You’ve woken up and, lo and behold, it’s gameday! Or, you very well could be still awake after having binged Stranger Things all night, and are now in need of a MLS preview for a match hours and hours from now.
Where: Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
When: Saturday, July 6th at 7:30 PM PST
How: TSN2 (TV); TSN 1040 (Radio); DAZN, MLS Live on ESPN+ (Internet)
As it was during their first match, Los Angeles FC sits atop the Western Conference while the Vancouver Whitecaps toil towards the bottom of the table.
To better illustrate the division between these two, here’s a perfect example of where these two clubs are in 2019: the Whitecaps have scored 21 goals total, lowest in the league, while Carlos Vela, LAFC’s captain, has scored 17 on his own. But Vancouver is strong defensively, right? True, though Los Angeles has also conceded ten less goals than the Whitecaps thus far, so go figure.
In their last five matches, LAFC have gone 3-1-1, though the Black and Gold are 6-1-3 overall since the loss to Vancouver. By comparison, the Whitecaps are 3-3-6 over that time period, continuously in need of a good run of form.
What Happened Last Match?
There we were, roughly six weeks into the season with two teams at polar ends of the MLS spectrum facing off at BC Place: the 0-4-2 Whitecaps hosting a 7-0-1 LAFC, who had at that point outscored its opponents 21-5, while reeling off three straight shutouts before visiting Vancouver.
And then, the strangest of things happened: the Whitecaps started strongly, holding their own against the conference leaders, never looking like they didn’t belong, all building towards a strong outside run from Ali Adnan. His cutback led to a PC Giro shot that rattled off the crossbar. But for the grace of a fortuitous rebound, the ball fell to a wide-open Hwang In-beom, who one-timed a volley past Tyler Miller:
From there, the Whitecaps held on for a 1-0 victory, bending without ever breaking. LAFC made 200 more passes than Vancouver, held a 61/39 possession advantage, and outshot the Whitecaps 14-11. And yet, the Whitecaps managed more shots on target overall while the defense held firm for the ninety.
Vancouver maintains the same injury list as last week: defender Jasser Khmiri (knee), midfielder David Norman Jr. (foot), striker Joaquin Ardaiz (hamstring), and goalkeeper Thomas Hasal (shoulder) all continue to be unavailable.
As for Los Angeles, they’ll also missing the same four unavailable from their match on Wednesday: defender Danilo Silva (hamstring) and midfielder Javi Perez (ACL tear) are both Out, while midfielder Alejandro Guido (quad) and forward Adrien Perez (ankle) are both listed as Questionable.
With Canada and Jamaica having fallen in the Gold Cup quarter and semi-finals, respectively, both sides will see a return of players: Maxime Crepeau, Derek Cornelius, Doneil Henry, and Russell Teibert to the Caps, and Peter-Lee Vassell for LAFC.
LAFC’s Canadian teammate of Crepeau et al, Mark-Anthony Kaye, has already seen a full 90 since returning to his club, in Wednesday’s drubbing of SKC. But given the immediacy of Saturday’s game against Vancouver, it’ll be interesting to see if Kaye makes another appearance.
Still absent from the LA lineup are Tyler Miller and Walker Zimmerman, both on the roster for America’s Gold Cup final against Mexico, as well as Lass Bangoura for the Whitecaps, who’s Guinean national team has a knockout match against Algeria on Sunday in the Africa Cup of Nations.
No one’s out for disciplinary reasons, though Ali Adnan is sitting on four yellow cards; one more for either would results in an accumulation suspension.
Who’s Worth Watching?
Ali Adnan vs. Carlos Vela
Knowing that the subject of Vancouver’s Friday afternoon transfer announcement will be on the same side of the pitch as the leading scorer in the MLS, who else was it going to be?
This match-up may come down to how necessary/adventurous Adnan will be offensively on Saturday. He loves to get up the pitch and we love him for it, but for as strong as Vancouver’s defense can be, it definitely becomes vulnerable when Adnan is unable to get back in formation quickly, or at the very least have someone cover for him.
How Vela is affected by it all may ultimately depend on the formation Marc Dos Santos runs. He’s been going with three in the back quite often lately, with Adnan and Jake Nerwinski/Scott Sutter sitting higher as wingbacks, but it may behoove the gaffer to field four in the back, to widen the backline and thwart LAFC on the outside.
And for all those thinking that Adnan can only go forward and not back, I give you this:
Who’s Mo Salah, anyway?
And isn’t that kind of what happened on April 18th? Adnan finished with four tackles, two clearances, a blocked shot, and an interception, while Vela had a single shot on target out of five chances. I mean, one of them he absolutely should have buried, but maybe he had the yips or something that night.
If Adnan can neutralize Vela well enough and Vancouver is able to force the play to the left flank again, while keeping a majority of LA’s shots to the outside, they may have a chance to scoop all six points against the Western Conference leaders this season.
Who’s Going to Win?
With that last sentiment in mind, I sincerely doubt that LAFC skipper Bob Bradley is of the “try the same thing, expect different results” mindset. He’s unquestionably going to do something different to disrupt the Vancouver defense.
And their offense? That won’t be a concern, not until it proves itself, anyways. No, Saturday’s game plan for LA will be entirely about breaking apart what a travelling, close-to-the-bottom team like Vancouver will most likely do: stay resolute on defense and hope for a timely, well-executed breakout.
Again, Bradley won’t run tactics that didn’t work the last time and LAFC are far too deep. I mean, Lee Nguyen is a quality midfielder and he’s barely seen the pitch this year. It’s less “death by a thousand cuts” and more so that the club is spoiled with options ...to inflict death by a thousand cuts.
So as long as there isn’t a repeat haranguing of Diego Rossi and Latif Blessing doesn’t get knocked out early once again, I’m thinking Los Angeles will unfortunately own this one to the tune of a 2-1 victory.
Vancouver - Crépeau; Adnan, Godoy, Henry, Nerwinski; Teibert, Erice, Rose, Hwang; Montero, Reyna.
LAFC - Sisniega; Harvey, Segura, Blackmon, Beitashour; Nguyen, Atuesta, Blessing; Rossi, Diomande, Vela.
Referee: Allen Chapman; AR1: Jeremy Hanson; AR2: Jason White; 4th: Baldomero Toledo; VAR: Guido Gonzales Jr.; AVAR: Chris Elliott.