It’s been a few weeks since I wrote one of these previews, and in that time the Whitecaps managed to grab two whole wins! After a two-month, 10-match winless run that seemed like it would never end, both FC Cincinnati and DC United were felled by the ‘Caps – albeit with a 3-1 loss to Portland sandwiched in between.
Still, progress is progress, and the ‘Caps looked actually-not-terrible for a decent chunk of the last few matches. They’re still not controlling the game for the most part (even in the ones they won), but any positives are happily welcome in these trying times. Next up is a three-game week, two of them on the road, which will be a good test to see whether the last few weeks are merely a blip or a sign of sustainable improvement.
They’ll start with a road clash with San Jose, who ran the ‘Caps off the field in a 3-1 romp at BC Place last month, one of the many dark moments of that winless stretch. The ‘Caps have only won twice on the road all year (against fellow cellar-dwellers Colorado and Cincinnati), so if they can pull off the upset on Saturday that would be a huge boost for the club as they try to end this season with something to build on over the winter.
The last couple matches have seen a shift to a narrow-ish 4-3-2-1 formation, with Fredy Montero and Theo Bair in the wide forward roles and Yordy Reyna at the top of the Christmas tree as the centre striker. Those three have led the line partly due to lack of quality options: Lass Bangoura has been on the shelf, and while Joaquín Ardaiz started against Cincinnati due to a minor Reyna injury, he did nothing and has been put squarely back on the bench since.
Marc Dos Santos will now have more options at his disposal, however, as Bangoura is back in training, Tosaint Ricketts saw his first action off the bench against DC, and our other new signing Michaell Chirinos has finally sorted out his paperwork and has joined up with the team. You’d hope that Chirinos will figure into the starting line-up at some point soon, so the question is who he will replace. Reyna is the one who surely has to stay in, as he’s the only player besides Doneil Henry who’s scored more than two non-penalty goals this year (that was a really sad sentence to type).
That leaves Montero (struggling big-money DP) and Bair (young with potential). Given that these last couple months should be about building for the future – and with his wondergoal against Portland still somewhat fresh in the mind – Bair seems like the obvious choice to stick with, but we’ll have to see what Dos Santos chooses to do. He’s at least shown that he isn’t afraid to bench veterans with hefty price tags (see Erice, Jon).
Speaking of Erice, he hasn’t seen the field since that 3-1 loss to San Jose. He’s been stapled to the bench since Inbeom Hwang took over the number six role, and the team’s (and Hwang’s) slow improvement of play since the switch means the writing might be on the wall for Erice’s potentially short stint in Vancouver. If the ‘Caps decide Hwang is the present and future of that holding midfield role, then it would be stupid to keep a 32-year-old TAM player who only plays that same position. As things stand, I can’t see the Spaniard sticking around past December.
If Erice does leave, he won’t be the first midfielder out the door, as Felipe was shipped to DC United a couple weeks ago – ironically immediately after he scored the winner against Cincinnati. The timing seemed very sudden, but the ‘Caps must have been eager to get out from under his guaranteed contract for next season (which they signed him to seven months ago). His departure has seen Andy Rose slide back into the starting line-up alongside Hwang and Russell Teibert, where the big Englishman has continued to kind-of-do-stuff-but-not-really.
At the back, Henry has recovered from his recent injury but has been blocked from re-entering the starting XI by fellow Canadian Derek Cornelius. Cornelius and Godoy have formed a reasonably solid partnership in the centre of defence, which has meant the only game-time Henry has seen the last three matches was when Jake Nerwinski picked up a knock last weekend. Shifting Godoy to right-back to bring in Henry instead of Scott Sutter was a move that baffled me a bit watching live, but it worked. Godoy missed training on Thursday due to some tightness, so may get that much needed rest for this one.
That odd substitution also meant that the ‘Caps set a new club record with six Canadians on the field at the same time, with Maxime Crépeau, Henry, Cornelius, Teibert, Ricketts, and Bair closing the match. It’s definitely a cool milestone for the club, and we’ll have to see if they’re able to push that number higher at some point in the future.
Looking at the hosts, the ‘Caps might be catching San Jose at the right time, as the Quakes have hit a bit of a slide. Since beating the ‘Caps last month they are 1-3-1, and lost all three of their just-finished three-game road trip: a pair of 2-1 losses to Colorado and Sporting KC and a 4-0 thumping Wednesday night at the hands of LAFC that saw manager Matias Almeyda ejected.
The seemingly ageless wonder Chris Wondolowski leads the team in goals once again, and has extended his own MLS record by scoring 10+ goals for an incredible 10th straight season. He’s the first man to reach 150 career MLS goals, and found the net against the ‘Caps the last time out. The Quakes have the leakiest defence of any Western Conference team currently in a playoff spot, but they’ve managed enough goals from Wondo, Valeri Qazaishvili, and others to stay in the top-six as things stand.
It’s been a trying couple of months, and a trying season as a whole for the Whitecaps. As Dos Santos said after the match last weekend, “Life sometimes sucks, and it sucked for us for a while, but we bounced back.” We’ll see if the ‘Caps have any upward trajectory in them, or if we’re going to see them bounce right back down.