At this point in the season, the Vancouver Whitecaps (8-12-7) ought to be desperate to earn any points to get them back above the red line and into the playoffs. Thankfully, this week they'll be squaring off against a side in the New York Red Bulls (11-9-7) who has never defeated the Whitecaps. The downside? The in-form Red Bulls are undefeated in nine matches, the latest being a 1-0 win at home against the New England Revolution.
Where: BC Place, Vancouver, BC
When: Saturday, September 3rd at 4:00 pm PST
Where to watch/listen: TSN1 (TV), Team 1040 (Radio)
The Whitecaps & Red Bulls met only once last year (as per usual for the East/West battles) at Red Bull Arena, with the Whitecaps winning 2-1 to maintain their unbeaten run in MLS against RBNY. Kekuta Manneh volleyed home early and Kianz Froese's first MLS goal proved to be the winner. Anyone remember the guy who set up Froese's goal?
Who's Out and Who's In?
With this week's international break, a total of eight players have been called to their national clubs: six Whitecaps (Giles Barnes, Christian Bolanos, Marcel de Jong, David Edgar, Blas Perez, and Kendall Waston) and two Red Bulls (Kemar Lawrence and Sacha Kljestan) may all see action this week during World Cup qualifying.
As for injuries, the Red Bulls will continue to be missing Gideon Baah and Connor Lade from the backline, while this week's MLS Injury Report lists Dax McCarty, Damien Perrinelle, and Luis Robles all as "Questionable". However, the way New York coach Jesse Marsch spins it, all three will be available. With Robles' ironman streak in jeopardy I wouldn't be surprised if he starts in goal. But for my money, the only guarantee is McCarty: with Kljestan's absence, the Red Bulls will need a strong presence in their central midfield. My guess at their starting eleven looks like this:
Robles/Bilyeu, Collin, Zubar, Duvall/McCarty, Davis/Grella, Felipe, Muyl/Wright-Phillips in a 4-2-3-1
For the Whitecaps, the three names on the Report are all somewhat familiar: Christian Dean, Kekuta Manneh, and Jordan Harvey. Of the three, the only one noted to have returned to training was Harvey. Nevertheless, the vagueness of Carl Robinson leads me to think that we'll see Brett Levis earn his first MLS start. My guess at the 'Caps eleven:
Ousted/Levis, Jacobson, Parker, Smith/Morales, Teibert, Laba, Aird/Mezquida, Hurtado in a 4-4-2
Who's Worth Watching?
In Klijestan's absence, I'm going with Bradley Wright-Phillips. It's easy to choose New York's forward simply because he's the team's leading scorer, but after rewatching those Ousted penalty saves, I do not doubt for a second that the Red Bulls talismanic striker will be itching to bury against Vancouver this time around.
For the Whitecaps, I'm going out on a limb in assuming that Nicolás Mezquida will get the start, as a supporting striker lined up under Erik Hurtado (though Masato Kudo is also a possibility as the target man). More often that not Mezquida is the one player keeping the Whitecaps offense from becoming entirely stagnant, so he'll either start the match and the team will flourish because of it, or he'll be subbed in far too late to help earn a last second goal.
Who's Going to Win?
Home teams always have the advantage in MLS, right? Particularly when eastern teams travel west? But with the Whitecaps of 2016 it hasn't been that simple, and having seven players be unavailable won't make it any easier. Ultimately, I see this as somewhat similar to last week's game against LA: the visiting team will defend to the death and pick & choose when it counterattacks, while the home team will be peppering shots from all angles. At best, this one will end 1-1.