Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs New York City FC
Location: BC Place Stadium
Date and Time: March 5th, 6:00 pm EST, 3:00 pm PST
Watching: TSN (in Canada) & MLS Live on ESPN+ (in US)
Okay, last week wasn’t the dream start that a lot of Whitecaps fans expected. A 4-0 road defeat showed signs that the Whitecaps may not be as stable as they seemed coming into the season, but that could all change with the upcoming first home game of the season.
The ‘Caps have had a week to prepare for another matchup that can help determine whether last week’s result was the preseason jitters or an unfortunate prelude of what is to come.
Looking at the personnel that was available last week, the lineup seemed pretty experimental, with Blackmon getting a start at the back and Nerwinski playing on his notably weaker side on the left of the centreback three. Seeing how well the combination of Veselinovic and Jungwirth worked last season, it was a little weird to not see the German get the start last week, but seeing how disorganized the back line was it wouldn’t be revolutionary to think how the Whitecaps could plug that hole. Besides that, the midfield seemed not to be the right fit for a Columbus that ran riot in the center of the park. The return of Michael Baldisimo was not something expected, and his quick substitution for Sebastian Berhalter compounded the fact that we now have a Bikel sized hole in the midfield. It was a weird situation where Bikel was sold due to him not fitting the system that the Whitecaps were using last season but on opening day, a player like Bikel would have fit perfectly in front of the back line to shore up attacks.
On the attacking front, Cavallini was his usual self, although service was hard to come by. There were some moments of brilliance in his play but they were offset by a low workrate and a seeming disinterest and disconnect with the rest of the field. This was only highlighted by the injury to Brian White rendering him down for the count in Columbus, and very few players who could fill in the number 9 role for a seemingly lost Cavallini.
I assume there will be a lot of shuffling around before Sunday's game to resemble something more like what we were used to seeing last season in terms of game plan and system. There was no need to reinvent the wheel, as was clearly apparent with the playoff loss to Sporting Kansas City and now with the loss versus the Columbus Crew. The Whitecaps just need to play their game instead of sinking back into the reactionary “adjust for the previous opponent, get beat by next opponent, adjust for them...” etc. etc. There is a heart to the team that was readily apparent last season, they just have to find that same belief in themselves early on instead of halfway through the season as they did last year.
Looking at NYCFC though, they also suffered a defeat to a cross conference rival, that being LA Galaxy, but it was only a 1-0 loss to a team who just signed a winger with a European pedigree in Douglas Costa. Not a horrible result for them, but then you also remember that they are in the middle of a CONCACAF Champions League campaign that saw them put six past Santos de Guapiles over two legs. They will be looking to steer their ship in the right direction again to avoid any potential embarrassment and prepare for their upcoming matches against Communicaciones. Talles Mango and Taty Castellanos are looking to be gearing up into midseason form, and the team wants to get into a good flow before they make their way through a CCL bracket that could see them reaching the Semis and potentially dreaming of the finals.
At the same time, the Whitecaps will find some solace in the fact that they do have that game later in the week and thus will probably rest key players in the form of taking them off early or not playing them at all. This is where the Whitecaps need to take advantage of the home crowd and use their familiarity to trump the players who haven’t been to BC Place in over two years.
NYCFC have looked scary in their matches continentally and looked strong through their defeat at the hands of LA Galaxy. Their stability makes me believe that a 2-0 loss is in the cards for the Whitecaps, and the team will have to continue to find ways to pick itself back up.
Eighty Six Forever Staff Picks:
Sam: 2-2 DRAW
Calen: 2-1 VAN
Andrew: 2-2 DRAW
Ian: 2-1 VAN