Who: Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Chicago Fire
When: 7:00 p.m. PST, Saturday July 23
Where: BC Place
How to watch: TSN (Canada), ESPN+ (US)
What to Know
It’s been a minute since the Caps played the Chicago Fire.
Not since the Caps smashed and grabbed a 2-0 win in the land of Mickey Mouse during MLS is Back have the two teams faced off and both teams have turned over large chunks of their roster so you could be forgiven for being unsure of how this one will play out.
The list of walking wounded, however, has shortened considerably for the Caps. Erik Godoy, Sebastian Berhalter, Luis Martins, Cristian Gutierrez and Deiber Caicedo won’t feature but everyone else will be able to feature for at least a bit.
That includes new arrival Julian Gressel, who certainly knows a thing or two about Chicago, coming from the Eastern Conference. It sounds like he won’t be able to make it 90 minutes but may still feature at some point in the evening — a tantalizing prospect, despite the Caps getting good wingback play last week in Portland.
The Caps meet a team in the Fire who have had some struggles this season, yet still find themselves firmly in the mix for a playoff spot in the chaotic Eastern Conference.
Chicago’s recent results are rather boom or bust — their last draw was two full months ago and wins over Philadelphia (the best team in the East) and Seattle were balanced out with losses to San Jose Earthquakes and Columbus.
The much ballyhooed arrival of Xherdan Shaqiri has not quite transformed this team — he has only three goals all season and two of them are penalties. He has been quite good at getting the ball into dangerous areas but hasn’t quite lived up to his high price tag on other fronts.
Kacper Przybyłko hasn’t set the world on fire (indeed, he’s been underperforming his expected goals) and while the return of Christopher Mueller to MLS might help things click, this is still a team that struggles to score goals (their average goals per match rank is below the Caps which is ... not where you want to be).
Jhon Duran, however, has been a revelation when he has played — he scored two goals against Toronto FC — and there are signs the attack could be starting to sputter to life. At 18-years-old he is not going to play or shine in every match but everyone agrees the potential is there.
The Fire are much more buttoned up defensively. While I’m not convinced that Gabriel Slonina is all that, the Fire have good luck at keeping clean sheets and are averaging only 1.3 goals per match against.
Their best players have seemed to be holding midfielders Federico Navarro and Gaston Gimenez, who seem to take pressure off the backline, which is led by Rafael Czichos (who, weirdly, has been one of their better goal scorers). This is a team that will get stuck in, win the ball back and then proceed to trip over themselves in the final third. Sounds like a version of the Caps, in many ways.
Vancouver will have a lot of things going for them in this one. For starters, they are back at BC Place and the Caps have never lost to Chicago at home. Their excellent home form in 2022 gives reason for optimism.
And, even if Gressel doesn’t start, the return of Andres Cubas will help the Caps string things together until he can take the pitch. And Ryan Raposo, who put in the cross for Brian White’s goal on Sunday, and Cristian Dajome will fancy their chances against Boris Sekulic and Jonathan Bornstein, Chicago’s fullbacks, both of whom have had mediocre seasons so far.
The Fire are, in many respects, the perfect team for Vanni Sartini’s increasingly confident, “playing on the front foot” side. A team that doesn’t put the ball in the net much will give the Caps license to try and impose their will and put up a first-half performance mirroring what they did at Providence Park on Sunday.
While I always hate to be cautiously optimistic, I’m thinking a 1-0 win is on the cards Saturday.
Andrew: 1-0 Vancouver
Luis: 2-0 Vancouver
Ian: 3-1 Vancouver
Sam: 3-1 Vancouver