It’s been three weeks since the Whitecaps’ disappointing 1-1 draw against Toronto FC, and it is now time for the second half of the MLS season to get underway. The ‘Caps currently sit 9th in the Western Conference; just one point back of a playoff spot but only four points above last place. The line between postseason dreams and abject hopelessness is a thin one at the moment.
Despite all the gloom that has surrounded the ‘Caps this season, most of the conference is close enough together that any run of good results will see them leapfrog a solid number of teams. They’ll look to kick off some sort of run at home tonight against the Rapids, who they beat 3-2 on the road back at the start of May.
Now, despite that previous result the ‘Caps will have to be very wary, because Colorado has – shockingly – been actually-pretty-good over the last month or so. A week after their loss to the ‘Caps, the Rapids lost 3-2 to Real Salt Lake, putting them at a miserable 0-9-2, the worst start in MLS history. Since then, they are 4-0-1, including wins over two teams currently in playoff positions (LA Galaxy and Minnesota).
If there’s one thing MLS shows us year after year, it’s that any team can come back from the dead, and a good summer run can be all you need to catapult you to the playoffs and even all the way to the MLS Cup. Keep that in mind if you’re despairing over the ‘Caps season so far, especially with the summer transfer window coming up. Fortunes in this league can change rather quickly.
With that said, the ‘Caps will be shorthanded for tonight’s match due to international call-ups. The Canadian quartet of Maxime Crépeau, Doneil Henry, Derek Cornelius and Russell Teibert are all at the Gold Cup, with the three outfield players all starting at least one of Canada’s two matches so far. Up front, Lass Bangoura is a late addition to Guinea’s squad for the Africa Cup of Nations, and he will miss at least three matches.
These call-ups hurt the ‘Caps the most at the back. Zac MacMath is a perfectly capable fill-in for Crépeau, but centre-back is looking quite thin at the moment. Henry and Cornelius’ absences combined with the fact that Jasser Khmiri is still yet to appear means that Érik Godoy and SuperDraft pick Brendan McDonough are the only healthy central defenders currently available.
If Marc Dos Santos doesn’t quite trust McDonough, he could continue to play Andy Rose at centre-back, though asking the midfielder to play that role in a three-man backline is a bit of an easier ask than if he were to play with just Godoy beside him. Whatever the choice, the Argentine will have either an inexperienced partner, or an experienced one who is inexperienced at that particular position.
This means the ‘Caps’ fullbacks will have to step up their game defensively to help out. Ali Adnan is a lock to start on the left, and we now have to hope that he’ll end up sticking around past just the next week-and-a-half. Jake Nerwinski and Scott Sutter have split the last four starts, and it’s a guessing game as to who will man the right side of the defence.
In the midfield, we will more than likely see the familiar trio of Jon Erice, Inbeom Hwang, and Felipe, a group that has been decidedly mediocre in terms of providing offensive punch. They’ll likely be in behind a front three of Fredy Montero, Yordy Reyna, and Lucas Venuto, with Joaquin Ardaiz still out injured, unless Dos Santos throws a curveball and decides to start PC or maybe even Theo Bair.
You know it’s been a struggle when the front six is both fairly straight-forward to pick and far from awe-inspiring. The ‘Caps have been very predictable in their routine lack of consistent goal-scoring threat – they’ve only scored twice in a match two times in the last three months, and have only one three-goal game this season. The good news is that said three-goal outburst came against Colorado, so maybe Tim Howard and the gang is exactly what the ‘Caps need to see.
Looking at the visitors, the Rapids are 4-2-1 in MLS play under interim manager Conor Casey, though they are coming off a disappointing penalty shootout loss to USL side New Mexico United in the US Open Cup last week. The big turnaround for them has been their defence: they’ve conceded an MLS-worst 34 goals, but only four in their last five matches, quite a change from the team that was getting pumped for 3+ regularly before the firing of Anthony Hudson.
The Rapids’ two former ‘Caps have done well for themselves so far this season: Kei Kamara leads the team with eight goals (though he has only one in his last five starts), while Nicolás Mezquida has settled into the role of impact substitute, with two goals in his last 148 minutes of action. Midfielder Jack Price has an assist in each of his last three starts, all of them Colorado victories.
The Whitecaps players who are still in town have had some time to recuperate after a very busy month of May, but the summer isn’t going to be any less forgiving, especially with a clash against CPL pace-setters Cavalry FC just on the horizon. If this season is to end with playoff action, that push must begin now. Let’s see what this team can do.