539 days. That’s exactly how many days it’s been since fans were allowed in the stands to watch a match at BC Place. It’s been 338 days since there was a match at BC Place at all! Utah, Oregon, Disneyworld, all of them have been a quasi-home, but it obviously can’t compare to the real thing.
Saturday night, the ‘Caps take to the pitch at home once again, to take on an LAFC side they held to a 2-2 draw in California last month. This is the beginning of a stretch of four straight home matches for the ‘Caps, something they’re surely itching for.
Of course, that doesn’t count the Canadian Championship match against Pacific FC coming up on Thursday, but for MLS play the point stands and heading to the island is as short of a road trip as the ‘Caps will ever get anyway.
Sticking to Saturday, the ‘Caps have had new life breathed into them after a come-from-behind 2-1 road win over Austin midweek. They’ve finally breached the 1 PPG mark with 20 points from their 19 matches, scintillating form that now somehow has them only six points out of a playoff spot with two games in hand on San Jose, who now fill that last postseason berth.
LAFC are one of those teams just ahead of them in the standings, and this four-match homestand includes them, Salt Lake, Austin, and Portland, four teams either currently outside or just barely inside the playoff picture. With all these matches coming up against teams the ‘Caps have to pass in the standings, all points won and lost over these next few weeks are massive.
When I said above that the ‘Caps had new life breathed into them, most of that stemmed from Ryan Gauld, who came in at halftime against Austin and completely changed the game. He has definitely shown flashes of the quality that he’s been hyped up for, and if the ‘Caps are to make an actual push of some kind it’ll be with the Scotsman carrying a good amount of the load.
If Gauld is able to start on Saturday (fingers crossed, but by no means a guarantee), the question is who joins him and Janio Bikel in the midfield, with Bikel being the one undroppable player in the middle of the park this year. Caio Alexandre might be sidelined, but there are still a few options as to who that third starter might be.
Showing my infinite wisdom, in my last preview (before the San Jose match) I wrote that Bikel’s recent emergence in more of a number eight role meant that Michael Baldisimo was the most likely player to slide into the line-up after his brief suspension. Marc Dos Santos then immediately dropped Bikel back into the number six role these last two matches, with Russell Teibert and Leonard Owusu in front of him.
Those three (Baldisimo, Teibert, and Owusu) are all options to start, with the latter two keeping Bikel back in the deepest position and Baldisimo giving him more license to push forward. The status of Owusu is honestly fascinating as he went from basically never playing at all to starting back-to-back matches and looking generally alright during them. Is that enough to keep his place? Hard to tell given how often things are switched around with this team.
The forward group is at least pretty predictable, as both Cristian Dájome and Déiber Caicedo have been ever-present in the starting XI when fit. The lack of strong striker options means that Brian White will surely keep his spot up top, especially after finally getting a second goal, and the match winner, in Texas.
At the back, it’s again mostly a question of health in terms of team selection. Érik Godoy will still certainly be on the shelf, Cristian Gutiérrez will hopefully be back soon, but this game will likely be too soon leaving Jake Nerwinski in at left back and Javain Brown on the right. Ranko Veselinović and Andy Rose are the most obvious centre-back pairing.
Looking at the visitors, LAFC are on quite the skid. They’re coming off a 1-0 loss to Atlanta, have lost 3 straight and have only two points from their last six matches, a rut that has seen them drop out of the playoff places altogether. They still certainly have the talent to be much better than they are at the moment, but MLS is quite the fickle league and success can sometimes be more fleeting than it looks like it might be on paper.
The ‘Caps’ horror-show history at times at Banc of California Stadium is well-documented, but they’ve actually been solid against the LA outfit at home in their brief MLS history together. The ‘Caps are 2-1 at home in the last few years against LAFC, including the very first win of the Dos Santos era in April of 2019.
The Whitecaps, shockingly, have just one loss in their last 10 matches. Of course, seven of those are draws, but not losing is the first step towards not being terrible and it’s something the club has definitely struggled with in recent years. Any string of wins, no matter how small, could be enough to vault the ‘Caps over a couple more teams in the standings, and with a real, live crowd behind them, maybe it could happen.