Gameday Number Twenty is tonight and somebody better keep an ambulance on speed dial! The Vancouver Whitecaps (7-9-3) cannot afford to lose any more players to injury as they take on an FC Cincinnati (7-7-5) side that has quickly grown from being a pushover to a dangerous threat.
Where: TQL Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
When: Wednesday, July 12th at 5:00 pm PST
How: TSN1 (TV); AM730 (Radio); TSN App (Internet)
The ‘Caps are reeling right now, in more ways than one. On it’s face, Friday’s 3-1 loss to Minnesota is deceiving as Vancouver played better than the score line would suggest. But in the details lies a greater issue: as bad as the injury to midfielder and Designated Player Andreas Cubas is/could be, the number of currently injured Whitecaps is alarming.
Eight players did not make the trip to Cincinnati, two more are coming off injury stints, and for good measure one more may have gotten hurt in practice this week. In previous seasons, a trip to Cincinnati would have been a cure-all; now, it may be a dirge.
It’s only been a half-season since FC Cincinnati’s most recent last-place finish, but the club has clearly come a long way in a short time. No longer the league’s punching bag, Cincinnati is finally punching back, with a mostly unadulterated roster that’s coalesced into a dynamic, entertaining attack, under current coach Pat Noonan. They won’t win every game this season, but in the glimpses I’ve caught, the team appears to finally be playing for, and not in spite of, one another.
That said, their recent form has been just OK. Cincinnati have earned one win and four draws in their last five matches. Of those draws, the two on the road against Philadelphia and New England appear to have been scrappy, come-from-behind efforts, while the draws at home against both New York teams were unnerving lead-conceders. Sandwich in a home shutout of Orlando and you’ve got the makings of a five-game undefeated run that’s only earned seven points. Not entirely boast-worthy.
What Happened Last Time?
Cincinnati and Vancouver have only played each other in MLS once before, nearly three years ago. But good news! It was a 2-1 Whitecaps victory over at Nippert Stadium!
Goals from Hwang In-beom and Felipe Martins cancelled out a 6th minute strike from Allan Cruz in what was unquestionably as smash-and-grab as they come. When it comes to road wins and the Whitecaps, when are they ever not “smash-and-grab”?
You know how we can tell it’s been a long three years since that one-and-only match? Both clubs have retained only three of their respective eighteen players on that day’s lineup sheet: Erik Godoy, Jake Nerwinski, and Russell Teibert for Vancouver, and Cruz, Nick Hagglund, and Alvas Powell for Cincinnati.
We should really be asking, “Who’s left?”:
#VWFC Andres Cubas will not play on Wednesday. He’s out with an abductor injury. Hasn’t trained this week.— Har Journalist (@HarJournalist) July 12, 2022
The following players are also out and won’t travel to Cincinnati today.
Martins #CINvVAN#MLS https://t.co/kvG3RGDnKP pic.twitter.com/8RHQxsklid
Those are just the players who didn’t travel.
There’s also Caio Alexandre (adductor) and Michael Balidismo (ankle), who as of Tuesday night are both listed as Questionable on the MLS Availability Report. I can’t say for certain if either are in Cincinnati with the team, but neither Alexandre nor Baldisimo appeared as part of the Injury Report on the team’s own preview, so hopefully both are fit and ready to go.
Factor in how, per The Province’s J.J. Adams, Leo Owusu may also be out thanks to a knee to the head suffered during training, and you’ll quickly realize the Whitecaps are without nearly an entire starting lineup Wednesday night.
That isn’t to say Vancouver won’t have a viable Starting XI available to play, but that bench is going to be thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin.
Potential Vancouver Lineup - Cropper; Nerwinski, Godoy, Blackmon; Dajome, Teibert, Jungwirth, Vite, Brown; Gauld; Cavallini.
For Cincinnati, Ronald Matarrita (ankle), Dominique Badji (leg), Junior Moreno (leg) are all listed as Out on the Availability Report and should not feature, though English forward Calvin Harris may return to the bench for the first time since early May. However, Cincinnati will also be without both Cruz and Luciano Acosta due to red cards received during the draw against RBNY.
