Despite it feeling extraordinarily unlikely as recently as a few weeks ago, the Vancouver Whitecaps (6-7-8) could very well find themselves in a playoff position by the end of this weekend. That only happens, of course, if the ‘Caps can register a win against an Austin FC (5-12-4) side paying a visit to Canada for the first time since, well, ever.
Where: BC Place, Vancouver, BC
When: Saturday, September 4th at 4 pm PST
How: TSN1 (TV); AM730 (Radio); ESPN+ (Internet)
Despite having played only two matches since their loss to Vancouver on August 18th, Austin FC have arguably been on a bit of a rollercoaster.
The Verde followed up their home loss to the ‘Caps with their second solid thumping of Portland this season, something we as Whitecaps fans will be forever appreciative of and grateful for. However, the club quickly chased that good feeling out of the building by giving up four first half goals to Ricardo Pepi &
The Heartbreakers FC Dallas, before eventually falling, 5-3.
Or, in a more visual, visceral depiction of what happened:
Austin FC fans when the game started vs Austin FC fans at halftime pic.twitter.com/pb6l9VD3iX— Kenny Price (@coolkenny27) August 30, 2021
It wasn’t alright alright alright.
What Happened Last Time?
For the first time in what felt like an eternity, the Whitecaps played their opponent off the pitch. At their own park, no less! That said, outplaying your opponent is not the same as outscoring them, and after bagging a goal off the head of Alex Ring late in the first half, it was entirely possible that Austin could withstand an onslaught and grind out a victory.
Though Austin continued to hold longer spells of possession, it was the Whitecaps who made the most of their time with the ball: they outshot Austin 11-5 in the second half, putting eight of those shots on goal to the Verde’s zero, while out-chancing their hosts in xG, 1.9 to 0.6. Goals came from Jake Nerwinski, who banged home a rebound off a corner, and Brian White, who turned home a tight-angle, goal-line roller from half time sub Ryan Gauld.
We’re just a week removed from the surgery that will sideline Caio Alexandre (metatarsal fracture) for the remainder of the season, but joining him as Out due to injury per the MLS Availability Report this week are Cristian Gutierrez (quad) and Jake Nerwinski (knee). Both players were listed as Questionable earlier Friday afternoon, but the training staff clearly isn’t taking any chances.
Also listed as Out due to international duty are Max Crepeau, Lucas Cavallini, and Javain Brown. Despite the call-up, Cavallini had remained with the ‘Caps until Wednesday, as both he and Erik Godoy returned to training. Cavallini subsequently met up with the Canadian Men’s National Team in Toronto ahead of their World Cup qualifier on Thursday, but was ultimately left off the bench. If he plays this weekend, it will most likely be for Canada and not the ‘Caps.
Also listed on the Availability Report are Andy Rose (Achilles) as Doubtful and Ranko Veselinovic (groin) as Questionable. Given the circumstance, Godoy’s return from injury couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Argentine center back will most likely paired with Florian Jungwirth on Saturday.
In a similar vein, the injuries to Gutierrez and Nerwinski, coupled with the absence of Brown, will leave the Whitecaps with few options in the back corners. That pickup of Marcus Godinho at the end of August now feels all the more prescient.
Vancouver - Hasal; Gaspar, Jungwirth, Godoy, Godinho; Teibert, Bikel, Owusu; Gauld, Dajome; White.
As for Austin, the Availability Report listed Danny Hoesen (hip), Aaron Schoenfeld (knee), Ulises Segura (knee), and Ben Sweat (ACL) as out for Saturday. This is more of an anecdotal note, however, as none of the four were in the lineup when the teams met in August. I would not be surprised if coach Josh Wolff runs the same starting eleven as he had previously, though there is the potential that the players rotate in some manner.
Austin - Stuver; Kolmanic, Besler, Cascante, Lima; Pereira, Ring; Fagundez, Driussi, Dominguez; Gallagher.
