Well, it’s been a wild few weeks for the Whitecaps, and the team’s very busy month of May will come to a close against cross-country rivals Toronto FC, in the final match before a three-week break. It will also put somewhat of a ceremonial bow on the “first half” of the season, as after Friday night (really, another Friday game?) the ‘Caps will have played 16 of their 34 MLS matches, and done so three months.
Friday has also been designated as the official night to fully celebrate the 1979 NASL Soccer Bowl Championship, the reason for this 40th anniversary season and the nice hoop jerseys. Sixteen members of that 1979 team will be recognized in a pre-kickoff ceremony, former head coach Tony Waiters will be inducted into the Whitecaps’ Ring of Honour, and you can meet with those aforementioned former players at the BC Sports Hall of Fame after the match, with all proceeds from that event going to Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart charity.
Of course, there is still a match to be played, and given the upcoming break – along with 15 being a nicely divisible number – I thought I’d break down the ‘Caps season into a few smaller chunks, and look at which way the team is trending.
First five matches (March 2nd – April 5th): 0-4-1, four goals for, nine goals against
The start of the season was pretty far from ideal. The ‘Caps only scored one goal from open play in a month’s worth of action, and the only good from this stretch (shutting out Seattle for the first point of the Marc Dos Santos era), was overshadowed by the bad (giving up three goals to both Minnesota and Houston, losing three straight to begin the season) and the ugly (questionable VAR decisions, the entire second half against the Galaxy).
I don’t want to add any more words about this stretch of games; let’s be glad we’ve moved past this Colorado Rapids-level of horribleness (though having said that, the Rapids have managed seven points from their last three matches).
Next five matches (April 12th – May 3rd): 2-1-2, six goals for, five goals against
A draw against Chicago – which included more VAR controversy – did not seem at the time like it would usher in an improved run of form, but the ‘Caps followed it up with their most impressive result of the season, a 1-0 home win against league-leaders LAFC. The ‘Caps are still the only team to have beaten the black-and-gold this year, which by transitive property means they are actually the best team in MLS…or at least I’m pretty sure that’s how that works.
Other notable moments from this stretch of games include David Ousted’s gift to Yordy Reyna to finally break the ‘Caps goal drought from open play, Inbeom Hwang’s first goal of the season (the winner against LAFC), Doneil Henry briefly leading the team in scoring after a header against Philadelphia, and Fredy Montero finally breaking out of his slump with a goal and an assist against Colorado, albeit in a performance marred by the fact that he helped concede two penalties.
The only loss came courtesy of a deflected 88th minute winner from Nani down in Orlando, but that match came at the end of an eight-day stretch where the ‘Caps played three matches and travelled nearly 10,000 miles. There have been a couple truly brutal road stretches already.
Last five matches (May 10th – May 25th): 2-1-2, six goals for, five goals against
Well, they have certainly been consistent over the last month-and-a-half. Also worth noticing is how the time span for each set of matches shrank over the last few months: five weeks for the first five, three weeks for the next five, two weeks for the last five.
This was a particularly gruelling stretch of games, as after the ‘Caps managed to hang on to a 1-0 win over Portland, they played four matches in eleven days, two of them on the east coast. Funnily enough, the only one they lost was the first of the bunch, which was also at home (a listless 1-0 defeat against Atlanta that harkened back to the Galaxy match), and the only one they won was the last one (against Dallas).
Notable moments: Portland managing 27 shot attempts with only five on target and no goals, Derek Cornelius’ stoppage-time volley to steal a point in Kansas City, receiving a penalty from VAR in New York, only giving up one penalty in five matches, looking competent in a three-at-the-back formation, and Ali Adnan’s fantastic goal against Dallas.
Overall, the ‘Caps seem to be trending in the right direction. A 4-2-4 record over their last ten matches is respectable (that same pace over a full season would have been good enough to make the playoffs last year), and I think we can all agree this team can still play better than they have lately. Marc Dos Santos has certainly begun to make his mark.
Looking at Friday’s match (finally), I wouldn’t be surprised if Dos Santos sticks with the same XI as last weekend, considering the team has finally had a chance to rest a little bit. The question marks are the health of two key players: Ali Adnan, who was taken off in the first half against Dallas for precautionary reasons, and Yordy Reyna, who has been out for just over a month.
Both Adnan and Reyna are back in training, and both should be options to see the field on Friday. Doneil Henry, Lass Bangoura, and Joaquín Ardaiz remain out, with Ardaiz’s absence perhaps giving Theo Bair another opportunity.
Looking at the visitors, May has not been kind to TFC. They are 1-4-1 this month, and have only scored one goal in their last three matches. One reason for the skid is the mini-slump new DP Alejandro Pozuelo is going through. After an other-worldly four goals and four assists in his first four matches, he has just one goal and one assist in his last six. Toronto also look set to be without Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio and Auro, as they are all listed as questionable due to various ailments.
Similar to the situation the Whitecaps saw themselves in against SKC, they are up against a team that is in a rough patch both on the field and in the medical bay. This is an opportunity they must take advantage of – especially considering they are at home – and three more points would be a very nice way to send the team into the Gold Cup break.