Match Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Minnesota United – when will the dam break?
After back-to-back scoreless draws the Whitecaps are clinging to a wildcard spot in the Western Conference as we move past the quarter-mark of the season. They are one of only three teams in the West with fewer than three losses, but the current inability to consistently get over the hump in matches has left the ‘Caps tied for 8th in the conference standings.
To be clear, not losing is a good thing! But when you hear the phrase “seven-match unbeaten run in MLS play”, you picture a little more than 11 points out of it. While the defence has been quite solid (now sitting at 410 minutes without conceding a goal), the offence has continued to not be able to get off the ground.
Advance metrics point to an amount of unluckiness for the ‘Caps, as FBref has them at third in the entire Western Conference in expected goals, which they have mightily underperformed. Brian White, for his part, is top three in the entire league in terms of expected goals underperformance.
Of course, goals are not scored on paper, but it does indicate that the ‘Caps are (usually) at least getting some chances when they play, they just haven’t been able to finish them. It makes selecting lineups a bit more difficult for Vanni Sartini, as he has to decide whether he feels the lack of goals in recent weeks has to do more with the overall process or with individual fortune in front of goal.
Sartini might have another option at his disposal quite soon, as Sergio Córdova is back in training after weeks on the sideline. The big striker was brought in precisely to solve the issues the ‘Caps are currently facing and will certainly get his shot once again to stake full claim to the #9 position when he is fit enough to do so.
At the back, Yohei Takaoka definitely deserves a shoutout. He saved a point by stopping Colorado’s penalty last weekend and has been named to the MLS Team of the Matchday two straight weeks. The ‘Caps current shutout streak is the fifth-longest such regular season streak in MLS in the last ten seasons, and if they make it to the 18th minute on Saturday night without conceding they’ll break the club’s MLS shutout streak record.
In the early stages of the season, I was quite skeptical of Tristan Blackmon being made a centre-back permanently in a back four, but I have to admit that he’s been quite solid in the role alongside Ranko Veselinović. The issue is that the ‘Caps have not been able to get consistent production from their fullbacks which has led to them being rotated through somewhat to begin this year.
Javain Brown started all but one match in April, but after a poor showing against the Rapids he could end up replaced by either Mathias Laborda or Ryan Raposo. The same goes for Luis Martins, with Ali Ahmed sliding to left back a real option with Alessandro Schöpf healthy once again.
This is a rematch from over a month ago, when the ‘Caps went into Minnesota in late March and stole a point off a 98th minute equalizer from Simon Becher. The lineup the Loons put out in that match was not representative of their full strength as they had half their regular starting lineup away on international duty.
Since these two teams last played each other, Minnesota has been on a bit of a slide down the standings, only picking up four points in their last five matches. That includes losing 2-1 in Chicago and 1-0 to Seattle in their last two trips away from home. The Loons are one of the lowest-scoring teams in the West but also one of the stingiest defensively, making them quite a similar profile to the team the ‘Caps just saw in Colorado. They’ve also averaged just 40% possession on the road this season.
Sartini has called this match a “must-win” for Vancouver. If the Whitecaps end up in a similar position to last weekend where Minnesota sets up shop and dares them to break them down, then we could maybe be in for another long night. Or maybe this will be the one where the floodgates open.