Well, it’s that time of year again. The Vancouver Whitecaps are once again up against a CPL team after a sub-optimal start to the season. Will they, once again, blow it? Will I, once again, be forced to humble myself before the CPL truthers? Or will things finally be different this year?
In the spirit of trying to do things differently, I’m going to approach things differently with this match preview. Let’s focus more on Valour. What’s their deal? If they do pull off the world’s funniest upset, how will they do it?
One thing that stands out about Valour is that they have scored a lot of goals so far this season with 9 in just 4. True, 6 of them were in one game against Atletico Ottawa. But the fact that they have generated the second most xG in the league, behind only Pacific who has played two more games, shows that they are not to be trifled with. The centerpiece of their offensive production has been New Zealand international Moses Dyer who, after two seasons of being a good but not great CPL attacker, has suddenly transformed into an unstoppable juggernaut. Even discounting penalties (which he has taken two of) Dyer is averaging 0.76 xG+xA per 90. It’s still early days in the CPL season but his ability to maintain that form will be key if Valour is to pull this off. Rounding out that dangerous attack are William Akio (probably not productive enough to get to MLS but always a chance he runs the whole length of the pitch and scores a goal) and Sean Rea (a Montreal loanee who racks up expected assists).
The other thing that stands out about Valour is they give up a lot of shots. Normally this is fine because they have Jonathon Sirois in goal. Sirois saved more goals than expected than any other keeper in the CPL last season. Given that Vancouver will probably have to start Cody Cropper (due to Thomas Hasal’s injury) goalkeeper is one of the positions where you could argue that Valour clearly has the stronger player than Vancouver. Except there’s a weird clause in Sirois’ contract that will prevent him from playing.
Updates from Valour FC's Phil Dos Santos ahead of Wednesday's #CanChamp match vs #VWFC:— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) May 9, 2022
-Jonathan Sirois is unable to play due to a clause in his loan. Looks like 6'7" Rayane-Yuba Yesli will start
-Everyone but Andrew Jean-Baptiste *should* be able to feature in some form#CanPL
This is a pretty big blow to Valour. Little is known about Yesli outside of those who know a lot about Manitoba soccer except that he is really tall. He played in one Canadian Championship game for AS Blainville and in one Italian Serie D game back in 2018. Generally speaking, the Whitecaps have not done a good job of testing inexperienced goalkeepers. I have vague memories of going to BC Place as a kid and they would have these preview videos with Peter Schaad and Nick Dasovic. Dasovic would always point out if the opposing keeper did not have many pro appearances and, I swear, every time the Whitecaps would get maybe one or two shots on goal. So, on paper, an inexperienced goalkeeper might be an advantage for the Whitecaps but from a vibes perspective, it’s a point squarely in Valour’s favour.
Basically, if the two teams are trading chances, I think Valour has a chance. Cropper’s time in North America has not been good, Vancouver is prone to spiraling out of control, and they will be without Tristan Blackmon. So a back and forth game is good for Valour. But if Valour finds themselves always defending and trying to sneak a goal, I think that favours Vancouver.
Vancouver will also have home-field advantage and, (I know I say this every year) have the much better squad on paper. But this just feels like exactly the type of situation the Whitecaps always screw up. It’s a home game against a team they should beat. Their opponent is missing a key player. If they win they have a pretty great run to the final where they can’t face another MLS team until the final and can’t face the first place CPL team (Pacific) until the semi-finals. Now, I am on record that saying “anything can happen” is for cowards. So I’m forced to stick to my guns and say the most likely outcome is a Whitecaps victory. But even I must admit, the vibes are not good.