Vancouver Whitecaps (12th in West, 3-8-7) at Austin FC (13th in West, 4-4-10)
Location: Q2 Stadium, Austin
Date and Time: Wednesday, August 18, 9 pm ET/6 pm PT
Watching: TSN (over-the-air), ESPN+ (streaming)
It is the Whitecaps! Against a team below them in the standings!
In seriousness, Austin FC have been in free fall as of late, losing six of their last ten games and scoring only 7 goals in the process — all of which came in two heady matches (ironically both against Cascadia opponents).
The lack of firepower is a theme for Austin FC, who have played a lot of players at striker in recent matches — none of whom are actual, natural strikers. That’s because Danny Hoesen, their main number 9 has been hurt and Josh Wolff has opted against starting Jon Gallagher, arguably the only other quasi-striker on the roster, and has instead gone with a rotating cast of Sebastian Driussi, Cecillio Dominguez and Manny Perez up top, none of whom have worked particularly well playing out of position.
Austin, perhaps unsurprisingly, have by far the lowest number of goals of any MLS team and have one of the lower shots-per-game rates (though they admittedly outperform the Caps on this front). Tomas Pochettino, the highly rated Paraguayan signing this offseason, has been pretty good at taking players on and creating chances ... but can’t bang in all their goals himself. Similarly, Dominguez fairs quite well on the expected goals front and has been part of helping the side play some pretty liquid football. But the lack of an out-and-out striker is a bit mystifying; the team signed Senegalese forward Moussa Djitte during the summer transfer window but he has yet to really play.
The skeleton of this team is solid, however. Alex Ring was an astute pickup and the backline lacks depth but the Matt Besler-Julio Cascante pairing has generally worked well (though Cascante will miss the match against the Caps after picking up a red card in his last match against Real Salt Lake). The team is in the middle of the pack in terms of goals conceded and if there is a path back into playoff contention, it probably will be locking down opposing teams and hoping to find a goal off a set piece or through a moment of magic from Dominguez, Pochettino or Driussi, who joined in the summer transfer window.
The injury bug has started to nip at the Caps’ heel in recent weeks. First it Cristian Gutierrez who picked up a knock, followed soon after by Erik Godoy. Then it was Lucas Cavallini to have a serious injury. Now Caio Alexandre will join him in the physios room, after picking up a foot injury in training.
Alexandre hasn’t played in recent matches, to be fair, but given the three match week, it is possible he would have featured if fit. Marc Dos Santos will have plenty of options available to him in Leo Owusu, Michael Baldisimo and (gulp) Russell Teibert. It is possible we’ll get a Patrick Metcalfe appearance also, with MDS using it as a chance to push Janio Bikel further forward again. Or maybe this will signal a full debut for Ryan Gauld, although one wonders if MDS is saving that card to play on Saturday against LAFC at BC Place.
Austin seems to like to use their bevy of wingers to play things out wide, maintaining possession and trying to leverage it into clear cut chances. Sometimes they give up and just ping shots in from range. That could create a lot of opportunities on the counter for the Caps, especially if Cristian Dajome returns to the lineup. And the team needs another strong performance from Ranko Veselinovic and the backline, who did superbly in mopping up chances on Friday against San Jose. Austin seem to rely on teams having a bad defensive night. The Caps simply cannot afford to give this to them.
MDS’ lineup decisions have been a bit odd in recent weeks (starting Brian White on the wing? Ryan Raposo randomly no longer being banished to super sub purgatory?) and the midweek match makes me thing we’ll see some similarly ... unconventional decisions, shall we say. The injuries won’t help matters either. Methinks the personnel MDS chooses will tell a lot about how he is going to approach this game — will the team try and absorb Austin’s attractive style of football, banking on a lack of end product and ample chances to counter? Or will the Caps in turn try and command the game and take pot shots at whomever fills Cascante’s shoes? It’ll be an interesting question to figure out.
Austin seem to have a fun young core of players who will make them competitive into the future. They remind me of Vancouver in this sense — decent roster construction, with a few tactical foibles that have kept them from really living up to their promise. That being said, I played the odds that Los Verdes won’t be able to find a goal (statistically speaking, they haven’t in recent matches) and this has all the makings of a second half smash-and-grab from the Caps. I predicted a 1-0 win.
The rest of the gang sees things a bit different, however.
Caleb: 1-0 Austin
Ian: 2-1 Vancouver