As the Vancouver Whitecaps enter the third month of the MLS season with just one victory to their name, there is only one team which has fewer: The Colorado Rapids. Almost as if the soccer gods foretold such a fate, the bottom two teams in MLS find themselves matched up against one another this Friday night in Commerce City, CO.
While on paper this might not make for a tantalizing matchup, there have been many fascinating storylines from this week at training, so let’s get into it.
Perhaps the biggest news of the week was that Whitecaps forward and de-facto striker Yordy Reyna looks like he’s going to miss significant time. The official word from the Whitecaps at the moment is that the Peruvian will be out for at least “3 to 4 weeks” and that the injury will be treated on a week-by-week basis.
MDS on Reyna injury status: “not looking good” for the month of May, could miss all seven matches, although MRI later this week should make things clear. All in all, not good news for the Caps #VWFC— Samuel Rowan (@samuel_rowboat) April 30, 2019
*EDIT* The Whitecaps officially announced Reyna’s injury yesterday as a “left hamstring strain”, and that he will be out for “at least a month”.
Obviously this is a huge blow for Marc Dos Santos’ squad, a team which already struggled mightily to score goals (with the second worst GF in the league at 7) and now Dos Santos will be tasked with re-imagining his team’s attack, putting the pressure squarely on the shoulders of embattled strikers Fredy Montero and Joaquin Ardaiz.
Speaking of pressure on these strikers, Dos Santos had some fairly strong words for the young Uruguayan front-man when speaking with the MLS’s Tom Bogert earlier this week. Make of this what you will:
“He needs to learn how to train, he doesn’t have good habits there,” head coach Marc Dos Santos told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. ”If it doesn’t change, it could be very difficult for him in his career. It’s not somebody who always trains in the right manner, but it’s someone with a high level of quality in explosiveness and attacking space. But it’s a player that has a lot to work in and grow a lot.”
Evidently Reyna’s injury is very bad news for the Whitecaps in the short term, but I think it may actually pay off in spades for the Caps going forward in their development. They need to find a permanent solution to the goal scoring issue and losing the safety blanket of Reyna as the No.9 for the next month (or so) should force them to address it more permanently.
Which Wingers? (Continued)
Our own Caleb Wilkins put out an interesting piece earlier this week dissecting the performances of the Whitecaps wingers so far this season, and this is a topic that I explored a bit further with Marc on Wednesday.
Specifically, I wanted to know what PC offered which had made him worthy of a start in recent matches (as opposed to what the likes of Bangoura & Venuto offer tactically) and what we could expect to see from this group of wingers now that Reyna is unavailable to play as a centre-forward, i.e. would this change what he asks of his wide players? This is what Dos Santos had to say:
“When we had Venuto, Reyna and PC, you had a lot of penetration from the two [Reyna, Venuto] because of their diagonal runs and their movements. Then we used PC together with Ali Adnan and Russel Teibert on the left side to allow Ali to be an extra winger...”
This is an underrated part of PC’s game. While he might not be an outstanding player in any one category, his versatility allows those around him to be creative. A great example of combination play between PC, Ali, and Rusty can be found in the lead-up to the Reyna chance against Philadelphia.
Dos Santos continued on to speak as to how things might change without Reyna in the lineup:
“...When you play with a guy like Fredy [Montero], he’s a player that’s not going to penetrate so much but rather come inside and get the ball at his feet. For that maybe, the role of the two wingers needs to be a penetrating one, so it’s smarter to see Lass and Venuto with Fredy [than it would be with Reyna]”
There’s a good bit to unpack here, but essentially, it seems a lot more and more likely that we’ll see Bangoura and Venuto in the same starting XI at some point, now that Reyna is out of the lineup for an extended period. This is a lineup we have yet to see MDS field this season, and I imagine that his thinking would be much the same with either Ardaiz or Montero starting up top (as both fit a similar tactical profile).
This might also change the way Ali Adnan is allowed to roam up and down his side of the pitch - without PC on the wing, Adnan’s license to roam may be diminished somewhat. Obviously, this doesn’t yet provide an answer as to whether or not Bangoura and Venuto have the quality to be reliable, starting-quality, MLS forwards, but the next stretch of matches should help give us a much better idea.
Finally, in non-Whitecaps news, it was announced Wednesday morning that the Colorado Rapids had relieved Anthony Hudson of his coaching duties effective immediately.
The club has announced that Anthony Hudson has been relieved of his coaching duties.— Colorado Rapids (@ColoradoRapids) May 1, 2019
Assistant coach Conor Casey has been named interim head coach.
https://t.co/bUrwKcfyUD#Rapids96 | #Elevate pic.twitter.com/em7HMboooa
This presents the Whitecaps with a unique set of challenges heading into Friday’s match in Colorado, as the Rapids not only may be subject to the “new coaching bump” but also may throw something previously unseen at the Whitecaps from a tactical perspective.
Marc Dos Santos gave us his thoughts on the firing, as well as what to expect on Friday, both emotionally and tactically:
“I want to take this opportunity to wish Anthony all the best...It’s not easy, it’s part of the job...As for us, it’s very important in moments like this to stay focused on us.”
“To base the scouting report on what they do collectively could be a mistake because there could be a change in their approach. What we have to focus on in the scouting report is their individual players. Who’s dangerous? What’s the profile of those players? How can we hurt them defensively?”
Even with this in mind, the match in Colorado this Friday presents a great opportunity for the Whitecaps to find their footing in this young MLS season. Not only do the Whitecaps need to establish themselves on the road (where they are winless so far this season), but they also need to solidify their style of play in the absence of one of their best players. And as far a the standings are concerned, there is no better opportunity to secure three points than facing the lowly Rapids this Friday.