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Match Preview: Whitecaps Facing Unpredictable FC Dallas Side as Push for Playoff Continues

There’s no time like the present for the Vancouver Whitecaps to make BC Place a fortress, as the home team desperately needs a good haul of points to keep place in the playoff race.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night (7PM) at BC place, the Vancouver Whitecaps will face-off against FC Dallas in a crucial Western Conference showdown that could have dramatic playoff implications for both teams.

The Whitecaps currently sit 9th in the West, four points out of a playoff spot, while Dallas is in 11th, a further three points removed from the playoff line, also having played two more matches than Vancouver.

Once again, the Whitecaps will be facing a team that has just parted ways with their head coach, as Dallas dismissed Luchi Gonzalez last Sunday, as Director of Soccer Operations Marco Ferruzzi will now be managing the club on an interim basis. The coaching decision came following Dallas’ most recent defeat, a 3-2 loss at the hands of the Houston Dynamo.

Overall, Gonzalez had a successful stint with the first team after being promoted from the FC Dallas academy in 2018. He led the Toros to the playoffs in both 2019 and 2020, and despite the team’s poor showing so far this season, he still holds a solid 28-29-25 record as an MLS head coach. However, the FC Dallas brass appeared unhappy with the significant step backwards the club has taken in 2021, and believed that the club needed to go in another direction in order to improve.

MLS: FC Dallas at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

One can’t help but wonder if Gonzalez was handed a raw deal in his first head coaching gig in MLS, as the list of quality players that went out the door during his tenure is significant. Obviously, a big part of Dallas’ DNA has always been players’ development and being profitable on that side of things, but you have a responsibility to give your manager a competitive team as well. The list of names that have left the club recently is jarring when you put them all together: Reggie Cannon, Bryan Reynolds, Thiago Santos, Tanner Tessmann, Zdenek Ondrasek, Chris Richards, and Carlos Gruezo, Michael Barrios, Tesho Akindele, Fafa Picault, Jacori Hayes, Victor Ulloa, and Maxi Urruti. That’s a pretty good starting XI, or close to it, right there.

Regardless of potential injustices served to former coaches, it’s worth having a look ahead to what we can expect this weekend.

So far this season, FC Dallas has played high-event football, which has made their matches exciting to watch, but also explains why they are down in 11th place in the West. Dallas has taken part in the highest scoring matches of any team in the Western Conference (at 3.11 total goals per 90) and they have allowed the most goals against in the West with 43 (or 1.65 per 90). Adding to this, things have been trending in the wrong direction recently, as injuries have piled up for FC Dallas defensively and they’ve allowed 18 goals against in their last 8 games (not good at all).

At the other end of the pitch, the news is much better, the Toros are one of the better attacking teams in the West, tied for third in goal scoring. Evidently, much of the MLS wide buzz this season out of big D has surrounded budding superstar Ricardo Pepi.

At just 18 years old, Pepi is amongst the top 5 players in the league when it comes to goals per 90 (at 0.66 in 2021). He’s also a diligent presser of the ball with 22.8 pressures per 90, which puts him in the 93rd percentile at the striker position.

MLS: FC Dallas at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

What’s interesting though is that beyond these two metrics, the numbers are much less flattering for Pepi. Don’t get me wrong, he’s an elite goalscorer and will likely only continue to improve at a rate of knots, but much like Daryl Dike before him, the hype might be a little bit overblown.

Pepi has massively outperformed his XG so far this year scoring 12 times on just 7.3 XG (a general theme for FC Dallas thus far in 2021). This can be the sign of a quality finisher, but it also indicates that the current scoring pace he’s on would be unsustainable in the long term. Pepi also provides little in the way of a playmaking threat, although this is something that can be developed over time, and he would probably benefit from a more consistent team around him.

Outside of Pepi, Colombian winger Jader Obrian has been red-hot as of late, scoring four goals in his last two matches, and five in his last five. Obrian was added to FC Dallas from Colombian side Rionegro Águilas in the off-season and overall, he has 8 goals and 1 assist in 17 starts for FC Dallas.

MLS: FC Dallas at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Turning to the Whitecaps, it looks as though they will still be without two starting quality defenders in Christian Gutierrez and Erik Godoy, who are both listed as week-to-week. It’s tough to see Godoy back on the injury block, especially as he’s struggled to stay fit over the last couple of years. He was just beginning to forge a bond with Florian Jungwirth, who was also limited at training this week, although Jungwirth is considered day-to-day and more likely to play this weekend.

Up front, there’s a possibility that we could see another attempt at a striker duo of Lucas Cavallini and Brian White alongside each other. This did not work out very well in the pre-Ryan Gauld era, but I’d be willing to give this idea another look under the watchful supervision of Vanni Sartini.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The issue with White and Cavallini alongside each other is that neither is terribly fleet of foot, and so they don’t always do a great job creating space for one another. Testing this out against a weaker FC Dallas defensive unit may be the perfect opportunity, and could help the aforementioned Cavallini get his goal-scoring mojo back. The last time he scored was against FC Dallas on July 4th.

This brings us to making a prediction for this match. Despite perhaps being a bit critical of the Whitecaps back in the report card, overall, the 1-1 draw against Colorado was a good showing for this ‘Caps team, and if they can produce something similar (with a better start) at home against Dallas, I think that they’ll be able to secure all three points.

My Pick: Vancouver Whitecaps (3 - 2) FC Dallas