Well, for about a half of play last weekend the Whitecaps looked like a new team! Then, they looked like an all-too familiar team and lost a match they definitely should not have lost to open up 2023. With the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 tie looming midweek, the ‘Caps need to pick up a point or three to get some mojo going to start this season.
The positives from opening day included the midfield trio, who for the most part did their job quite well, especially in the first half. Andrés Cubas was his usual destructive self, Julian Gressel provided a spark often historically lacking in ‘Caps’ midfield groupings, and Alessandro Schöpf showed better than he did in his appearances last season. I would be surprised if Vanni Sartini makes a change in that area.
Where changes are more likely to be made are at the back and up front. Mathias Laborda riding the bench against RSL was a surprising decision, and he’ll surely have to figure into the starting lineup this week whether Saturday or Wednesday. He could slide in for either Luis Martins or Javain Brown, with Ryan Raposo and Ali Ahmed also options to fill in on the outside (although I will remain skeptical of the Raposo at fullback experiment until I’m proven wrong).
Up front, Brian White was not able to get anything going – not the performance he would have wanted with Sergio Córdova ready to jump into the starting XI as the new DP signing. Pedro Vite is another likely candidate to receive a start, especially as the ‘Caps improved somewhat late on after he and others were substituted on.
In terms of the overall balance of play last weekend, the ‘Caps definitely looked better in the box score than they did many times last season. They had more possession, more shots, and more set piece opportunities than RSL, and had a slight edge in the xG. Now, RSL are not titans in the Western Conference but in terms of positives to glean there are some available.
What needs to improve is the ruthlessness in the final third. The ‘Caps were quick to spring counterattacks and got the ball up the field with numbers on a few occasions only for those attacks to fizzle out without too great of a scoring chance at the end of it.
Given that San Jose conceded the most goals in the West by a large margin last season, a trip down south for a third wheel rivalry clash could be what the ‘Caps need to get that offense more unglued. The Quakes’ first match under new manager Luchi Gonzalez was a heartbreaking 2-1 loss on the road in Atlanta last Saturday, where the hosts scored twice in injury time to steal all the points.
The Quakes’ offseason additions include former ‘Cap Michael Baldisimo, who made his first appearance for San Jose off the bench last weekend. With other central midfielders Judson and Niko Tsakiris out injured, Baldisimo could feature against his former side on Saturday. Centre-back Nathan is also hurt.
Jeremy Ebobisse scored the lone goal for San Jose on opening day. He led them with 17 goals last season, more than double anyone else on the team. The Quakes were involved in plenty of high-scoring matches last season, as their matches averaged 3.6 goals for the two teams combined, compared to 2.8 for Vancouver.
The Whitecaps haven’t gotten off to an 0-2 start in a season since 2019 when they lost each of their first three matches. The MLS season is long, but the ‘Caps don’t have the benefit of the doubt when it comes to being able to successfully turn around slow starts (hello, Seattle). So, let’s hope that they can get their feet under them here!