Despite the perpetual sense of it being “Draw A Line In The Sand Time” ‘round these parts, only now more than ever do I mean it when I say that it’s time for the Vancouver Whitecaps (2-7-3) to Draw A Line In The Sand if they want to make something out of a season that’s inching towards its conclusion.
To do so, they’ll need to overcome an LA Galaxy (8-4-0) side who less than a month ago were lucky to have stolen all three points at the death, a loss proving to be just another gut punch in the Whitecaps’ current eight-match winless streak.
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, UT
When: Saturday, July 17th at 7 pm PST
How: TSN1, TSN4 (TV); AM730 (Radio); ESPN+ (Internet)
For a moment, it felt like Vancouver found a slight resurgence in the time since their last match against the Galaxy on June 23rd, having twice drawn 2-2 in the difficult environs of Seattle and Dallas. The club secured their first points in weeks and things started to look up. Huzzahs were in order!
Naturally, that’s when Real Salt Lake came back to town, reminding everyone that the Whitecaps are nothing more than Airbnb guests in someone else’s home, with that 4-0 thrashing ten days ago. So much for that faint glimmer of hope.
Meanwhile, the Galaxy continue to do Galaxy things: score goals and concede goals. Sandwiched between two 3-1 triumphs, away to San Jose and at home against Dallas, was a home 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City. Keep in mind that despite sitting in third place in the Western Conference, LA’s goal difference is presently at +2, so those results check out.
All time, the Whitecaps are 8-14-5 against the Galaxy in all MLS regular season and playoff matches, with an overall goal differential of -14. But when playing away from Los Angeles, the clubs strangely share a record of 4-4-4, with Vancouver holding an overall goal differential of +1.
Because it bears repeating, this is the part where I note how, despite that modicum of success the Whitecaps have when playing Los Angeles at home, the Galaxy are in fact 1-0-0 in matchups against Vancouver when specifically playing at Rio Tinto Stadium. So there’s that to consider.
What Happened Last Time?
The aforementioned showdown at Rio Tinto that’s earned the Galaxy their 1.000 winning percentage against Vancouver in Utah.
It was a trepidatious start to the match for Vancouver to say the least. The Whitecaps registered no first half shots and held an xG total of 0.0. To be fair, Los Angeles weren’t much better, registering five shots, all of which were either blocked or off target.
The Whitecaps’ performance in the second forty-five was far, far better, if you make a point of willfully ignoring the first and last few minutes of the half.
Vancouver registered 11 shots! 3 of them were on target! Erik Godoy drilled the crossbar! Janio Bikel put on a brief clinic in ball control to level the match in stoppage time! There were a lot of positives to be had when the Whitecaps were chasing a lead.
But should the Galaxy have even gone up in the first place? Los Angeles were fortunate to recover the ball deep in the offensive end following a peculiar shouldercheck-and-stumble from Bikel, resulting in every Whitecap being caught flatfooted and Chicharito all alone at the back post:
Of course, post hoc ergo propter hoc tells us that the Whitecaps weren’t guaranteed to assail Jonathan Bond for the remainder of the match, but they nonetheless did. That’s what happens when you have to play catch-up, but the trick to remember once you have precisely “caught up” is to not immediately relinquish what you’ve fought so hard to recover:
I distinctly recall eyeballing this replay over and over at the time and am still astounded as to how nonchalantly Lucas Cavallini and Ryan Raposo jog back as the free kick is being taken, with the ball landing in the area they should already be covering. Yes, Andy Rose’s header to clear wasn’t the best, but it’s all he could do to ultimately have it land in an area with no Whitecaps remotely in the vicinity, specifically at the feet of Efrain Alvarez. The 19-year old promptly roofed it on Max Crepeau.
Guys, when five minutes have been added to the ninety, please don’t stop running at 93’.
Were it not for a fantastic stop from Bond even deeper into added time, the ‘Caps could yet have recovered and earned a draw. Instead, this one ended at 2-1 in favor of the Galaxy.
At the moment, the Whitecaps have four players listed as OUT on the league Availability Report.
Caio Alexandre (adductor) and Bruno Gaspar (ankle) are both unavailable due to injury, while Maxime Crepeau and Lucas Cavallini continue their journey at the Gold Cup with the Canadian Men’s National Team.
It’s worth noting that the report was updated late on Friday, where its previous incarnation had Michael Baldisimo and Tosaint Ricketts as out injured. If either of the two are now game-ready, I would not be surprised to see Baldi start and Ricketts make his first appearance of the season later in the match.
One player not included on the report is left back Cristian Gutiérrez, who received a late call up to the Gold Cup squad to replace the injured Alphonso Davies (ah, memories...).
However, it’s also been noted that despite the called up, Gutiérrez will remain with the Whitecaps “until he is needed.” After all, it’s only a 140 minute flight from Salt Lake City to Kansas City. I’ll take this to mean that Guti is available to start Saturday evening.
But if he’s not? With no other left backs on the roster (bon voyage, Ali Adnan), will Marc Dos Santos shift to three center backs behind two wingbacks? Or will he utilize any of the players (Janio Bikel, Javain Brown, or Erik Godoy) who have at one time or another been stationed on the left side?
