Well, who would have guessed a 1-0 win over Portland to begin the season? Certainly not me, especially when three of the four presumptive first-choice defenders were unavailable. It was far from a dominant performance, but three points is three points, and anything the Whitecaps can get out of this early going while they try to get everyone integrated is good thing.
Speaking of getting everyone integrated, we are now officially on the road towards Caio Alexandre and Bruno Gaspar making their ‘Caps debuts, as they are both now in full training. Does that mean they’ll start on Saturday against Toronto? I wouldn’t bet on it. But hopefully they will both be at least on the bench, and able to feature should they be called upon.
And Marc Dos Santos will probably turn to his bench much earlier this weekend than he did against the Timbers, where there was not a sub made until stoppage time. Given that they will be playing in Orlando, with current a current predicted temperature of just below 30 degrees at the time they will kick off, you would have to imagine the ‘Caps will look to take advantage of the fact that they can still make five subs.
When it comes to what the starters would be, don’t be surprised if it is an unchanged line-up from last Sunday. For one, they won the match! So it would make sense in that regard to reward the players who put that shift in. Also, with Érik Godoy, Ali Adnan, Leonard Owusu, and potentially Derek Cornelius all still out, options are still somewhat limited if Alexandre and Gaspar aren’t quite ready to be in the XI just yet.
Of everyone in that supposed XI, the two who likely have the most to gain from these early minutes are Michael Baldisimo and Cristián Gutiérrez. Nearly all the others are either more locked in as regular starters (like Maxime Crépeau, Lucas Cavallini, and Cristian Dájome), or are MLS vets who we know more or less what they’ll bring (like Andy Rose, Jake Nerwinski, and Russell Teibert), while those two that I mentioned are both looking to carve out a bigger role for themselves in the squad.
Baldisimo has struggled to find minutes since he signed with the first team a couple of years ago, with the season opener being only his eighth career start, and only the fourth time he’s gone the full 90 minutes. He likely would not have gotten this current opportunity if Alexandre and/or Owusu had been available, and was decent if not spectacular against Portland. If he gets the nod once again against Toronto, he will probably have to wow if he is to keep starting in the weeks to come, or he could quickly find himself on the bench again once all the midfield options are available.
Gutiérrez certainly did turn some heads with his performance against the Timbers, as he assisted Cavallini’s goal and was named to the MLS Team of the Week. He really began to come on at the end of last year, starting three of the final four matches and recording three assists in them, and Adnan still being stuck in Vancouver has given him the opportunity to stake a claim to the starting left-back role.
If Gutiérrez continues to play like he did last week, then Dos Santos will have a bit of a conundrum on his hands. Adnan – on a big ticket and one of the ‘Caps most important players the last two years – surely can’t regularly be on the bench. But Gutiérrez has shown he can be much more than just a little-used deputy.
What the solution to that is can be decided later, once Adnan is actually able to join the team, and for now Gutiérrez should continue to receive big minutes and the chance to impress not only Dos Santos, but also John Herdman, who invited the dual citizen to the last Team Canada camp, though Gutiérrez did not feature in either World Cup Qualifier. He is obviously now on the radar though.
Looking at the hosts who are also playing away from home, Toronto FC started off April in a big way by knocking out defending Liga MX champions Club León in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16. However, they then named the exact same starting line-up for their MLS opener against Montreal just three days after the second leg, and were promptly run off the field in a 4-2 loss.
The reason for the unchanging line-up is that Toronto is dealing with even more unavailable players than the ‘Caps are, with Alejandro Pozuelo, Jonathan Osorio, Chris Mavinga, Jozy Altidore and Ayo Akinola all among the eight players who were unavailable against Montreal. This has opened the door to young players like Noble Okello, Luke Singh, and Ralph Priso, who like Baldisimo and Gutiérrez on the ‘Caps, are looking to establish a regular role for themselves.
When it comes to what we can expect from this match, it’s difficult to say. Toronto was run ragged last weekend, but with a week to recuperate they could be back to the form that beat León. For the Whitecaps, we’ll have to see whether the defensive solidity they showed last weekend was repeatable, and whether they can muster up enough offensive chances to snatch a road win. Of course, you can look at it as both these squads playing all road matches this year, but that’s the nature of this season. We’ll see which side can make better out of a bad situation.