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Match Preview: Vancouver Heads into the Hornet’s Nest to take on Charlotte FC

The Whitecaps get their first chance to see how good Charlotte really are

MLS: CF Montreal at Charlotte FC Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Gameday Number Twelve is tomorrow and it’s a road match ripe for the taking!

Sure, the Vancouver Whitecaps (3-6-2) are 0-for-everything away from BC Place this season and will be relying on their fourth, fifth, and sixth-string goalkeepers to stay afloat, but I’m telling you there’s a chance to grab some points as they pay visit to MLS newcomers Charlotte FC (4-7-1) Sunday afternoon.

Match Information

Where: Bank of American Stadium, Charlotte, NC

When: Sunday, May 22nd at 2:00 pm PST

How: TSN1 (TV); AM730 (Radio); TSN App (Internet)

The Whitecaps are coming off a last minute 2-1 victory against FC Dallas that capped an undefeated four-game homestand. On Sunday, they’re going up against MLS debutants Charlotte FC, who currently sit in 9th place in the Eastern Conference and boast a goal tally of 10 for and 15 against.

All four of Charlotte’s wins this season have come at home, along with two losses, suggesting that Bank of American Stadium could be a fortress in the making. However, some of the underlying stats available suggest that those wins may not have come easily.

What Happened Last Time?

Nothing. There is no last time, which stands to reason given this is Carolina’s inaugural season.

However, if you dig deep enough, you’ll find a couple of MLS-era Whitecaps matches played in North Carolina way back in 2012 and 2013. Vancouver played the Carolina RailHawks in two preseason matches, drawing 2-2 in ‘12 and winning 3-0 in ‘13.

Those matches certainly have no bearing on this weekend, but nine-year-old highlights are available to satisfy anyone with a nostalgic itch to scratch.

Who’s Starting?

The better question is “Who’s Going to Play in Goal?”

Friday morning, the Whitecaps announced that goalkeepers Cody Cropper and Isaac Boehmer, along with midfielder Pedro Vite, were being placed in the MLS Health and Safety Protocols and thus would not be playing against Charlotte on Sunday.

And it was only a few hours later when it was confirmed that Jake Nerwinski would also be placed in the H&S Protocols alongside Cropper, Boehmer, and Vite.

So... wow. Those are some real “You Don’t Have to Go Home, But You Can’t Stay Here,” vibes.

Ben Alexander and Max Anchor, goalkeepers signed to Whitecaps FC 2, were in training Friday morning ahead of the trip to North Carolina. In terms of playing options, Alexander has made every lineup for the reserve side this season, while there would be complications for Anchor and any collegiate soccer ambitions he may have should he sign a professional contract. Harjeet Johal also reported that Anchor travelled with the team... along with Thomas Hasal, who’s most definitely injured and out. This isn’t to suggest on my part that Alexander didn’t travel, but more to address how the whole situation is as confusing as it is unfortunate.

News broke and was later confirmed on Friday that the Whitecaps had secured a weekend-long loan of Niko Giantsopoulos from CPL’s York United FC, so thankfully there will multiple GK options. No Alex Roldan Moment for the ‘Caps this week (hopefully).

All things considered, my guess is that Alexander will get the start on Sunday, but it could just as easily be Anchor.

(3 PM EDIT - Given that Ben Alexander will be starting for WFC2 today against MNUFC2, I can confidently say he will not be joining the team in North Carolina on Sunday.)

Add in the continued absences of Caio Alexandre (hand) and Tristan Blackmon (knee), as well as the fifth yellow card suspension for Lucas Cavallini, and we’ll ultimately see a Whitecaps bench that’s thinner than usual.

However, Ryan Gauld will be back! Strange, I feel like I’ve typed that out recently, but he and Tosaint Ricketts are back from The Protocols and hopefully are rarin’ to go.

In any case, that’s one bit of good news heading into the weekend, but if you need someone to blame for all the bad this week, one brave soul has stepped forward...

Potential Vancouver Lineup - Alexander Anchor; Martins, Jungwirth, Godoy, Brown; Berhalter, Teibert; Raposo, Gauld, Dajome; White.

Charlotte had five players listed as Out on the MLS Availability Report as of Friday night: goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega (concussion), defender Adam Armour (foot), midfielder Chris Hegardt (knee), and forwards Vinicius Mello (foot) and former Whitecap Yordy Reyna (thigh) all appear to be unavailable.