Neither team will be missing players due to suspension, nor will there be the threat of suspension via accumulation for either club.
What’s Up With The Enemy?
It’s been a tough go for Austin this season to say the least. They bounced back from their loss to the ‘Caps with that solid win over Portland, but were thumped right back into the mire by Dallas last weekend. Credit to the club for keeping up the fight after going down by four, but the last two months have to have been trying for a fanbase who’s enthusiastically yelling itself hoarse, all to no avail.
Over their last ten matches, the Verde have won three (beating Portland twice) and lost seven, and in doing so have been been shut out three times at home and, more notably, twice on the road, away to Dallas and Real Salt Lake.
It’s only a matter of time before summer signings Moussa Djitte and Sebastian Driussi find their place in the attack, not to mention the back of the net. Both would assumedly and ideally build upon the club’s league-worst tally of 20 goals scored, though in fairness, Austin have so far notched an xG total (26.5) better than eight other clubs, including the Whitecaps.
It could be as simple as just finishing the chances they earn, but above all else Austin needs to find their own stretch of consistency. Going 3-11-4 after opening the season winning two out of three isn’t the way to do it.
That hasn’t stopped the supporters from celebrating their first MLS season at every chance they get:
More than a club, more than fans. This is family. pic.twitter.com/7NbqB6jpes— Austin FC (@AustinFC) August 29, 2021
When Rex Chapman is hyping your positivity, you know you’re doing something right.
Who’s Worth Watching?
Fullbacks vs. Fullbacks
If I’m remembering the August 18th match correctly, Austin fullbacks Hector Jimenez and Nick Lima had no qualms about getting up the pitch. Well...
That heatmap taken from WhoScored shows Jimenez & Lima as either sitting deep in their own end or advanced well past center and advancing towards the Whitecaps’ penalty area. I fully expect more overlapping runs along the wings from the two, even more so when Vancouver will be particularly vulnerable in the corners this weekend.
This only becomes more problematic knowing that the Whitecaps are without regulars in the corners. That isn’t to say Bruno Gaspar and Marcus Godinho are any kinds of slouches, but between the two of them are a total of eight MLS appearances and three starts. In fact, the six minutes Godinho had last Saturday were the first minutes he’s had of any kind since April.
Nevertheless, as long as they’re prepped and have an inkling of what to expect from Austin, Gaspar and/or Godinho could return the favor and run it right back on the Verde fullbacks.
Who’s Going To Win?
The Whitecaps are favorites to win an MLS match for the first time in I don’t know how long, which should probably be read as the jinx pickle atop a trap sandwich. When it’s all said and done, however, I’m willing to admit I have rose-colored glasses on right now, as I know I’m not catching all of the red flags.
Austin have generally been poor on the road, going 2-7-2 in their inaugural season, with their last road win coming way back on May 1st. They’ve scored six away goals total, three of which came in a single match, and ultimately hold an away xG averaging at 1.21.
There will be an inevitable comedown from the high that is this Whitecaps unbeaten streak, particularly now that Vancouver have won three in a row outright (the Pacific FC loss notwithstanding). But if the Whitecaps’ fullback situation is sorted for Saturday, and Alex Ring is kept from absolutely bossing everyone in the middle of the park, I can’t envision the Whitecaps not coming away with another W. And if you’ve been here long enough, then you’ll know that that was a really, really, really weird thing to have typed.
I’m thinking this one will fall 3-1 for Vancouver. Call me crazy, but I believe Ryan Gauld will be involved somehow.
Eighty Six Forever Team Predictions
Andrew: 2-1 Vancouver
Caleb: 2-2 Draw
Luis: 1-1 Draw
Sam: 3-1 Vancouver
Referee: Pierre-Luc Lauziere; AR1: Corey Rockwell; AR2: Jeremy Hanson; 4th: Robert Sibiga; VAR: Carol Anne Chenard; AVAR: TJ Zablocki.