As things stand the Whitecaps don’t look like a contender for a deep run in the MLS playoffs. They’re still within striking distance of the red line, but the loss to Chicago on the weekend – a truly dismal performance at times – shows that some of the lows are far from gone.
That makes Tuesday night’s Canadian Championship final even bigger than it already was, as the ‘Caps are one win away from capturing their first piece of silverware in years, booking a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League, and taking it to a rival in one fell swoop. The club has been promoting this match much harder than any other this year so there will hopefully be a strong crowd on hand as well.
Vanni Sartini’s lineup rotation against Chicago pointed to a prioritizing of Tuesday’s match, with Ryan Gauld, Andrés Cubas, Tristan Blackmon, and newcomer Julian Gressel all only playing 45 minutes, and Ranko Veselinović not playing at all. They all should be in the lineup from the off against Toronto, with the acquisition of Gressel made even more important after Marcus Godinho limped off the pitch in the second half on Saturday with an apparent groin injury.
If Godinho is indeed on the shelf that would stretch the ‘Caps wingback position even more thin, leaving just Gressel, Ryan Raposo, and Cristian Dájome as the realistic options for the two outside spots. Given Dájome’s large workload against the Fire, Gressel and Raposo could be the chosen pair for Tuesday.
At the back, the question of who will be the third centre-back next to Blackmon and Veselinović seems to be very much up in the air. None of the trio who started the last match covered themselves in glory, with Javain Brown taken out at halftime, while Érik Godoy was shaky the last time he made an appearance. My guess would be that Jake Nerwinski will be in the lineup, despite the fact that he’s had a number of shaky moments himself.
We’ve seen much more of the trio of Gauld, Lucas Cavallini, and Brian White up top together in recent weeks, including the three of them starting just over a week ago against Portland, and we could very well see that again against Toronto. Dájome and Pedro Vite are also options but given that Gauld and White are the most rested of the main forward corps, and Cavallini has been the club’s top goal threat this year, I can see Sartini rolling with that trio.
Having both Cavallini and White out there provides good aerial threat should the ‘Caps manage to actually get some decent possession in the attacking third, with Gauld and Gressel especially having the quality to get some great balls into the box. In the match against Portland Gauld played quite centrally and sometimes pushed furthest forward of anyone on the ‘Caps, having him drop back a little more to try and get on the ball in the build-up could maybe work well.
Looking at the visitors, Toronto FC made it to the final off the back of a 2-1 road win in Halifax then a 4-0 drubbing of Montreal at home. It’s been a rough year overall so far for the Reds as they hold the third-worst record in MLS, but things now might be looking up with their big new signings in the fold.
Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi both made their debuts on the weekend against Charlotte FC and contributed to a big 4-0 victory. They combine with Jesús Jiménez to form a formidable front three, with the newly signed Mark-Anthony Kaye likely to start alongside fellow Canadian international Jonathan Osorio and the ever-present Michael Bradley in the midfield.
Both of these two teams have shipped plenty of goals this season, which could indicate we’re in for a higher-scoring affair. But having said that, you’d also expect both sides to come into this match with some extra caution due to the stakes. With the roof open, a good crowd, and high stakes, the stage is set for an interesting night. Let’s hope it’s memorable for the right reasons.