The Vancouver Whitecaps are playing away to an Eastern Conference foe for the first time in 2016, as D.C. United plays host for the teams' one and only meeting this season. Despite being undefeated in three games, the Whitecaps are looking to leave town with their third win of the season, against a United squad still looking for their first.
Where: RFK Stadium, Washington, DC
When: Saturday, April 9th at 2:30 pm PST
Where to watch/listen: TSN1 (TV), Team 1410 (Radio)
A little less than a year ago the Whitecaps and D.C. United met at B.C. Place, with D.C. taking the spoils in a 2-1 victory. An early Pedro Morales tally for the 'Caps was quickly equalized by Bobby Boswell, while Chris Rolfe volleyed the winner midway through the second half.
Aside from the teams again facing each other in April and Morales leading on the score sheet, there's one other major similarity shared between the 2015 & 2016 Whitecaps: someone got a red card! In this case, it was a second yellow for Matías Laba for a professional foul on a D.C. United counterattack.
Speaking of Laba, guess who won't be available tomorrow? As if we all didn't know already.
Nevertheless, Laba will be serving a one-game suspension for his tackle on Mike Magee last week. But aside from the now seemingly commonplace suspensions, there are some injuries of note as well.
Earlier this week, the Whitecaps addressed injuries sustained by Morales and Kekuta Manneh during last weekend's match. Manneh was back in training already, so he may be ready to go on Saturday, but its been noted that Morales wasn't even expected to go to DC prior to Saturday's injury.
Who's Worth Watching?
Though the whole bevy of international call-ups (Christian Bolanos, Tim Parker, Blas Perez, and Kendall Waston) should all be back in action, and we may finally get to see the Perez and Octavio Rivero mash-up we've all been waiting for, I have a feeling we'll finally get to see Russell Teibert for the first time this season.
With Morales gone, Laba suspended, and Kianz Froese coming off his own injury, this may be the time that Teibert slots back in to the starting eleven. Sure, you can make the argument that he needs to be "eased back in from injury," but Froese is coming back from concussion protocol and Deybi Flores has looked, um, spotty. My guess is Teibert, champing at the bit, will pair up with Andrew Jacobson and take over the #4 spot from Laba with aplomb.
As for DC United, I'm keeping my eye on Nick DeLeon. I was inclined to say Lamar Neagle (leads the team in SOG, and as a Sounder always seemed to have a sixth-gear reserved for Vancouver), but the eye-test over the past couple of years tells me DeLeon has continued to grow into a greater threat. He's able to play on the wing as well as the center of the park, where he's capable of scoring some insane goals.
Who's Going to Win?
This one may end up being a dogfight. Early in the season, both teams have been offensively challenged: DC has 3 goals total in five games, and none of the Whitecaps' goals have been in open play, with 2 off of deadball crosses and Morales' 4 PKs. It could potentially come down to whose center backs dig their respective heels in deeper.
However, I'm also inclined to look at the "away advantage" these teams have benefited from in recent years, with the Whitecaps leaving Washington with a victory in 2014 and DC doing the same last year. So fate is definitely on our side.
I'm going to guess that Nicolás Mezquida will get a start on Saturday, and in doing so will open up the field and give the team an attacking dimension we only saw in flurries last year. Though Vancouver will concede early, we'll finally get a goal out of Rivero, with the (totally not injured) supersub Manneh also netting for the first time this year, giving the Whitecaps a 2-1 victory going away.