Vancouver - Hasal; Gutiérrez, Rose, Godoy, Brown; Bikel, Baldisimo; Teibert, Dájome, Caicedo; White.
The Galaxy also have players unavailable due to the Gold Cup, as Efrain Alvarez, Jonathan dos Santos, Oneil Fisher, Giancarlo Gonzalez, and Sebastian Lletget are all with their respective national teams.
The report also lists Chicharito as OUT and both Daniel Steres and Sega Coulibaly as QUESTIONABLE, each with “undisclosed” injuries. However, in a call on Thursday, Greg Vanney revealed that both Chicharito and Coulibaly will both be kept out of the lineup, and that Danilo Acosta is questionable for the weekend.
The above tweet also notes the imminent return of Irish defender Derrick Williams, who will finally be available after missing six games for the season-ending horror show tackle he put on Portland’s Andy Polo. Whether or not he sees the pitch is debatable; in fairness, the Galaxy won 4 of the 6 matches while Williams was suspended. Maybe they’ll be better off keeping him on the bench is all I’m sayin’.
LA Galaxy - Bond; Villafaña, DePuy, Williams, Araujo; Kljestan, Raveloson; Cabral, Vázquez, Grandsir; Zubak.
What’s Up With The Enemy?
For as thin as the Whitecaps will be in key areas on Saturday, absences for Los Angeles in the front and center of the pitch could prove to be much more costly.
In twelve games this season, the Galaxy have 20 goals and an xG of 18.3. However, were you to withhold the contributions of the talismanic and reinvigorated Chicharito, those numbers halve to 10 and 11.0. Their second leading scorer is Own Goal, level with Sacha Kljestan. Not having available all of Chicharito, Alvarez, dos Santos, and Lletget on Saturday could greatly stagnate the attack and hamper their creativity.
To their credit, Kljestan and Victor Vázquez can manage the middle of the park admirably, and the Galaxy have a propensity for attacking from the wings, so staying out of the middle of the park may be ideal. I get the feeling the Whitecaps will be OK with this.
Though Kljestan can go box-to-box, he’s been utilized as more of a holding midfielder this season and last, making shorter, safer passes from deeper on the pitch. It will most likely be on Vázquez to generate the offense in this one. He’ll without question be able to put balls into the corners and thread passes into pockets that don’t appear to exist, but who’s left in the LA Galaxy attack to put the ball in the back of the net?
On Wednesday against Dallas, a trio of fresh faces and unfamiliar names (Rayan Raveloson, Kevin Cabral, and Ethan Zubak) were up to the task, but it remains to be seen if any one of them can do it again.
Who’s Worth Watching?
Samuel Grandsir & Julian Araujo vs. Whoever Is At Left Back
I can’t say with any certainty that Gutiérrez will ultimately be available, but if he isn’t I would wager that MDS runs the 4-2-3-1 he used against Houston back in May, when Javain Brown shifted to cover the opposite corner. Were that to happen, fear not as Brown has consistently proved he belongs on the Whitecap backline during his first season with the club, while Gutiérrez has already done so over the past season and a half.
Nevertheless, I have a suspicion that the plan of attack for Los Angeles this weekend will be similar to that of the previous match: to pump balls to the corner, go hard at whomever ends up at left back, and either take the defender 1v1 with a cut to the middle or try to whip balls to the back post.
According to WhoScored, the Los Angeles attack came primarily down their right side, with Grandsir and Araujo both getting a lot of touches on Vancouver’s left flank.
I mean, just look at the combined heatmap for Grandsir and Araujo. It’s a freaking exclamation point:
If Vanney, Vázquez, et al. aren’t salivating at the thought of having a run at one of two young defenders, whether it’s a left back against they’ve achieved moderate success against or a new target in the form of an out-of-position rookie, they really ought to be. The good news for the blue and white? Gutiérrez and Brown can absolutely hold their own.
Who’s Going To Win?
No beating around the bush for me this week: I’m calling it as 2-1 for the Whitecaps. I don’t care if they’re the biggest home underdogs of the weekend.
They’re going up against a shorthanded club to whom they’ve already held their own this season, at a time when their opponent was still at full strength. This weekend, they’re not, and Vancouver absolutely needs to take advantage of that fact. The Whitecaps just need to find their motivation without conceding a goal first.
Even further, Vancouver needs to win this match. Any match. This season need to be more than just something they see through to the end. The players can play, but when will it be for a full 90? Where we don’t have to always call into question tactics, transfers, formation, and practice? Otherwise, we may as well reply to every tweet the club puts out for the remainder of the year with the Taylor Twellman “WHAT ARE WE DOING?” gif.
If a win does in fact happen, one that we didn’t expect, that can absolutely be achieved, and ultimately proves to be a potential turning point on the season, I’d love to see a tweet like this go live tomorrow night:
Eighty Six Forever Team Predictions
Andrew: 2-0 LA Galaxy
Caleb: 2-0 LA Galaxy
Luis: 2-0 LA Galaxy
Sam: 3-1 LA Galaxy
Referee: Ismir Pekmic; AR1: Jeremy Hanson; AR2: Jose Da Silva; 4th: Baldomero Toledo; VAR: Daniel Radford; AVAR: Jozef Batko.