It’s been an optimistic start that’s yet to yield results in 2019 for the Vancouver Whitecaps (0-2-0) as they travel south for an afternoon match against the Houston Dynamo (1-0-1).
Where: BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, TX
When: Saturday, March 16th at 12 Noon PST
How: TSN1, CTV (TV); TSN 1040 (Radio); MLS Live on ESPN+ (Internet)
What Happened Last
Houston was one of the teams the Whitecaps had success against in 2018, scrambling for a last-second, 2-2 draw in Vancouver in early May, two months after securing their first-ever win in Houston, 2-1.
Goalscorers for the ‘Caps in those games are moot as far as the 2019 team is concerned: all four goals came from the departed Kei Kamara (for his 100th MLS goal), Brek Shea, Jose Aja, and Kendall Waston. It’s fair to say that Vancouver’s attack on Saturday will be almost completely unknown to Wilmer Cabrera’s eleven.
All-time, the Whitecaps are 6-4-3 against Houston, but last year’s victory is their sole away win to the Dynamo, owning a parched 1-4-1 record at “The Oven,” scoring 5 goals in total while conceding 10.
Though neither team has any suspended players, Houston will have back two to the lineup.
Having done their time are Matias Vera, after picking up two yellow cards in the Dynamo’s home opening draw against Real Salt Lake; and Ronaldo Pena, originally suspended for this classy slap of Jonathan Dos Santos in the eighth minute of stoppage in last season’s finale against the LA Galaxy.
The Dynamo will however be without three players due to injury: midfielders Eric Bird (left ankle), and Juan David Cabezas (right thigh), as well as defender Erik McCue (left foot).
For Vancouver, midfielder Michael Baldisimo (left ankle), and defenders Jasser Khmiri (left knee) and D Brett Levis, are definitely out, while Russell Teibert has been upgraded to “Questionable.” Going by CWilkins’ assessment yesterday, I wouldn’t be surprised if we catch a glimpse of Rusty’s pugnaciousness Saturday afternoon.
After going over the MLS Injury Report Thursday night, one player’s status remained unclear: PC Giro, as he was listed with an “undisclosed injury.” His knock late in preseason led to a delayed debut in his first match & a second, separate injury against Salt Lake resulted in an earlier substitution. Can’t really say if it’s a direct result of the former, the latter, a combination of the two, or somehow neither.
Whether PC is entirely unavailable or a game-time inclusion, the result could inevitably lead to an impromptu debut of incoming loanee Ali Adnan. Gotta cram those games in now before June gets here!
Who’s Worth Watching?
Mauro Manotas vs. Erik Godoy
Though the Dynamo’s attack thrives when they can get the ball up the wings (so far this season it’s been heavy on the left flank, so watch out Scott Sutter/Jake Nerwinski), it’s been Manotas who’s already buried twice for Houston: an equalizer against Salt Lake and the winner against Montreal, turning crosses home from relatively in-close to goal as a result of an expedient, efficient buildup.
Sure, they gained the box against the Impact in a somewhat goofy manner, but Manotas was barely bothered as he poked one past Evan Bush. Nevertheless, in MLS he’s on 2 goals from 4 shots, and that’s a great rate of return, something Godoy will have to prevent.
Our Argentine centerback has insofar been strong yet hectic, which can be problematic in dealing with Manotas: both his MLS goals, as well as one of his two in the CONCACAF Champions League, came from in or around the center of the 6, turning each home while relatively unmarked. Godoy will absolutely have to keep tabs on Manotas, no matter where he roams.
And for his other CCL goal? Well, it was quite the redirected fluke, so it goes without saying that Godoy will have to watch out for one of those, too.
Who’s Going to Win?
With that midweek CCL match in mind, the Whitecaps should be dealing with a tired, traveled Dynamo side. Regulars Manotas, Elis, Romell Quioto, and AJ DeLaGarza all put in a full 90, as did club newcomers Vera and Tommy NcNamara, so I would not be surprised if the roster I put forth below doesn’t come close to the one we face off with Saturday.
That doesn’t necessarily mean a “slowly becoming acquainted” Whitecaps roster will match up with the pace of the Dynamo. We’ve only seen glimpses at the level of control and possession Vancouver can be capable of this season, so a key for this weekend needs to be an assertion of dominance on the ball and a relentless pursuit to get it back. Owning that ball needs to be everything.
And that’ll be problematic when a team likes to run as much as the Dynamo. Even with potentially exhausted regulars, the Whitecaps are still travelling in Houston, and road matches in MLS are always a chore, with BBVA Compass Stadium being one of the most aggravating destinations. March may offer a kinder heat, but they don’t call it The Oven for nothin’.
All things considered, I’m optimistic for a draw, but get the sense the Dynamo will snipe a 1-0 victory.
Vancouver - Crépeau; Adnan, Henry, Godoy, Sutter; Hwang, Erice, Felipe; Reyna, Ardaiz, Bangoura.
Houston - Willis; Beasley, Figueroa, Fuenmayor, K. Garcia.; Ceren, B. Garcia; Hairston, Martinez, Rodriguez; Manotas.
Referee: Nima Saghafi; AR1: Logan Brown; AR2: Brian Dunn; 4th: Mark Allatin; VAR: Chico Grajeda; AVAR: Kevin Terry.