After a thrilling road win over LAFC, Vanni Sartini proclaimed that “no team in the league is better than us”. Since then, the Whitecaps have come crashing back down with two straight losses that have put them in danger of falling outside of the playoff places. Given that over half the teams in the league make the playoffs this season, failing to do so would be a massive disappointment considering the talent that the roster does have.
Of course, not all of that talent was available for those two losses to SKC and Seattle, and the ‘Caps will be left waiting to see whether either Andrés Cubas (just signed to a contract extension) or Ali Ahmed will be able to contribute Wednesday night against Austin FC. Julian Gressel and Javain Brown remain away as they both look to book a place in the Gold Cup Final.
Tristan Blackmon was only able to feature as a substitute against the Sounders, and the ‘Caps will desperately hope he is back to full fitness now as Mathias Laborda is suspended following a late red card on Saturday. Given who is available it seems like a sure thing that all of Blackmon, Ranko Veselinović, Luis Martins, and probably Ryan Raposo will feature at the back as either a four or part of a back three + wingbacks.
Ahmed could fill the role of a wingback if available, or we maybe see a more unorthodox option in either Ryan Gauld (playing the role he did against LAFC a few weeks back) or Levonte Johnson, who had an impressive first MLS start considering he did it in a bit of an unnatural position for him. He and Ahmed both want to constantly drive at opponents to try and make something happen which is a welcome sight for a team that in recent years has seemingly lacked attackers who want to take people on with the dribble, and he created a few chances against the Sounders from the wide position.
Gauld has continued to be the shining light in the attack this summer, with another two goal contributions on the weekend, including one where he and Brian White linked up perfectly off a Yohei Takaoka goal kick. That spot of the third forward has not been nailed down at any point this year, with any of Sergio Córdova, Pedro Vite or Simon Becher possibilities to start. I do also wonder if and when we’ll see a start for Déiber Caicedo at some point, as he’s not had one yet in MLS play this year and has only played more than 15 minutes in a match twice in the last two months.
Looking at the visitors, Austin are coming off a massive 4-1 road win over Minnesota which pushed them up into a tie for 5th in the West. They’re on a four-match unbeaten run and have picked up points in four of their last six road matches. These two sides played to a 0-0 draw in Texas back in April, and the ‘Caps have a good record against them overall: 3-1-1 since Austin joined MLS including 2-0 at BC Place.
After starting the season 5-1-2 at home, the ‘Caps have picked up just two points from their last three at BC Place. That absolutely has to change if they are to keep pace in the Western Conference standings, and taking on a team right above them in the standings makes this one a must-win if they are to stay in good standing heading towards the Leagues Cup break.