It may seem an odd thing to say about a team that is currently 9th with 44 points but LAFC are remarkably good. They have spent the whole season dramatically out chancing and out possessing their opponents. They average a huge 1.72 expected goals per game (Vancouver’s season total is 1.19, 1.23 since Sartini took over). They give up an average of 1.06 expected goals against (Vancouver’s average is 1.47, 1.35 since Sartini took over). Their squad is a blue print for MLS success. Highly paid and effective designated players are paired with squad players who were acquired for pennies on the dollar, and yet perform well above average.
But despite all of this, nothing has gone right for them. One of the causes of this has been bad luck. LAFC have only managed to get 48 goals out of nearly 56 expected goals. But the bigger culprit has been some astonishingly bad goalkeeping. Tomas Romero, who has been the starter for most of the season, has conceded 6 goals more than expected. His understudy, Pablo Sisniega, has let in 2 more goals than expected.
But, unfortunately for the Whitecaps, LAFC have addressed those problems. To help with their troubles putting chances away they have added striker Cristian Arango, who has scored 13 goals in 15 appearances so far. In goal they have added former Chelsea 3rd stringer Jamal Blackman. So far, Blackman has saved more goals than expected. These two players have helped LAFC to be undefeated in their last 5. An LAFC team that is able to finish its chances and which is getting saves is a scary proposition for anyone.
Poetically, The Whitecaps are also on a run of form being driven by a goalkeeper and a striker.
Brian White has been on fire with 11 goals and 2 assists in his last 14 games. But, this performance has come on the back of some pretty insane xG over-performance. The vast majority of players regress to the mean on expected goals. They may have periods of over-performance or under-performance but almost everybody ends up about where xG says they should be, given enough time. There are a select few players who defy the analytics season over season. Leonel Messi and Son-Hueng Min are commonly cited examples. So far Brian White has over-performed his xG in every full MLS season he has played in. So it seems, at MLS level at least, he is one of those special players who can finish more consistently than others. That said, he has 9 goals on 27 shots since Vanni Sartini took over. He isn’t going to score on 33% of his shots forever. The Whitecaps are just going to have to hope that the magic can continue for a little longer
Meanwhile, there haven’t been many keepers better than Maxime Crepeau over the past couple of months. He has saved 3 goals above expected since the start of August, making him the league’s 5th best shot stopper in that time. His stellar play, coupled with a much more stout defence (at least when they’re all fit), has made the Whitecaps awfully hard to score on.
All logic points to an LAFC win. Home field advantage plays a huge role in MLS and LAFC have played much better soccer than the Whitecaps all season (despite their results). There has been a certain sense of magic to the run of form the Whitecaps have been on lately. It might temp one to say that “anything might happen.” But I think saying “anything might happen” is the refuge of the coward. Of course “anything might happen” that’s why they play the games. But, in the interests of keeping it real, it’s my duty to inform you that the ‘Caps are probably going to lose this one.
- OUT: Caio Alexandre (left foot, fifth metatarsal fracture)
- OUT: Tosaint Ricketts (right calf strain)
- QUESTIONABLE: Andy Rose (left calf strain)
- QUESTIONABLE: Janio Bikel (left adductor strain)
- OUT: Mahala Opoku (left knee)
- OUT: Eddie Segura (right knee)
- OUT: Erik Duenas (left knee)
- OUT: Julian Gaines (pelvic stress fracture)
- OUT: Alvaro Quezada (chest)
- OUT: Francisco Ginella (left knee)
- OUT: Eduard Auesta (right shoulder)
Caleb: 3-1 LAFC
Ian: 1-1 Draw
Luis: 2-2 Draw
Sam: 3-1 VAN