Hot damn, a new MLS season is upon us! Our Vancouver Whitecaps are fixin’ to get the 2019 season off on the right foot (on the pitch, anyway), as they host Minnesota United FC this Saturday.
Where: BC Place, Vancouver, BC
When: Saturday, March 2nd at 3 pm PST
How: TSN1, TSN4 (TV); TSN 1040 (Radio); MLS Live on ESPN+ (Internet)
What Happened Last
Vancouver and Minnesota met twice last year, with the home side winning each match.
Last May, MUFC was buoyed by a lone goal from Miguel Ibarra in a 1-0 victory, despite going down a man off a straight red card ten minutes before the goal was scored. At the time, this loss capped a stretch of five matches where the Whitecaps had gone 1-4-0 and were outscored 11-3.
The Whitecaps certainly got a measure of revenge against Minnesota at BC Place nearly three months later, soundly beating the Loons 4-2. This was the match where Alphonso Davies (remember him?) could seemingly do no wrong, sandwiching two assists between a a pair of phenomenal goals:
All-time, the Whitecaps are 2-1-0 against the Loons, though both wins have come at BC Place where the ‘Caps have a goal advantage of 7 to 2.
Ultimately, the ‘Caps & Loons finished 8th and 10th in the standings last season, so both sides undoubtedly have something to prove in 2019.
As of Thursday night, nobody’s injured and and nobody’s suspended! Hooray!
Then again, knowing that Russell Teibert is not at full speed, Scott Sutter stepped away from training early, and PC Giro picked up a knock of his own, I’d list those three as “Out”, “Probable”, and “Questionable”, respectively.
Who’s Worth Watching?
Fredy Montero & Ozzie Alonso
So we’re basically focusing on a pair of aged Sounders. Fantastic.
Cascadian ire aside, I feel as though this is the part of the pitch that the Whitecaps will need to fight through in order to win on Saturday.
I’m still a little shocked Seattle let go Alonso in the first place. I came to the conclusion he would be a Sounder for life and surely he bleeds rave green. But this guy is the benchmark when it comes to MLS defensive center mids, always winning hard tackles in the middle of the pitch, ultimately being the guy every fandom hates but secretly wishes they could call him their own.
But why is the focus on Alonso rather than Ike Opara or Michael Boxall? For starters, these Whitecaps won’t be playing your momma’s kick-and-run, punt-and-pray Robboball. You know, the style Montero suffered through two years ago & still managed to bag thirteen goals.
Now he’s on a possession-centric team, where there will be far less of a need to hope long balls will be soaring over the 6’2” Opara & Boxall. If he ain’t chasing balls to the corner, that means circling back and getting to balls before Alonso.
If Fredy can win & distribute to the wings, or open up passing lanes by drawing away defenders, the Whitecaps will hopefully slice through the MUFC backline.
Who’s Going to Win?
Well, Vancouver has never lost at home to Minnesota, so we got that going for us, which is nice. But a head-to-head sample size of three matches isn’t a heck of a lot to go on, not to mention the fact that the Whitecaps are basically VWFC 2.0, welcoming in seventeen new faces as twenty others hit the curb.
By comparison, MUFC brought in five players and lost thirteen, so the Loons will look somewhat familiar to us fans and, more importantly, one another. Shared playing time and camaraderie is a huge thing, where a player can trust that his boys will have his back. Ebbs and flows, and we can’t say with any certainty the Whitecaps will have that. Yet.
So where’s our silver lining? Playing at home. Or conversely, Minnesota playing on the road. In the two year’s they’ve been in the MLS, MUFC is 4-26-4 away from home, with a single win coming in early 2018 against lowly Orlando City SC.
The Loons are sure to win more away matches in 2019 than that cumulative of four, but for now I’m working under the conclusion that their brand of camaraderie doesn’t travel well. I’m calling this one 2-0 for the Whitecaps: Lass Bangoura will open his account early before Montero closes his “Welcome Back!” party in style.
Vancouver - Crépeau; Giro, Henry, Godoy, Nerwinski; Erice, Bangoura, Felipe, Hwang, Reyna; Montero.
Minnesota - Mannone; Calvo, Boxall, Opara, Metanire; Greguš, Alonso; Schuller, Quintero, M. Ibarra; Rodriguez.
Referee: Rubiel Vazquez; AR1: Mike Rottersham; AR2: Andrew Bigelow; 4th: Alejandro Mariscal; VAR: Edvin Jurisevic; AVAR: Rene Parra.