Before delving into the pre-match - I would just like to say it has been an absolutely bonkers week in the world of football. The Champions League served up some shocks and heartbreaks, the Europa League just wrapped up the quarter final round with four enthralling second leg, could-go-any-way-matches, and there have been out of the world volleys in the English Championship - take your pick between Neves and Grealish.
As we head into the weekend, the Vancouver Whitecaps prepare to host LAFC at BC Place as the second game of Friday night MLS action. It’s the first match (that counts) against new opponents, and while some familiar names are peppered through the squad, the league’s newest club are off to a comme ci comme ça start to life in MLS, picking up two wins and two losses through their first four matches.
Despite a promising start to the season - which lasted right up until the hour mark of their third match - Bob Bradley’s men make the trip to BC Place after suffering a worse trip to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium than even the ‘Caps. They didn’t pick-up a consolation goal, still suffered a red card of their own and conceded two penalties to Vancouver’s one. Of course on top of that they too got absolutely screwed by VAR.
This bologna is studs up all day - everywhere else in the world EXCEPT ATLANTA this is a straight red card. Also, everywhere else in the world that has VAR - you’re not allowed to show the replay inside the stadium.
Before #ATLvLAFC, we'd never witnessed an MLS video review that overturned a red card.— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 8, 2018
Here's how it went down. https://t.co/KDAGatva6A
Now my apologies. I’m a homer, or at least supposed to be at all times, but I’m also a football fan and a lover of the game, and I genuinely feel for LAFC after that match. More importantly, what I’m trying to get at is that I certainly don’t mean to take them lightly this week.
They’ve shown a very potent attack, picking up 9 goals through their first four games, and boast some genuinely high class players with European pedigrees including Mexican international Carlos Vela. On top of that, they have some impressive young talents in André Horta, Luis Lopez, Eduard Atuesta and Joao Moutinho (not that one). The latter of which is missing through suspension from the aforementioned red card picked up against Atlanta United.
Add to that some impressive MLS veterans, like defensive stalwarts Laurent Ciman, Steven Beitashour and of course Jordan Harvey, and LAFC look like breaking some of the rules about expansion teams that struggle in their opening season. That’s underlined even more when you add the impressive Uruguayan Diego Rossi and of course Vela, who are tied for the team lead with three goals a piece.
Now from what I’ve seen, I can’t emphasize how dangerous Carlos Vela can be. Once a prized talent and considered prodigal striker at Arsenal FC, manager Arsene Wenger once called Vela “the best finisher [he had] ever seen.” This was back when Vela, now 29, was just 16 years old. Since leaving Arsenal and plying his trade in Spain for Real Sociedad, he has continued to show sublime skill and has carried that into his play in MLS and I would hope that he’ll be a danger man that Carl Robinson will have his troops well informed about tomorrow evening.
Meanwhile, the media room for the Vancouver Whitecaps have been pumping out plenty of content, as they hype up the run of home form that’s seen the ‘Caps go 11 matches undefeated at home. I know it’s been a great run - and while I hope it continues - it’s certainly not going to be a walk over of a match tomorrow evening.
There’s also a video tribute planned for Jordan Harvey scheduled for 6:39PM, so plan to get there early if you want to show your appreciation for the service he provided Vancouver starting in the inaugural MLS season.
Now enough about the opposition. Last week Vancouver of course had another tough trip to the Rio Tinto as RSL claimed the points. Not only did the ‘Caps get beaten by a team that defended deep in their own half and hit them on the break, Robbo’s men really didn’t attack or defend overly well throughout.
The fact that Brek Shea picked up another late goal really just made the scoreline look less embarrassing than the performance the team put in. Crosses routinely didn’t find their targets - or have any air underneath them - and the man marking in our defensive third was sub par.
Heading into Friday, I would at the very least hope for a shakeup to the squad. Sean Franklin remains out with a quad injury, and Yordy Reyna and Erik Hurtado are both questionable for undisclosed reasons. Outside of that, Robbo has everyone else available, so I would expect to see a number of changes to his tactics to compensate for the offensive potency of tomorrow’s opposition.
Given the potency in the opposition, I’m hoping we see Aly Ghazal make his first start of the season, and potentially even a return to the side for Aaron Maund after Jose Aja’s disappointing moments last week in Salt Lake City. I would also hope to see Jordon Mutch get back into the side, and since Robbo appears to rate him as a sound defender in the midfield, he certainly could be in the starting XI tomorrow night.
One things for sure, it will be emotional to start as Jordan Harvey makes his return to BC Place after spending the past seven years in Vancouver. Once the dust settles though, I’m hoping we see a few goals in end-to-end play and fingers crossed, three more points in the bag for the ‘Caps.