The Vancouver Whitecaps (5-7-0) have made it two wins in a row and are looking to make it three as they continue on what will prove to be a road trip that’ll last until the end of the season. The next club up? An Los Angeles Football Club (4-5-3) side who, despite their own ups and downs this season, will no doubt benefit from hosting a ‘Caps side on the anywhere road for anybody anyhow.
Where: Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
When: Wednesday, September 23rd at 7:30 PM PST
How: TSN1/TSN4 (TV); TSN 1040 (Radio); TSN.ca/TSN GO app (Internet)
In terms of form, the Whitecaps are currently getting the best of it, having gone 3-2-0 in their last five matches. Though LAFC’s last five have gone only been marginally worse at 2-3-0, their goal scoring has seemingly been “all or nothing.” Mixed among 5-1 and 4-2 home wins over San Jose and Portland, LAFC have dropped three 3-0 losses on the road, to the LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, and Seattle.
To date, the clubs are level on points after 12 games, with Vancouver holding the standings tiebreaker over LAFC due to total wins (5 to 4), despite having a far worse goal differential (-7 to -2).
What Happened Last Match?
I’m going to ease into addressing what happened the last time these teams met.
All time, the Whitecaps are 1-2-1 against LAFC; not the sparkliest of records against a club that never existed three years ago. However, when said club has respectively finished 5th and 1st overall in their first two seasons in MLS, with the latter season being a Supporters Shield-earning, point record-setting season, having an all-time record of 1-2-1 isn’t unreasonable.
As for that last Whitecaps match at LAFC? Well, it was emblematic of LAFC’s demolition of the entire league (during the regular season) in 2019, as they thumped Vancouver, 6-1.
The match started with a naive optimism, behind a 5th minute goal from the now-traded Yordy Reyna, off a massive brainfart from goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega. From that point forward, however (and to be perfectly honest, prior to that point, too), it was all LAFC.
An Own Goal from Andy Rose at 35’ neutralized the early lead, before goals were tallied from Adama Diomande (41’), Mark-Anthony Kaye (46’), a brace from Carlos Vela (54’, 70’), and finally Diego Rossi (72’). All told, it was two goals from corners, one absolute rocket, and three sloppy ricochets that followed panicky defending, but they all counted the same.
Incidentally, all six goals were scored prior to a red card being shown to our current renaissance man, Fredy Montero, following a high ankle studding of Kaye.
Here’s to hoping that kind of energy from Montero is channeled far more positively, ideally like the Team of the Week-quality performances he put in last week against Montreal and RSL.
Per the MLS Injury Report, last updated Tuesday morning as of this writing, out for Vancouver are Maxime Crepeau (thumb fracture) and Jasser Khmiri (not medically cleared), while Russell Teibert (undisclosed injury) is listed as Doubtful and Thomas Hasal (undisclosed injury!) as Questionable.
Hasal’s inclusion on this list was surprising to see, until you recall he took a boot to the head last match from perennial red card-threat Kyle Beckerman, not to mention the other head-related incidents he’s suffered. His head’s apparently good for getting kicked, locating cameras, and, thankfully, standing on. Dammit, Kyle: figuratively, not literally!
(An aside: What is Kyle Beckerman’s favorite kind of sweater? A Red Card-again!)
Anyways, if Hasal is in fact recovering from a head injury, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brian Meredith instead makes the start Wednesday night.
For LAFC, they’ll be without all three of Vela (MCL sprain), Tristan Blackmon (not medically cleared), and Mohamed Traore (not medically cleared). The big question as far as an LAFC lineup goes is whether or not Eduard Atuesta, who’s only made two substitution appearances since an injury at MLS is Back, will make the starting eleven. If he’s fit, Atuesta can certainly be a threat in the middle of the park.
Neither team will be missing a player due to suspension, nor do have anyone presently sitting on a Caution Accumulation warning.
Who’s Worth Watching?
Diego Rossi vs. Jake Nerwinski
These two had quite the contrasting battles last season, between Vancouver’s 1-0 at home and the 6-1 trouncing in L.A. that followed.
Rossi was neutralized on the attack in the first match, limited to one blocked shot from distance, no key passes, and forced into four failed touches, while Nerwinski earned himself a block, two tackles, two interceptions, three clearances, and five recoveries, while also drawing three fouls (per whoscored.com).
But in the return match, Rossi earned a goal off four shots and made three key passes while keeping his PA% above 90%, despite making twice as many passes as the previous match, Defensively, Nerwinski did make a game high five interceptions, but compared to the first match he was seemingly buried in his own end, attempting a total of four passes in the LAFC end (per whoscored.com, mlssoccer.com).
Suffice to say it’s absolutely been push and pull between these two and while I’m not saying the match will hinge on gets the upper hand, it will undoubtedly make an impact.
And for a bit of trivia... four players have started all four MLS matches between the Whitecaps and LAFC. Nerwinski and Rossi are two, but who are the others? The best hint I can think of: this list will drop by one, possibly two, after Wednesday night.
Guess in the comments to earn your kudos!
Who’s Going to Win?
In no uncertain terms, LAFC are favorites in this one. It’s a small sample size, but the Black & Gold have only lost one match at home this season, scoring thirteen goals across five matches. They know how to bulge the onion bag, so long as it’s a Howell’s. That’s just a little onion humor for you.
But they can’t all be 6-1 beat downs at the Banc, can they? Well, no, of course not.
Again, it’s a small sample size, but there should be some optimism derived from the Whitecaps’ last two performances, where consistency has been key. The leadership and fortitude of Montero has really shown through, as have the performances of wingbacks Nerwinski and Cristian Gutierrez, with David Milinkovic making a great impact in the attack
Also consistent: benefitting from the opposing side earning themselves red cards. If drawing expulsions is part of that “consistency” equation, this match may be more problematic than I thought.
Nevertheless, as resilient as the Whitecaps are sure to be, this game may come down to how well Bob Bradley has his starters neutralize Vancouver. Given his side’s performance at home, that may come from relentless, unyielding pushes up the pitch.
It’s still too early in this massive Vancouver road trip for the Whitecaps’ recent successes to wane, but LAFC may offer up the right kind of counterpunch for a one-game setback. They’ll have Rock when we produce Paper, and I’m thinking LAFC will take this one, 3-1.
Vancouver - Hasal; Gutierrez, Cornelius, Veselinvoic, Nerwinski; Baldisimo, Bikel; Adnan, Milinkovic, Dajome; Montero.
LAFC - Sisniega; Palacios, Segura, Jakovic, Blessing; Kaye, Cifuentes, Ginella; Rossi, Wright-Phillips, Rodriguez.
*Not available at present time.
Edit: As of Wednesday morning:
Referee: Rubiel Vasquez; Assistant Referees: Adam Garner, Tiffin Turpin; 4th Official: Michael Radchuk; VAR: Kevin Stott.