Good Friday morning Caps fans, sorry again for a brief hiatus—I am optimistic this time I am truly back on track with the usual biweekly schedule!
Sunday’s match was suboptimal for a wide variety of reasons, not the least of which being that the Caps lost to one of the few organizations more in disarray than they are at the moment.
Yeah sure, Chicharito skying shots from five yards out is good for the memes but let’s not kid ourselves for what that was: 90 minutes of playing for a draw with the worst team in the league when three points would have firmly vaulted the Caps into the playoff picture. There were certainly some individual performances left wanting but whomever instilled that as the team mentality for the match (stares intently at Marc dos Santos) deserves some criticism.
That being said, I have sympathy for where the team is at right now. A bizarre and physically taxing season has given way to what has basically been a month straight of twice-weekly matches and you are beginning to see that shine through, not just in Vancouver but for most all MLS teams.
Take the Galaxy last match—hardly a bastion of effective play. They were the sloppier side over the course of 90 minutes, with no shortage of lazy defending. They also were able to ride the individual talent of Cristian Pavon to victory, with the Argentine creating most of the team’s substantive chances.
That underscores a basic truth—the grind of this season is going to favor teams that have both elite, individual talents and squad depth. That gives way to another basic true: the Caps have very little of either.
When they’re playing a mediocre RSL side or an LAFC team depleted of their best players, that doesn’t necessarily matter all that much. It didn’t even make as much of a difference for 89 minutes against LA Galaxy, with the Caps one defensive lapse away from escaping with a point.
But with Vancouver going to need points out of remaining matches against Seattle and Portland if they’re going to have any chance of making the playoffs, it starts to become an issue. The team needs to play as more than the sum of their parts—something they’ve done for brief stretches in a post-MLS is Back world.
That means a couple of things. For one, the offensive trio of Cristian Dajome, Fredy Montero and Lucas Cavallini need to keep doing what they’re doing. The triumvirate looked a bit out of it against LA—perhaps understandable given the run of matches they’ve featured in. Heck, Fredy probably has gotten more matches already than he expected for this entire season.
But with David Milinkovic out again this weekend with an illness and his future in Vancouver generally in doubt, it seems like this will be the front three the team is rolling with. Now, I think Theo Bair has earned another shot up front and I wouldn’t mind Ryan Raposo get some more minutes but when you’re in the thick of the playoff fight, you need individual performances like what Pavon turned in the other night. You need your best attacking players to shine.
Now, one can wonder about the best tactical formation for achieving that. With Janio Bikel back from suspension, we could be on the precipice of ditching the “Russell Teibert as left midfielder” experiment in favor of a Bikel-Owusu-Baldisimo midfield.
It would require a bit of a gamble that I honestly don’t see MDS taking (this is the guy who has been hot and cold with tactical experimentation over the last year). He seems to like having two of the BOB players (I’m gonna try and make that a thing) alongside Teibert and fair enough, it helps to protect Ali Adnan.
But the payoff of potentially unlocking the best of the attacking three while maintaining defensive steel via Bikel is obvious. This would be far and away the Caps’ best midfield on paper and there is no reason not to roll the dice on it. I mean we’ve tried far stupider tactical experiments, right?
None of this is exactly revelatory. But this team is starting to tire, through really no fault of its own. At a disadvantage already, the Caps need everything to cut right to make the playoffs. But there is also the saying “winners make their own luck.” With the right tweaks, this team can continue to get the best out of their three in-form attacking players and maybe make some of their own luck in the next four matches.
Shameless Self Promotion
The season is on the downhill slide so may as well start looking towards what is next for the Caps’ roster. Caleb breaks down where the transfer attention needs to be this offseason. And don’t forget your lineup predictions
Best of the Rest
As you probably have heard, the Caps have made permanent the capture of Ranko Veselinovic. I’m not wild about this but Ranko is young and clearly has some raw potential. It will be up to the coaching staff to figure out a way to harness it
You’ll be shocked to know that the rich people in MLS act in their self interest. Who knew!
The Caps were the only Canadian team without an entry in the annual 22 under 22 list but one wonders if Baldisimo might be a candidate 365 days from now...