After what was hopefully a big confidence-boosting shellacking of Montreal on the weekend, the Whitecaps face what will be a much stiffer test in the form of LAFC in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
Just like in the first round the ‘Caps are hosting the first leg, which puts some real pressure on them to get a good results to start off the tie. Heading down to LA already behind the eight ball, in a stadium that has been a place of horrors for the club in the past, would certainly not be ideal. So, the ‘Caps need to be put their best foot forward here and surely will put out their best XI.
Who is part of that group? Well, there were two players who only made their first-ever MLS starts just a few days ago and yet if they were taken out of the lineup for this match most of the fanbase would be up in arms. The last time I wrote one of these previews (ahead of the Minnesota draw) was in the wake of the Sergio Córdova injury and I said: “Becher will surely get his chance to stake a claim for more minutes in the coming matches.”
Has he ever! A last gasp equalizer in Minnesota was followed up by a brace and an assist against Montreal and he was named the MLS Player of the Matchday (a horrific sounding name why did they change it from Player of the Week?!). Will Becher be able to keep up his streak of scoring in every match indefinitely? Well… I would hazard a guess that he won’t. But for a team that’s been starved for consistent offense it’s exciting to see someone actually stick the ball in the net multiple times.
Becher has also flashed some real chemistry with Brian White, and they combined very well on the first goal against Montreal which broke White’s goalless rut. If Ryan Gauld is back then an attacking trio of him, White and Becher is the likely group up top, as though White has had his struggles at times none of the other attackers have truly solidified a starting place over him.
In the midfield, the other first-time starter was Ali Ahmed as the wingback played as a #8 – a role he had experience playing from before he joined the ‘Caps academy a few years ago. Alessandro Schöpf’s injury opened the door and Ahmed certainly took it, grabbing a goal and an assist.
Given that Andrés Cubas and Julian Gressel both have their names in the team’s best XI written in sharpie, there’s only one midfield spot truly up for grabs when everyone is healthy (knocking on wood furiously). Will Ahmed be able to be as swashbuckling going forward against a more competent team? LAFC is certainly a much more dangerous beast but hopefully we’ll be able to see what the young Canadian can do against them.
At the back, the biggest question is whether it will be Luis Martins or Ryan Raposo starting. Raposo feels like he should have the inside track as he’d started five matches in a row before getting a rest against Montreal. Martins was solid on the weekend but it was truly hard not to be if you were wearing a blue jersey.
Looking at the visitors, LAFC are one of three MLS teams to not have suffered a loss so far this season, along with Minnesota and Cincinnati, and they hold a 3-0-2 record. They won both legs of their CCL first round tie as well, defeating Costa Rican side Alajuelense 5-1 on aggregate overall. This is their second-ever appearance in the CCL, finishing runners-up in their first go in 2020 when they fell to Tigres in the final.
The ‘Caps have – perhaps surprisingly – fared quite well against LAFC at home in their MLS history, winning four matches in a row against them here at BC Place, all by a score of either 2-1 or 1-0. The latest was a 1-0 victory last July when Cubas scored an 89th minute winner, to this point still his only goal for the club.
Of course, for all their success against the black and gold here in Vancouver, the Whitecaps are 0-4-2 on the road against LAFC all-time, outscored 20-7 in those matches. Those numbers aren’t pretty, showing how imperative it is to get a home win here in this first leg.