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Preview: Close The Curtain Already

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Can we just end this season and get into the post-season? Preferably with three points in the bag to avoid playing at CenturyLink Field for as long as possible?

Tackle him! Please! Someone! Anyone!
Tackle him! Please! Someone! Anyone!
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO
October 25th, 7pm at BC Place (TSN2, MLS Live, ESPN3)

Vancouver: 50pts (15W-13L-5D, 3rd in Western Conference, 5th Overall)
Houston: 42pts (11W-13L-9D, 8th in Western Conference, 15th Overall)

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If you'd told me in February the 'Caps would enter the final regular season game in 3rd place, needing a win (and a little help) to grab a bye into the conference semifinals, I'd be over the moon. Add in the sweetener that the match is against a Houston team mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and the (pointless) stat that in the history of Dynamo-vs.-Whitecaps the home team has won every match, and I'm off to my nearest bookie to bet my first-born child's soul for a tidy profit. (Joke's on the devil: I don't have a first-born child and if I did, it damn sure wouldn't have a soul!)

Now, had you told me that and withheld certain details - a winless streak, a scoring slump, an injury crisis - I might be a wee bit peeved come late October. We should be celebrating a clinched playoff spot that doesn't require a miracle set piece on the final day. Instead, supporter land is in full agonizing and hand-wringing mode about the state of the once-mighty Whitecaps. Where are the smash-and-grab masters of the road trip? Where did those jaw-dropping miracle set pieces go? With our playmaking corps on the shelf, who slots into the #10 role (Marco Bustos) to make the magic happen? Is there a single player left on this team (Marco Bustos) who has the ability and potential to change a game by merely existing (Marco Bustos)? If you're a believer in karma, this year's "five cup finals" could very well be payback for last year's run to the playoffs. The difference here is that the 'Caps can afford to drop games like loose change. The playoff spot is booked and nothing can chance that; true, everyone and their dog wants that coveted home playoff game but be careful what you wish for. Playoff heartbreak is less of a gut punch when you don't have to watch it live. Would the Miller/Robson whiff have been easier to stomach at BC PlaceWould we have accepted Mark Geiger's "handball" call had we seen it with our own eyes? Of course not. Should the worst-case scenario happen and Vancouver fall all the way to 6th place, earning themselves a play-in match against Seattle in Seattle, it's not the end of the world. It's just really, really, really, really, bad.

Let's bring our focus back on this finale against Houston. A couple of tweets linked in Matt "The Armchair Analyst" Doyle's weekend preview caught my eye:
"xG", or, "Expected Goals", is a metric loosely defined as "goals scored or conceded based on shot type, assist type and shot location, speed of attack and a few more factors". (You can get an in-depth breakdown here.) Ignoring the author's focus on the New York Red Bulls, take a gander at where Vancouver falls on those scales: tied with the likes of LA Galaxy, the Portland Timbers and New York City FC on the offensive end at 1.1xG/game and tied with the San Jose Earthquakes at under 1.0xG/game. We've been singing the praises of David Ousted all season long for good reason; it turns out he's been getting a world of help from his backline (by which I mean Kendall Waston and Tim Parker) to limit those game-winning chances to one or fewer per game. Plus, despite the well-documented scoring woes in Upper Cascadia, the 'Caps are still finding slightly more then an expected goal per game. Feel free to make a snarky comment about woeful finishing here. Or, heck, why don't I just do it with some stats of my own:

Player Games Minutes Goals Shots G/90' SC%
Octavio Rivero 33 2645 10 99 0.34 10.1%
Cristian Techera 21 1497 7 37 0.42 18.9%
Kekuta Manneh 31 2339 6 81 0.23 7.4%
Pedro Morales 23 1429 6 43 0.38 14.0%
Darren Mattocks 22 848 3 25 0.32 12.0%
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Will Bruin 32 2324 11 49 0.43 22.4%
Ricardo Clark 29 2483 8 58 0.29 13.8%
Giles Barnes 27 2385 7 72 0.26 9.7%
Brad Davis 30 2596 4 45 0.14 8.9%
Boniek Garcia 22 1433 3 7 0.19 42.9%

Just for fun: the top three scoring percentage (a.k.a. finishing) rates on the Whitecaps belong to Kianz Froese (1/5, 20%), Pa Modou Kah (3/6, 50%) and Robert Earnshaw (1/1, 100%). Earnie's also on a blistering 2.14 G/90' pace, which is not at all inflated by an inadequate sample size!

My point is this: Houston have nothing to play for but pride and, as you saw in those charts earlier from Todd Kingston, have the second-worst xG/game in Major League Soccer. As good as Will Bruin has been this season, I don't expect him or any Dynamo player to suddenly find their scoring boots and launch a fusillade of goal-bound rockets past Ousted. Still, that doesn't count for bupkis if Vancouver can't get somebody - anybody - a clear look at goal in hopes that the sub-20% finishing rate brigade can convert. Aside from a healthy player pool, the biggest thing Vancouver needs going into its third MLS post-season is confidence. A goal or two in their favour would make a world of difference in that respect. With the Waston-Parker backline reunited for the finale on the backline, even a single goal might be all the 'Caps need to secure all three points on Sunday.

Just try not to freak out too hard if Erick Torres goes full Cubo on us and scores not just his first MLS goal of the season but a hat-trick because why not.

Let's just close the curtain on this season, slog through a playoff game or two and stitch the walking wounded back together through the winter. 2016, anyone?

PREDICTION: 1-0 'Caps and a massive sigh of relief around Vancouver soccer circles.