather the personnel issues in the line-up can’t be changed by the players who are already at the club.
If the ‘Caps can push higher up the field, lessening the distance between all their players and allowing Ali Adnan, Cavallini, and the other attackers to actually hold the ball in the opposition half, they should have enough to pull out a win over a Montreal side that has not been particularly high-powered offensively themselves. Of course, that mythical higher line has been for the most part an unrealized dream for the last couple years, so I’m not sure how likely it is to appear now.
Looking at the opposition, this is the first match for the Impact since returning from Orlando, where like both their Canadian counterparts they were eliminated in the Round of 16, losing 1-0 to eventual finalists Orlando. It was their third 1-0 match of the tournament, one of those a win and the other two losses, with their fourth match being a 4-3 defeat to Toronto.
Saphir Taïder has scored four goals in all competitions to lead the club, while Maxi Urruti (three) and Romell Quioto (two) are the only other players who have scored. The Impact are second-worst in MLS in shot attempts per game, only better than (you guessed it) the ‘Caps, so this has the potential to be either a trend-breaker for at least one of these teams, or a snooze-fest.
If the ‘Caps are to represent MLS in the Canadian Championship Final they will have to be close to perfect in their next four matches. That seems unlikely, so let’s settle for at least close to watchable…that might be more attainable. Hopefully.