I can’t speak to the severity of Cruz’s two yellow cards, but I have no qualms in assuming that neither were as ridiculous as Acosta taking a straight red for his headbutt of Aaron Long in the ninety-third minute. Complete boneheadedness that, as an outside observer, I’m fine with because I now know that the team’s leader in xG+xA per 90 won’t be available for the forthcoming match that’s conveniently against my club. What a shame.
Potential Cincinnati Lineup - Celentano; Blackett, Cameron, Hagglund; Nelson, Kubo, Nwobodo, Gaddis; Barreal; Brenner, Vazquez.
What’s Up With The Enemy?
This isn’t your mother’s wooden-spooning winning FC Cincinnati. If anything, the 2022 version of the Orange & Blue are taking that wooden spoon and beating back any club foolish enough to underestimate them. For starters, they’ve already passed last year’s point total of 20 with fifteen games still to go. That’s unquestionably a long ways away from their three consecutive last place finishes.
At the moment, Cincinnati are 7th in the Eastern Conference standings, 6th in the league in xG, and boast a dynamic attacking front in Acosta, Brandon Vasquez, and Brenner da Silva.
Their downside? Cincinnati tends to give up goals by the boatload, conceding three or more goals in four of their seven losses this season. Two of those losses came at home, though both were to Montreal, so perhaps that’s an outlier more than anything.
Nevertheless, Cincinnati can bleed when poked. Their recent 4-4 draw against New York City FC? Well, after going up 3-0 in the first half, NYCFC were able to level score during injury time of the first half. That’s three goals after the 45-minute mark. NYCFC then proceeded to score five minutes into the second half, forcing Cincinnati to play catch-up to earn the draw.
Who’s Worth Watching?
Brenner da Silva
I mean, how could it not be him right now? Over his past five matches, all of which were starts where he played 78 minutes or more, Brenner has buried five goals on seventeen shots (eight of which were on target). Though the three he netted against NYCFC earned him a measly xG of 0.76 total, the goals themselves were quite good.
Full-season xG totals suggest that it’s Vazquez (8.8) and not Brenner (5.0) that the Whitecaps should be worried about. I disagree; let’s worry about both of them, but perhaps focus on the in-form striker just a little bit more.
Kind of Related & Kind of Hilarious
I still can’t believe that Cincinnati are now on their sixth head coach, whether interim or full, since joining the league in 2019. Makes me think the word “gaffer” is actually derived from “gaffe.” At least the Whitecaps have stretched their seven head coaches across eleven season! You’ve got to pace yourselves, we might run out of coaches!
Who’s Going To Win?
This match will undoubtedly come down to the club more adept at handling their absentee players.
Cincinnati will be hard done by having to field a lineup without Cruz or, more importantly, Acosta, the MLS Player of the Month for June who doesn’t just lead the club in xG+xA, but is first in touches, dribbles, and pressures, and second in shots and tackles. And until tomorrow night, he’s the only Cincinnati player to have played in all nineteen of their matches this season.
But who are the Whitecaps missing, again? Well, anywhere between eight and ten players total, including: three wingbacks; a centerback who has started in 18 of 19 matches this season and leads the club in clearances; and up to four central midfielders, one of whom who’s proven to be a revelatory signing that’s also quickly endeared himself to the fanbase, that’s who!
I love unexpected, out-of-nowhere underdog victories as much as the next person, and I firmly believe that the absence of Acosta will greatly inhibit Cincinnati’s ability to create on the attack, but this depleted Whitecaps bench may be too thin to hold the line. Like my fellow Whitecap blogging compatriots, I regrettably think this one will go to Cincinnati, 2-1.
Then again, the one thing we at Eighty Six Forever have going for us is how the last two games where all five of use were unanimous in our belief that the Whitecaps would lose on the road, we were instead rewarded with wins over SKC and Dallas.
You know, the only road points the Whitecaps have earned this season. Maybe things won’t be so bad, as long we all stop believing simultaneously.
Eighty Six Forever Predictions
Andrew: 2-1 Cincinnati
Caleb: 2-1 Cincinnati
Luis: 2-0 Cincinnati
Sam: 2-0 Cincinnati
Referee: Pierre-Luc Lauziere; AR1: Lyes Arfa; AR2: Kali Smith; 4th: Ramy Touchan; VAR: Jair Marrufo; AVAR: Fabio Tovar.