The Whitecaps’ topsy turvy 2023 continued last week as they followed up their big win on the road at Pacific FC by throwing away points in St. Louis with some bad defensive miscues. After a match that caused Vanni Sartini to absolutely unload on the officials afterwards and multiple ‘Caps players receiving fines for mass confrontation of the man in the middle, they’re back in the safe confines of BC Place!
It’s a long homestand ahead too, as the ‘Caps wrap up their extremely busy month-long stretch with four matches in a row at home – three in MLS play as well as the Canadian Championship final next week.
First up is a clash with Houston, one of the many teams Vancouver is currently jockeying with in the middle of the standings. So far this season the ‘Caps have taken 14 of a possible 21 points at home, and haven’t lost there since opening day.
One thing the performance in St. Louis did seem to confirm is that Yohei Takaoka is not going to be challenged for his spot as the team’s number one goalie. Thomas Hasal was dealt a tough hand having to go in cold on the road against a good team, but also didn’t do himself any favours with the goals that were conceded.
Sartini said Hasal will get some time with WFC2 which is good, as he’s now at the age where he really needs to be getting some regular playing time somewhere and it’s not going to be with the first team at the moment. Takaoka has been a steady presence at the back and so far has been worth the investment of using an international spot on a goalkeeper – something only six teams currently have.
Mathias Laborda was the defender unlucky to be replaced in the starting line-up on the weekend by the returning Ranko Veselinović, and he continues to occupy an awkward position in the squad as he’s Sartini’s third-choice centre-back on a team that usually plays with just two, and while he can play right-back he’s not been as effective there.
Could Tristan Blackmon’s own goal be a reason for Laborda to receive a start in his place? Blackmon may be due for a rest soon anyway as he’s started six times in the last three and a half weeks, and there’s still another four matches to play in an 11-day span. The same goes for Javain Brown who has started seven MLS matches in a row and played most of the match against Pacific as well due to the injury to Ali Ahmed.
Andrés Cubas should be ready to go after only playing 25 minutes on Saturday, while Julian Gressel is one of only two ‘Caps who have played in every MLS match so far (the other, perhaps surprisingly, is Pedro Vite who has appeared in every match in all competitions). Ahmed’s absence means the door is open for either Alessandro Schöpf or Sebastian Berhalter to stake a claim for increased minutes in the middle of the park.
Up front, Sergio Córdova continues to misfire as he’s now reached 509 minutes of play in all competitions without a single goal contribution. For reference, Mustapha Jarju’s Whitecaps career ended with 0 goals and 0 assists in a mere 450 minutes. With RSL last season he averaged a goal contribution around every 230 minutes or so, still not an eye-popping tally but he has scored goals in this league before. He’s just not been able to find any sort of form here while Brian White and Simon Becher have managed to knock in seven goals each. How many starts will Córdova get to try and finally unlock him? We’ll have to see.
Looking at the visitors, Houston is coming off a big 2-1 home win over rivals Austin on the weekend which bumped them up to 7th in the West, just a single point ahead of the ‘Caps. The Dynamo have been dominant at home but are winless on the road this season with just two points taken away from home.
Mexican international Hector Herrera and former Columbus Crew stalwart Artur patrol the middle of the park for Houston while forward Amine Bassi leads the line with five goals scored so far this season. The Dynamo have conceded the third-fewest goals in the league (12), but their rate is much higher on the road – 1.7 goals conceded per match compared to a paltry 0.3 at home.
Really, the Whitecaps are playing a team with a quite similar profile to them: picking up nearly all their points at home and struggling mightily on the road. That kind of tonic is exactly what the ‘Caps are looking for Wednesday night, as they try and get on track ahead of the big final in a week’s time.