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Match Preview: Whitecaps vs. Minnesota United

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Minnesota United FC Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a battle of streaking teams Saturday evening, as the Vancouver Whitecaps (3-7-5) play host one final time at Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah, to the surging Minnesota United (6-5-4).

Match Information

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, UT

When: Saturday, July 31st at 7 pm PST

How: TSN1 (TV); AM730 (Radio); ESPN+ (Internet)

Both teams are on successful runs of form as of late, though the quality and duration of each are far different.

As great as it’s been to see the Whitecaps earn points in five of the six matches that followed their five-game losing streak, four of those non-losses were draws, each of which were feasibly winnable. Losing one out of six isn’t as encouraging when you’ve only earned seven points out of eighteen.

In comparison, Minnesota have compiled a record of 6-1-4 after opening the season with four straight losses. The most recent result was a 2-2 draw at LAFC, where saying Hassani Dotson bagged an equalizer at the death is an immense understatement:

Scoring in the fifth minute of three minutes of added time. George A. Romero would be proud of that return from the dead.

What Happened Last Time?

We only need to look back eleven and a half weeks to recall a match where the Whitecaps played well, creating a decent number of close calls and missed chances.

However, when you compound the lack of Goals For with this single, groan-inducing Goal Against, you’ll end up with a lamentable, preventable defeat:

That 1-0 victory broke the ice on 2021 for Minnesota, who to that point were winless and in shambles. It was a complete reversal of fortune in the ten matches that followed, where the Loons have won five and drawn four. The only blemish since early May was an away loss to Colorado earlier this month.

All-time, the Whitecaps are 2-3-2 against Minnesota, with the most recent win coming almost exactly three years ago. Alphonso Davies crushed it with a two-goal, two-assist performance, days after the announcement of his transfer to Bayern Munich.

Since then it’s been mostly misery as Minnesota have defeated Vancouver twice, both at home and on the road, and drew them once at Allianz Field. The draw’s 2.1-to-0.2 xG ratio favoring the Loons is telling of who should have won that day; it may as well have been three losses.

Strangely, the Whitecaps’ overall goal differential against Minnesota is +2 despite their slightly-less-than-.500 record against Minnesota. Losses to the Loons are a grind, but when Vancouver wins, they win big.

Who’s Starting?

The MLS Injury Report was updated late Friday night, removing both of Vancouver’s Gold Cup attendees, Lucas Cavallini and Max Crepeau. Replacing the pair is Andy Rose (hamstring), who joins Bruno Gaspar (ankle) on the injured list as Questionable for Saturday evening.

It was noted yesterday that Cavallini and Crepeau have both rejoined the team following Canada’s exit at the Gold Cup. Given the anxiety and drama surrounding Canada’s 2-1 defeat to Mexico, it would be wholly reasonable to see Crepeau be given one final night off in goal, in favor of Thomas Hasal.

As for Cavallini, ideally he would be starting against Minnesota, seeing as how he was suspended for the semifinal against Mexico due to yellow card accumulation and should be relatively fresh. However, he is yet to serve his MLS-related suspension for yellow card accumulation, incurred in the 2-2 draw against Dallas on July 4th. Don’t let it go unsaid that the guy can accumulate.

Also unavailable due to suspension via card accumulation is Caio Alexandre, who will be missing his first match since the season opener against Portland.

For what it’s worth, Michael Baldisimo is also one yellow card away from an accumulation suspension, so keep an eye on the young midfielder as he beasts the center of the park.

Vancouver - Hasal; Gutiérrez, Godoy, Veselinovic, Brown; Teibert, Baldisimo, Bikel; Caicedo, White, Dajome.

For Minnesota, both Michael Boxall (thigh) and Chase Gasper (undisclosed) are listed as questionable, while Argentine midfielder Franco Fragapane (undisclosed) remains out for his third consecutive match.

As for MNUFC’s Gold Cup attendee, Dayne St. Clair, there’s photo evidence of his return to the club, though in a “street clothes only” capacity:

Looking very relaxed.

Nevertheless, seeing as how Tyler Miller has been in net during MNUFC’s current run of form, St. Clair’s return should not change affect this weekend’s starting eleven.

Ultimately, I’m not sure what kind of lineup Adrian Heath will field, considering their match against LAFC was only three days ago, where Wil Trapp, Hassani Dotson, and the entire backline went the full 90.

Minnesota - Miller; Taylor, Dibassy, Kallman, Métanire; Reynoso, Dotson, Trapp, Hansen; Hunou, Lod.

What’s Up With The Enemy?

Well, we both just tied LAFC 2-2 in Los Angeles, so we’re basically the same team, right? Er, not quite.

