As the Vancouver Whitecaps head out on the road to get ready for Los Angeles FC on Saturday night, we had a chat with Alicia Rodriguez from Angels on Parade to get caught up on all the latest LAFC news and storylines. Here are our questions for Alicia:
- For Whitecaps fans who didn’t get the chance to watch LAFC trounce SKC 5-1 midweek, what went right for LAFC in that match? Equally, what did the team improve upon from a disappointing loss to Colorado last weekend?
While the Whitecaps saw LAFC at their worst this year, the loss in Colorado was actually the only other game this season that was a loss and a truly disappointing performance. In contrast, pretty much everything went right on Wednesday against Sporting, with LAFC returning to the free and easy style that has marked their season to date.
Two big things to note from the midweek win: Four different forwards scored in the rout, which is impressive in spreading the goals load around and good for the respective players’ confidence, and even though the scoreline was lopsided, the defense had to work hard and they played well with Pablo Sisniega, in reserve with Tyler Miller away, putting together another great performance. The fixture congestion for this week ahead will likely mean changes for LAFC, but getting back to playing with rhythm and confidence helped them avoid a slump after the loss to the Rapids.
2. With a stretch of four games in nine days, and a very important US Open Cup Quarterfinal match upcoming, what kind of squad rotation can we expect to see on Saturday? (Especially given that Tyler Miller and Walker Zimmerman are still absent on international duty)
Yeah, I can’t guarantee Bob Bradley’s approach one way or the other here, but I expect at least a few changes for this game. I think Adama Diomande will play in this game, and I think Lee Nguyen could replace one of the starting midfielders, but will he keep stalwarts Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi here? As you mention, the next game is an Open Cup quarterfinal against Portland, and I expect Bradley to pick his strongest lineup for that one. So if he were to make wholesale changes, it makes sense this would be a game. If so, Vancouver could benefit from playing a reserve-heavy LAFC once again, and frankly, when LAFC play fewer than eight of their regular starters, they’ve lost, as Whitecaps folks know very well.
At the same time, I wouldn’t be shocked if Bradley hedges and still plays the likes of Vela and Rossi, and then sticks them back in a hyperbaric chamber or something for the time before the Open Cup game next week. We’ll see.
3. We know a lot about the key players up front for LAFC, but what should the Whitecaps fans know about young goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega - who looks set to earn himself another start on Saturday?
Sisniega is a 23-year-old goalkeeper with a very interesting background. His parents were born in the U.S. and Germany, respectively, and he grew up in Mexico. He came through Real Sociedad’s academy when his compatriot Vela was at the club, but didn’t make the move up to the first team. Then, to make matters worse, Sisniega’s progress in Spain was halted by a freak injury in which a collision led to him needing his spleen removed, which was apparently a potentially life-threatening injury.
Happily, he survived and while he was an unknown quantity when he joined LAFC, he’s been great so far. He’s played four games, two in MLS and two in the Open Cup (both against MLS opposition) and has won three and lost one. From an intangible perspective, he looks good. It’s a time-honored tradition to see backup goalkeepers come from obscurity in domestic cup competitions and look like scared chickens when they see action, but Sisniega has looked assured and has played very calmly in the back. I think Miller’s job is safe, but Sisniega looks like he can easily be an MLS starter, too, which is great.
With lots of question-marks as to what LAFC’s squad might look like on Saturday night, here are our responses to Alicia’s questions:
1. LAFC fans remember the last match against the Whitecaps, perhaps not fondly. How have things gone for the Whitecaps since the last meeting between the teams?
In the twelve games since that meeting on April 17th, the Whitecaps have just three wins and just one win in their last eight matches. The team has been rather skillful at earning a draw even when the perfomance might not have deserved it (coming back from 2-0 down against both Colorado and FC Dallas recently), but ultimately Marc Dos Santos’ squad doesn’t have the offensive prowess or squad depth required to compete near the top of the Western Conference table. In Seattle last weekend, the Whitecaps barely had a threatening shot on target through 95+ minutes and had their hearts broken at the death by Kelvin Leerdam in the 96th minute to lose 1-0. As decent as the Whitecaps have been defensively, you can only give up so many opportunities before one of them finds the back of the net - and last weekend's match in Seattle was a great example of that.
2. Vancouver have scored the fewest goals of any team in the Western Conference. Why the problems in front of goal? Is it a matter of personnel, tactics, something else?
In short, both. Being more clinical in the final third has been a topic discussed almost non-stop at training throughout the season. While the coaching staff has been playing with different formations and making constant individual adjustments, there is no substitution for quality players and the Whitecaps simply lack quality at attacking positions. In the offseason, the addition of Lucas Venuto and Lass Bangoura on the wings, as well as the re-introduction of Fredy Montero up front was supposed to fit Marc Dos Santos’ offensive system. While none of these players have been a “poor fit” per se, they also haven’t brought the offensive consistency and creativity required to produce at the MLS level. Both Venuto and Bangoura have attractive attributes but still look rather raw in their positions, and at 31 it looks as though Fredy Montero has lost a step in comparison with his first stint with the Whitecaps in 2017. Marc Dos Santos has stated that he wants to improve the club in “four key positions” and one of those would certainly have to be at striker. There have been rumours that the club has pursued Korean striker Hwang Ui-jo, but only time will tell if this is a realistic possibility.
3. Of course, LAFC remember Marc Dos Santos from his time with the club. What is the overall attitude regarding his tenure at this point in the season?
Despite the largely negative tone of these first two responses, I think that Dos Santos is still viewed very positively by most fans, the media and supporters groups. Whether we like to admit it or not, I think everyone in Vancouver knew that this was going to be a rebuilding year for the Whitecaps. The massive roster turnover and culture change which occurred in the offseason would be difficult for any manager to deal with, but was a particularly big ask for someone stepping into the role for the first time at the MLS level. Ultimately, I think the fans have faith that Marc Dos Santos is capable of doing the right things to make the Whitecaps a perennial contender in MLS (given time), the big question is, will the front office be willing to buck up financially and give Dos Santos the resources to seek out and buy the players he needs.
4. (Bonus) Prediction for Saturday’s game?
I don’t see the Whitecaps having the same success they did against LAFC at BC Place, so i’m going to predict a 3-1 victory for LAFC.