Vancouver Whitecaps FC (8th in West, 11-9-11) vs Minnesota United (6th in West, 12-10-9)
Location: BC Place, Vancouver
Date and Time: October 27th, 10:00 pm EST, 7:00 pm PST
Watching: TSN (in Canada) & MLS Live on ESPN+ (in US)
It’s coming down to the wire: Three games to go, in the trenches of a hard fought western conference playoff battle, the Whitecaps need to maximize points against three tough opponents. First of which being against Minnesota United, who find themselves one point and two positions above the Whitecaps. A win tonight would cause the ‘Caps to leapfrog past both Minnesota and LAFC and if Portland and LA Galaxy lose, Vancouver would be in 4th place with two games to go. Not that it means too much, as the difference between 4th place and 9th is just a measly four points. Again, this emphasizes the need to get as many points as possible, and to take points away from direct competition in the next two matches, Minnesota included.
At the expense of jinxing things, I would say the Whitecaps are a transformed team. While the stigma of years of disappointing results follows them, I believe that the team is doing what they need to on their end to not be portrayed as one of the bottom Western conference teams. The heart and fight on this team is unlike anything in recent years, and the signings made this year have been panning out a lot better than many could have expected, with the prime example being the mid-season interleague signings of Brian White and Florian Jungwirth. There are many factors to why this may have happened, but one can’t discount the fact that a return to BC Place has affected the morale of the team greatly. With six wins out of eight home games, and scoring fifteen goals within those eight, a homecoming was a positive change to a team that needed any sliver of hope they had. Factor in three draws and one win from four trips away, the importance of being settled has given the Whitecaps a record of 7-2-3 since returning to BC Place, certainly placing them within the most in-form teams in the league.
With the game against San Jose feeling like a conservative outing in preparation for the penultimate match at BC Place, I expect Vanni Sartini to bring out a strong lineup against Minnesota, who while doing worse than many people expected after an impressive playoff run last season, are by no means a team lacking in hunger and drive to get to they playoffs and go farther than before. Minnesota is one of four Western Conference teams that has let in less than 40 goals this season,(And overall, gives them a better defensive record than the Eastern Conference champs and Supporter Shield winners of New England Revolution) so the attack is going to have be carefully thought out for this match. Expect to see Dajome in an attacking postion, with Gutierrez potentially taking the left flank back as his own with a week of rest between the last game he played. At striker to partner Dajome, in terms of form one has to go with Brian White, especially with another international break looming ever closer potentially distracting the mentality of another certain striker. Gauld looks continue to be the signing promised for the past three years, a talisman and spark which the team needed. That attacking power should hopefully be enough to break down the defense of Minnesota like they have with many teams before. Although having a good game over the weekend, Gaspar should be utilized as an impact sub if possible, as he will probably bring some explosiveness introduced late into the game as he looks to follow his first Whitecap goal with hopefully another. Brown should cover the starting RB spot and tire down the left side of the field with his speed and agility.
Preferred Starting XI:
At this point I can’t lie, it’s hard not to get swept up in the glamour of the recent form of the Whitecaps. Seeing the team make the most of what they have and achieve even greater than that has been amazing to witness develop. I feel that this team deserves playoffs, no matter how naïve it may be. Remembering the last time the Whitecaps made the playoffs feels like ages ago, and while realistically, the team probably won’t be winning an MLS Cup anytime soon, I feel the faintest bit of hope, that “What if?” I’m sure other people feel the same way, and it’s hard to imagine that the players don’t either. The Whitecaps haven’t been on this big of a run in a long time, and the hype surrounding this up and coming team, at least in circles in Vancouver, is quite hard to ignore. It’s a feel-good story that the players are the protagonists of. I really hope that they are able to ignore the lofty aspirations and become grounded for the next three matches, as although they may feel invincible, reality doesn’t guarantee a happy ending for all protagonists. I feel like Minnesota is vastly underrated in terms of run-ending power and think that this is where the Whitecaps will have a wake-up call to make it or break it in there last two games, so I see a 2-0 Loss happening today and shocking the team to the core.
Eighty Six Forever Staff Picks:
Caleb: 2-0 VAN
Ian: 1-0 VAN
Andrew: 1-1 DRAW
Sam: 2-1 VAN