Good Friday morning Caps fans, apologies for the brief hiatus—a busy last week at work temporarily nixed my ability to do these. The good news? We’re back up and running and the weekend is just around the corner.
The other good news is the Caps are sporting two wins on the bounce and have moved, somewhat improbably, into the last playoff spot. According to the folks over at FiveThirtyEight, the Caps have a 19% chance of sneaking into the playoffs, which feels about right given everything.
The obvious question is whether the performance Wednesday against LAFC, where the Caps played liquid football for the first 60 minutes or so before retreating into their low block, is a sign of things to come or an aberration.
One thing will obviously be an anomaly—the Caps won’t get to play against a team as heavily rotated as LAFC was the other night, with the away side juggling international call-ups for a few of their best players. Had Diego Rossi et al. been around, it would have undoubtedly been more difficult to play the free flowing kind of soccer they did.
Yet some of the pieces do seem sustainable: the Lucas Cavallini-Fredy Montero-Cristian Dajome trio which shined the other night has clearly been growing in recent matches and Wednesday seemed to be a logical conclusion of that growth.
Take Dajome for an example. He has had 19 chances created this season, including MLS Is Back and all that jazz. 11 of those have come since the Canadian round robin ended, which is coincidentally about the time Fredy Montero began re-entering the Caps’ lineup on a regular basis.
Granted Dajome, perhaps boosted by the arrival of his family in Vancouver, was in good form throughout the Canadian matches too. But he has really grown in depth in recent games, showing he is more than the pace merchants the Caps brought in last year (hi Lucas Venuto!) and is someone who can make smart runs to open things up for other players and put in the final ball to find them.
There are other more open questions. Wednesday was the first time the Owusu/Bikel midfield has really clicked, thanks in large part to MDS’ decision to have Owusu play significantly more progressively than he has in other matches. Bikel, meanwhile, was zooming around and snapping up loose balls and forcing turnovers. The only thing needed? More Michael Baldisimo, but I guess we can’t always get what we wanted.
Regardless, this is going to be an open question for at least one more match because Bikel is suspended for Sunday due to yellow card accumulation. That means Baldi will likely return to the starting lineup but likely at the expense of Owusu playing in a more defensive role. That might hinder the Caps somewhat.
Then there is the case of Ranko Veselinovic, who has been widely maligned by fans with his mandatory purchase clause looming large in the minds of observers (although apparently not MDS). Ranko may have heard everyone talking because he turned in his best performance of the season thus far, although it wasn’t exactly flawless.
Now, I’m not arguing that the Caps should be rushing to sign the guy up (though it seems like we’re on that path regardless). But some of the traits that I had come to associate with Ranko, like being out of position and wasteful in his passing, were cleaned up against LAFC. It will be interesting to see if Andy Rose returns to the lineup this weekend or if MDS sticks with Ranko (or maybe he remembers Derek Cornelius exists!).
Obviously these questions have no easy answers—that’s why they play the games. But I can’t say any of us really thought we’d be sitting four/five matches out from the playoffs and still have a shot. Two matches against bottom of the table LA Galaxy mean they have a chance at some points against a team they know they can beat and Wednesday’s performance should give them an injection of confidence at the right time. It beats the hell out of where I thought we’d be after the last LAFC match, that’s for sure.
Time for some links...
Shameless Self Promotion
Our report card from Wednesday’s showing, in case you want to relive it in all its glory. And if you didn’t read Caleb’s breakdown of where things stand at the fullback position, you certainly should do so
Best of the Rest
MDS says the Caps are looking like they did during pre-season—and that’s a good thing
24 hours after beating LAFC, we trade them an international roster spot. Power! Moves! Only!
MLS is launching a reserve league next season, with many teams pulling their B sides out of the USL. What that means for the Canadian teams is firmly TBD, however
More Colorado Rapids matches have been postponed due to COVID-19, which seems to be thrusting us towards using points-per-match to decide the standings
While no Caps were interviewed, an interesting deep dive on why so many Latin American players feel comfortable in MLS