Match Preview: Sporting KC v Vancouver Whitecaps – can the ‘Caps stop firing blanks in open play?

Match Preview: Sporting KC v Vancouver Whitecaps – can the ‘Caps stop firing blanks in open play?

After a match where the Whitecaps struggled to create much of anything from open play yet beat Montreal 2-0, they followed it up with a match where they did create an okay number of chances from open play and got shutout by Minnesota.

That’s the kind of season it’s been to this point, surprising victories followed by annoying dud losses. It definitely felt like the ‘Caps should have at least grabbed a point against the Loons, but they were left to rue their missed chances and now sit at a very even 2-2-1 start.

Five matches played, five goals scored. Two penalties, two corners, and a free kick. Very far from awe-inspiring, and while the “zero open play goals” statistic has been beaten into the ground as a meme, it is a legitimate concern. At this point, the fact that the ‘Caps do not have a better record than they actually do is fully because of the attack.

Maxime Crépeau and the defenders in front of him are doing all they can, pitching two shutouts and only conceding four times total through five matches. On that side of the ball, the ‘Caps are doing as well as you could have hoped for them to do coming into the season. On the other side, the ‘Caps are decidedly not.

That’s not to say it’s been as eye-gougingly bad as it has been at times over the past few seasons. In fact, against Minnesota they looked – dare I say – fairly competent at times, besides that final bit of actually kicking the ball into the net.

A big part of that was the play of Caio Alexandre, who had his best appearance of the season, making quick decisions and playing some incisive passes. Unfortunately, it does not seem like he’ll be able to start on Sunday due to needing to manage his fitness levels, with the same going for Bruno Gaspar.

Added onto the list of likely absences is Andy Rose, who picked up an abductor injury on Wednesday which forced him off at halftime. This means that the ‘Caps look like they’ll make at least three changes to their starting line-up against SKC, after never making more than one game-to-game up to this point.

The most likely changes for Alexandre, Gaspar, and Rose are Michael Baldisimo, Jake Nerwinski, and Derek Cornelius, respectively. Nerwinski and Cornelius played off the bench on Wednesday, and for Cornelius especially this is a big opportunity for him if he gets the start Sunday. Glued to the bench in the early going, despite Érik Godoy being out the whole time, if he doesn’t impress now then the door could fully close on him again if Godoy is able to finally make it to full fitness.

In the midfield, Baldisimo is the best option the ‘Caps have to fill the role of deeper-lying playmaker that Alexandre has played. He’s shown some flashes these first few weeks, but hasn’t been able to put together a noticeably dominant performance. With the ‘Caps’ lack of offensive creativity apparent, Baldisimo stepping up his game is exactly what this team needs.

Up front, you’d have to imagine that rest will be coming soon for at least one of the three forwards. Ryan Raposo remains Marc Dos Santos’ favoured substitute attacker, so would seem to be the most likely to draw in, but he doesn’t fit as well in one of the two forward roles without a shift in strategy. Neither Theo Bair nor Tosaint Ricketts have featured yet, so it will be interesting to see how long that continues.

Looking at the hosts, SKC are also coming off a 1-0 Wednesday loss to Western Conference opposition, falling to Houston on the road despite out-shooting them 16-5. They’ve struggled a bit since an opening day win over NYRB, going 1-2-1 in their last four with the lone win coming against ten-man Austin FC.

This is the first meeting between these two sides since the MLS is Back Tournament last summer, where the ‘Caps were outshot 37-8, somehow kept it 0-0, but then lost in a shootout. SKC has been quite the bogey team in recent years, as the ‘Caps have not beaten them since May 20th, 2017 – almost exactly four years ago. They’ve also been outscored 17-3 by SKC in their head-to-head meetings over that span.

Can the Whitecaps reverse that honestly horrifying recent historical trend, or will they continue their start-stop beginning to 2021? Is Marc Dos Santos pulling his hair out at the thought of being forced to change his line-up? And will we ever see Ali Adnan again? All that and more, Sunday morning!

Authored by: Jake McGrail

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