Both teams have coincidentally been in point-earning form as of late, though Minnesota’s 5-4-1 record over their last 11 is demonstrably better than Vancouver’s 1-4-1 in their last six.

So why is Minnesota’s Goal Differential sitting at -2?

Presently, their GF/GA totals are sitting at 17/19, bizarre totals not just for the aforementioned run of good form, but more notable because of their location at 6th on the table. That stat line is keeping with 9th place Houston (17/20) rather than 4th place Colorado (21/16) or 5h place LAFC (22/19). Even 7th place RSL (24/16) has a better differential (you’re welcome, RSL).

What gives? Well, admittedly, that four-game losing streak did a number on the ol’ differential, leaving the Loons at 3 GF & 10 GA after four losses. It’s enough to skew any ratio, but that was eleven games ago!

With that in mind, I’m going to posit a slightly hotter, may-not-be agreed upon whatsoever, take: Minnesota can’t finish.

Going into the weekend, the Loons have the third best xG (23.9) and xGD (+4.5) in the Western Conference, but have somehow scored only 17 goals. The two teams ahead in the xG/xGD metrics, SKC and LAFC, have respective totals of 28.8/+10.3 and 26.6/+11.7. However, each also proudly boast goal totals of 28 and 22.

So what’s the problem? How is this even a hot take? My theory is that it’s a lack of quality shots.

MNUFC are fifth in the league in Total Shots (227), but the percentage of those being Shots on Target is only 25.1%, last in the league. Sure, the Whitecaps are last at Shots on Target per 90 minutes (2.87), but when it’s Goals per Shot they’re in the upper half (0.10). In comparison, Minnesota languish in the dregs with Chicago and Miami (all at 0.07), and just above Atlanta and Austin (0.05).

Minnesota are Top 5 in Total Shots and Bottom 3 in G/Sh. Not exactly the best combo. And, for what it’s worth, the average distance from where they take their shots distance is 17.7 yards.

“Shoot your shot, boys! Placement be damned!”
-Adrian Heath, probably

If the likely foursome of Javain Brown, Erik Godoy, Ranko Veselinovic, and Cristian Gutierrez can keep a tight formation without dropping too deep, and can occasional get proper help from nearby midfielders, it’s possible that the Loons can be limited only to low-percentage shots Saturday night.

All that being said, Vancouver will still need to find a way to score more goals than their opponent, which is something Minnesota has been doing well as of late.

Who’s Worth Watching?

Cristian Dajome vs. Whoever Is At Leftback

In rewatching highlights from the 1-0 loss back on May 12th, I was reminded of the great runs Cristian Dajome and Deiber Caicedo were making down the right flank. Chase Gasper was working hard in that match.

I suspect Marc Dos Santos will again go with the 4-3-3 that’s been relatively successful as of late, meaning we wouldn’t see Dajome and Caicedo playing off one another against Minnesota as we had previously. That’s fine, to be honest; the Whitecaps’ Colombian duo have been dangerous on opposite sides of the pitch, so there’s no qualms when it comes to Dajome lining up on the right and Caicedo on the left.

Again, totally fine, because Dajome will run and run and run at whomever is at left-back this weekend. I say “whomever” as it’s not completely certain that Gasper will be getting the start.

The young left back has not missed a game all season. Hell, he hadn’t missed a minute until being subbed at 18’ against LAFC with a hip flexor injury. If he’s not ready to go, D.J. Taylor may have to slide over from his preferred right back spot, as he had against LAFC. All credit to Taylor for filling in when needed, but there’s always the potential for shenanigans when a player is shoehorned into the unfamiliar

And if that’s the case, Dajome should be raring to run at an out of position left-back.

Who’s Going To Win?

Run of form aside, one of the big takeaways going into Saturday evening is that Minnesota will be playing their second away match in three days, and its altogether possible that they will be doing so without two key defenders, Michael Boxall and Chase Gasper, potentially replacing the latter with an out-of-position player.

That, the aforementioned tendency for the Loons to get little out of a lot of shots, and the small sample size of Vancouver matching up well against Minnesota at the Allianz back in May, all gives me the inclination that this tilt may lean in favor of the Whitecaps.

I know I’m taking a big chance here (even more so because, yet again, the ‘Caps are the biggest home underdog of the weekend), but I’m calling this one a 2-0 victory for Vancouver.

Evidently, I’m an island unto myself when it comes to this week’s soothsaying...

Eighty Six Forever Team Predictions

Caleb: 2-1 Minnesota

Luis: 3-0 Minnesota

Sam: 2-0 Minnesota

Officials:

Referee: Lukasz Szpala; AR1: Corey Rockwell; AR2: Mike Rottersman; 4th: Baldomero Toledo; VAR: Jorge Gonzalez; AVAR: Diego Blas.