Order, or at least some semblance of normality, has been restored at BC Place following the first ever Vancouver Whitecaps victory at Toyota Park. The season-opening defeat to Toronto FC mounted questions of Carl Robinson’s side and many of which were answered with the first three points of the year. Saturday’s meeting with unbeaten expansion club Orlando City SC will present a different challenge entirely however, and has the makings of a fascinating match-up at the inevitably electric Citrus Bowl.
Vancouver head into this fixture on the back of a 1-0 win over Frank Yallop’s Chicago Fire with recently acquired designated player Octavio Rivero dispatching past Jon Busch in the 86th minute. Although it wasn’t reflected by the narrow score-line, the Caps poised a constant threat in transition and would likely have come out on top with far less uncertainty were it not for wasteful finishing in Bridgeview, Illinois. This inefficiency has seriously hindered the blue and white during their first two games of 2015 and will continue to do so unless something changes in this regard, but with the campaign so young there shouldn’t be a great degree of concern at this moment in time.
It’s tough not to be impressed with the way Orlando have begun life in Major League Soccer, following their 1-1 draw with NYCFC by seeing past Western Conference opposition in Houston Dynamo on the road last Friday. Pedro Ribeiro’s industry was rewarded with the winner as a spell of frenzy resulted in misfortune for Dynamo ‘keeper Tyler Deric who went on to punch the ball into the back of his own net. Kaka wasn’t able to replicate his heroics from his team’s inaugural MLS outing, but forced a superb save out of Deric with a sublime free-kick effort. Rafael Ramos made the MLS team of the week for his contribution in securing the clean sheet up against Brad Davis and DaMarcus Beasley, while also representing danger marauding forward down the right flank.
Octavio Rivero’s prolific start in North America
Head Coach Adrian Heath will need to be very wary of Rivero with his impact on the goal-scoring front as a Whitecap so immediate. He’s scored twice in as many appearances and also showed tremendous creative verbose against Chicago by setting up a game-high four chances for his team-mates. This translates into a frightening proposition for the rest of the league and similar production over the course of the ninety minutes in the Sunshine State would not come as a surprise. Aurelien Collin will have his hands full should he feature returning from suspension and will need to maintain complete discipline throughout the match if he hopes to improve on his OCSC debut in which he received his marching orders for a poorly timed challenge on David Villa late into the second half. Much will be expected from the 23-year-old Uruguayan as the term plays out and the nature of his display versus the Lions could prove decisive once again.
The Not So Irresistible Force vs The Somewhat Movable Object
Kendall Waston and Pa-Modou Kah improved on their underwhelming clash with Jozy Altidore against the Fire, but still struggled to convince in the manner fans would ideally hope for. This doesn’t mean that the partnership is dead in the water – chemistry doesn’t form overnight – yet the heart of the back-line remains a pretty glaring weakness for the time being. Fortunately, where Vancouver are concerned, Orlando’s options to lead the line are yet to convince either and it looks like time will have to pass before the solution presents itself. With that being said, the ginormous center-back pairing will perhaps face more problems from those playing around the #9 and Kevin Molino can easily be identified as someone to keep a close eye on. The USL’s reigning player of the year has picked up where he left off last campaign and wreak havoc the Caps unless approached with maximum tentitiveness. Carlos Rivas hasn’t quite developed the same rhythm to his game, hence the doubt surrounding the striking department, but can certainly punish lapses of concentration if presented with the opportunity to do so.
The Rise of Sam Adekugbe
The toll of the CBA negotiations coupled with a weak showing against Toronto have very possibly damned Jordan Harvey to the role of deputy at left-back after Sam Adekugbe’s fantastic game in the Windy City last week. Adekugbe is very much part of the new breed of MLS full-backs, an athletically gifted attacker as much as a calculated defender, and this breakthrough was always a matter of when and not if. Nonetheless, it’s happening right now and the pressure is on the Canadian international to fulfill the same effective presence down in Florida. Like Ramos from Orlando, Adekugbe was named to the team of the week and their battle down their wing on Saturday will be especially fun to watch. Make no mistake that Harvey will press hard for that place in the line-up though; hopefully Robbo can harness the best out of the new-found competition in terms of both progressing Sam and motivating Jordan over months to come.
Battle of the South Americans: Kaka vs Matias Laba
2007’s Ballon d’Or winner has locked horns with many talented defensive midfielders over his professional career and will face another fierce challenge in the form of Matias Laba. Laba is one of the elite players of his type in MLS and the Brazilian magician will not meet many as disruptive during his spell in North America. Sebastian Giovinco was for the most part nullified by the 23-year-old in the opener, albeit after the diminutive Italian put his Argentine opponent in a trance before assisting Altidore’s first competitive strike for the Reds. For the Caps it’s of paramount importance that Matias doesn’t afford masses of space to the former Galactico, but in doing so keeps his head and doesn’t give any unnecessitated dead ball opportunities to the Sao Paulo product where possible. It’s going to be intense and at times somewhat petrifying, however there’s no one in the league that I would rather have protecting the otherwise vulnerable back-line heading into this tie and into future.
Mauro Rosales sustained a right ankle injury at Toyota Park and will not make the long journey south this weekend. Andre Lewis is out indefinitely recovering an anterior cruciate ligament tear. Pedro Morales missed training on Tuesday with the flu, but soon returned to preparations and will be good to go according to Robbo. It became clear that illness affected his play in Chicago through his body language and sloppy finishing within the final third so here’s hoping the flight doesn’t yield similar consequences this time around.
Shot-stopper Tally Hall will not be at Heath’s disposal as he is also spending time on the sidelines with an ACL injury suffered in September of last year. Martin Paterson, a Northern Irish forward signed in the off-season from Huddersfield Town, will likely sit out the match with a groin strain. Cristian Higuita was absent from the Dynamo game with a groin problem too and has been forced to miss practice in the days following as a result of that. Rivas is a slight worry with hamstring struggles but his status at time of writing is unclear.
Predicted score-line: Orlando City SC 1-1 Whitecaps FC
Predicted line-up: Ousted; Beitashour, Waston, Kah, Adekugbe; Laba, Teibert; Mezquida, Morales, Manneh; Rivero