On Sunday night, the Vancouver Whitecaps will be in Los Angeles to face LAFC for their fourth match of the 2022 MLS season, and final contest prior to the international break.
These are two teams, in terms of the Western conference standings at least, that could not be in more contrasting form. While LAFC is undefeated through their first three matches (2-1-0), the Vancouver Whitecaps are still looking for their first victory (0-1-2).
So far, LAFC has scored six goals and conceded just one, while the Whitecaps have done the inverse, conceding six and scoring only once. On paper, it does not look good for the blue and white, but there’s a reason these matches are played on the pitch, and not just based on recent performances.
Emotion will be an interesting factor in this match. It will be the first time that both goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau and now assistant coach Marc Dos Santos will be facing their former team, although perhaps the more enticing showdown will be the return fixture later this year when those two will face a BC Place crowd for the first time as visitors. Doneil Henry, who is back in MLS after an extended stint in Korea, will also be facing off against the Whitecaps for the first time since his departure.
While Crepeau is certain to feature barring something unforeseen, it will be interesting to see if Henry earns a start at centre back, and what, if anything, is notable about Dos Santos’ influence as he and LAFC battle his former co-workers.
For this Whitecaps team specifically, they have to find a way not to be overrun in the middle of the park. LAFC, despite losing some big names in Eduard Atuesta and Diego Rossi this off-season, have made some shrewd additions in the midfield alongside those departures, welcoming in Ilie Sanchez from SKC and Kellyn Acosta from the Colorado Rapids. With Caio Alexandre still out of the picture, there will be a sharp focus on whoever starts in the midfield pivot for Vancouver, as well as how Sartini is better able to use his wing backs to provide support in crucial areas. Sartini admitted they have to take a look at the wing back spot going forward, so I’d expect some changes in wide areas for this match.
One of the possible solutions to the Whitecaps’ creation problems is Pedro Vite. The Young Ecuadorian was bright in his brief showing against Houston, but unfortunately had to be pulled from the match as a result of concussion spotting. Pairing him alongside Ryan Gauld up front underneath Lucas Cavallini produced encouraging early results, but the sample size was too small to see the full potential of this look. Hearing from Vanni Sartini earlier this week, it looks very likely Vite will be a starter in LA. Having Vite go a full ninety could put less stress on the central midfielders, as well as Gauld.
Another player I’d give a shout for a starting spot is Sebastian Berhalter. The young American was good in the second half against the Crew, and frankly, it won’t take much to improve on how both Leonard Owusu or Russell Teibert have looked in the last two matches.
Brian White remains out for Vancouver, so it will undoubtedly remain the Lucas Cavallini show up front. Cava has been in better form to start the season, but still looks to be having some growing pains adapting to Sartini’s system.
Sticking with strikers, something else to note is that Carlos Vela’s usage has been a bit curious so far this year. He scored a hat-trick in LAFC’s season opener but then only played 45 minutes in Portland before going 70 minutes last weekend in Miami. Obviously, Vela will be a threat to the Whitecaps’ back three no matter how many minutes he features, but it’s something to watch out for.
VWFC Projected XI:
(As of writing this on Friday, Ryan Gauld is being reported as questionable for this weekend and is not a full participant at training)
Ultimately, this is a match where the Whitecaps will probably be happy if they can eek out a point. However, if Sartini is able to flip the script and secure a big road win, one where the Whitecaps look more confident on the ball and in creating chances, it could do a lot to change the narrative around this team as they head into the international break.
That being said, I’ve got LAFC coming out on top in this one, by a score of 3-1.
Let me know how you are feeling about this match, as well as seeing some former Whitecaps in different colours!
86 Forever Team Predictions
Sam: 3-1 LAFC
Andrew: 2-0 LAFC
Luis: 2-0 LAFC
Ian: 2-0 LAFC
Caleb: 3-0 LAFC