Of those five, Hegardt and Mello returned to training Friday afternoon, though I doubt either will make the lineup on Sunday. Mello’s injury came way back in January, which suggests CLTFC have been very cautious in his recovery process, while a two-month turnaround for Hegardt to be at game speed following knee surgery is arguably a little too soon.

The final name from the Availability List for Charlotte is Christian Fuchs. Listed as Questionable, the former Leicester defender may be ready for his first start since a win over Inter Miami on May 7th.

No one is suspended on the CLTFC roster, though midfielders Jordy Alcivar and Brandt Bronico are both a yellow card away from an accumulation suspension.

Potential Charlotte Lineup - Kahlina; Mora, Fuchs, Corujo, Lindsey; Bronico; Bender, Alcivar, Franco; Rios, Swiderski.

What’s Up With The Enemy?

After opening the season with three losses, Charlotte has stabilized to a certain degree, despite consistent trouble putting the ball in the net. They’re Top 8 in Possession and Top 4 in Save%, but are Bottom 3 in xG, Bottom 6 in Shots on Target Allowed, and have the lowest Goals For in the league. Without having seen them live, the vibe I’m getting is a team that’s still finding itself and discovering ways to play in unison. I’d argue they’ve experienced sufficient growth so far, particularly when compared to the recent inaugural seasons of clubs like Austin, Inter Miami, and Cincinnati.

Who’s Worth Watching?

Kristijan Kahlina

Despite the low goal tally, Charlotte has done a decent job of keeping the ball out of the net, and I’d wager Kahlina is a large part of the reason why. After 12 games, Kahlina has made 44 saves (3rd in MLS) with a Save% of 78.6 (6th), and a Post-Shot Expected Goals (PSxG) rating of 17.3 (6th). That last stat is noteworthy in how it weighs an ability to stop shots against expected goals, or in other words, the ability to stop difficult shots. Given that 3 of the 15 goals Kahlina has allowed this season were off PKs, he’ll be difficult to beat on Sunday.

Kind Of Related But Absolutely Hilarious

I’ll give 1 Professor Land Fun Buck to the first person who can name the current Whitecap that featured in the 2012 and 2013 preseason matches against the Carolina RailHawks. Hint: his name rhymes with Bustle Ryetart.

However, you can earn yourself 1,000 Fun Bucks if you can name the two players that respectively subbed in for our mystery Whitecap in those two friendlies. You’re going to need the Wayback Machine for this one.

Who’s Going To Win?

First and foremost, the Whitecaps stink on the road. In five away games this season, they’re 0-0-5, with 3 Goals For and 14 Against. Things don’t get any better when you factor in the absence of their in-form striker and the certainty that whomever is named as Vancouver’s starting goalkeeper, they will be seeing his first MLS action. It’s not great, Bob.

So what does Vancouver have going for them? Or rather, what does Charlotte have going against them?

CLTFC owns an Expected Goal Differential of -2.0 at home, despite their record of 4-2-0 at Bank of America Stadium. That differential has progressively improved since the start of the season, but is arguably deceiving when compared to match results: for example, Charlotte boasts an xGD of -0.4 from a 3-1 win over New England, -0.5 in a 2-0 win over Cincinnati, and a +0.3 in a 2-0 loss to Montreal. Chaos theory, MLS style.

In there negative differential games at home, win or lose, Charlotte has a tendency (as gleaned from to allow a plethora of shots from both inside and outside the penalty area; play poorly in the center of the park; forego a balanced attack to remain primarily on one side of the field; and retain limited possession in the final third. If Vancouver can prevent any kind of CLTFC attacking dynamism and stay compact defensively, well, the phrase “smash and grab” comes to mind. I get the feeling that Erik Godoy, if he starts, will come up big on Sunday.

And that’s what I’m riding behind. Despite Charlotte’s strong record at home, the underlying stats suggest a vulnerability so long as Vancouver doesn’t backpedal all match. It’s also worth noting that both of Charlotte’s home losses have come from teams either in the Western Conference or from Canada. The Whitecaps are both!

Then again, there is this:

But you know what? I’m feeling saucy. Let’s draw some ire.

Somehow, someway, I’m guessing the Whitecaps will escape with a 1-0 win. My fellow Eighty Six Forever writers, however, don’t agree whatsoever...

Eighty Six Forever Predictions

Andrew: 3-1 Charlotte

Caleb: 2-1 Charlotte

Luis: 2-1 Charlotte

Sam: 3-2 Charlotte


Referee: Nima Saghafi; AR1: Nick Uranga; AR2: Ian McKay; 4th: Calin Radosav; VAR: Armando Villarreal; AVAR: Tom Supple.