We’re two matches past the halfway point of the 2018 MLS season and although the Vancouver Whitecaps (6-7-5) are presently on the happy side of the playoff line, the club is going to have to find their finish on Saturday against the Chicago Fire (6-7-5) before the campaign is truly done and dusted.
Where: BC Place, Vancouver, BC
When: Saturday, July 7th, at 7:30 pm PST
How: TSN2 (TV); 1410 AM (Radio); MLS LIVE on DAZN (Internet)
Through their last five matches, the Whitecaps are 2-2-1, but their recent six-match unbeaten streak has all but faded away after last week’s unsettling loss to Colorado. 26 shots and a 72% possession rate, with only an own goal to show for it? Yeesh.
The club isn’t quite mired in the same valley of unhappiness that teams like Orlando (8 losses in a row), Montreal (8 losses in 9 matches), or even the Rapids (8 losses in a row) have experienced at various times this season. But, with its summer solstice having just passed, there’s only so much time left before this MLS season runs out on Vancouver.
By comparison, Chicago’s seasons appears to be on the uptick. Though the respective records of their first nine and last nine matches are nearly identical (3-4-2 and 3-3-3), the Fire are undefeated in their last five, and 3-1-3 in their previous seven.
Most recently, the club secured a 3-2 victory over a visiting New York City FC, with goals from Nemanja Nikolic and Aleksandar Katai.
In fact, the two runs Katai made to equalize, and ice, the match were pretty damn good:
If anything, he absolutely did not let Ben Sweat go back to New York with his pride intact.
Though current trends find favor with the Fire, history is on the Whitecaps’ side when considering the head-to-head record of the clubs. All time, Vancouver holds the advantage with a 4-2-2 record, but what’s remarkable is how the ‘Caps are 3-0-0 when playing host to the Fire!
Vancouver will continue to be without Cristian Techera following his three-game suspension for use of offensive language during the 4-0 rout at the hands of Philadelphia, while its likely that Stefan Marinovic will continue to be unavailable due to his knee sprain. However, it’s possible that the most sorely missed absence will be that of Kendall Waston, who left at half time during last week’s loss to Colorado due to a groin strain.
For Chicago, the question really should be, “Who’s left?” There are no suspensions dogging the team, but the Fire can nearly field a second side with their injured:
- Djordje Mihailovic - right ACL;
- Michael de Leeuw - left ACL;
- Matt Polster - MCL surgery;
- Patrick McLain - hamstring;
- Drew Connor - right calf;
- Luis Solignac - left quad;
- Kevin Ellis - left hamstring;
- Daniel Johnson - head.
Solignac, Ellis, and Johnson are all recent additions to the injury report, though the sheer quantity of hurt players isn’t anything new: the Fire have had at least seven injured since their May 5th match against Atlanta United. The club is resilient, if anything.
Who’s Worth Watching?
Alphonso Davies vs. Jorge Corrales
Originally, I considered KATAI v. DE JONG in the “BATTLE OF CROPPED PONYTAILS!!!” for this spot, but given the Whitecaps’ need for offense, I opted for the battle to take place on the opposite flank instead.
After last week’s flatline, the Whitecaps’ are desperate for a jolt of adrenaline from The ‘Phonse. Samuel nailed it in his game review, praising Davies for “desperately [trying] to outrun the team’s problems,” and being “the only real threat to create” in the second half (though credit is absolutely due to Kei Kamara’s header off the crossbar). Davies doesn’t need to be the man to put the ball in the net, however; he crushed it against Orlando a month ago with his relentless attack and putting balls to teammates to finish (while, you know, also scoring what should have been the winning goal on the night).
The left back tasked with corralling Davies on Saturday will most likely be Jorge Corrales, a Cuban international in his first full season with the Fire. I cannot say I’ve seen a Fire match this season, but there’s a positive correlation to consider in the club going 3-1-3 in their last seven matches, of which Corrales has gone a full 90. In those seven starts, he’s averaged 4.9 recoveries, 2.6 clearances, and 2.4 tackles (pulled from match histories at mlssoccer.com), with 87.6% passing accuracy (from whoscored.com).
All things considered, I have a hunch that the side of the pitch shared by Davies and Corrales will determine whether or not the Whitecaps will be victorious on Saturday.
Who’s Going to Win?
For the life of me, I’d love to put down a Whitecaps win, but it’s never that easy, is it?
Last week’s loss was off-putting to say the least. Controlling the play without scoring is disheartening as it is, but that clustercuss of an own goal seemingly evaporated any momentum the team created from its unbeaten run, and we’re only two games removed! We’re half way through the season, every team below the red line has games in hand, and the team we’re chasing (Portland), is up three points with a three game advantage. If you’re not panicking already, now’s a good time to start.
Nevertheless, let’s focus on Saturday’s match first. Baby steps, right? Despite the Fire having learned to cope with their stock pile of damaged goods, making the most of it to the tune of a 4-3-3 record since May 9th, the club has never secured a point in Vancouver. Not even a draw.
So, what’s it going to be? A resilient Fire side, continuing to make the most out of what they’ve got? Or the Whitecaps relying on history as a jumping point to (hopefully) turn the season around before its too late?
Why split hairs? 2-2 draw, with a rescuing brace from Kei Kamara.
Vancouver Whitecaps - Rowe; Nerwinski, Henry, Aja, de Jong; Davies, Felipe, Teibert, Reyna; Kamara, Blondell.
Chicago Fire - Sanchez; Campos, Campbell, Vincent, Corrales; Bronico, McCarty, Schweinsteiger; Katai, Nicolic, Collier.
Referee: Robert Sibiga; AR1: Ian Anderson; AR2: Michael Barwegen; 4th: Drew Discher; VAR: Jon Freemon.