For the first time in a long time, the Vancouver Whitecaps have the opportunity to lift some hardware Tuesday evening (7:30 PM Pacific) at BC Place, where they’ll face Toronto FC for a chance to win the Canadian Championship and earn themselves a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Both of these teams currently sit below the playoff bar in their respective MLS conferences, yet there are reasons to be optimistic for each of these sides - especially for whoever hoists the trophy on Tuesday.
Toronto FC has been buoyed by the recent additions of Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi, and Mark-Anthony Kaye. After a 4-0 romp over Charlotte this past weekend, the promise of the Reds looking like a much different team in the second half of the season appears to be coming to fruition.
Meanwhile for Vancouver, prior to two consecutive home losses, they were on one of the best runs of any team in MLS and finally looked to be getting comfortable under second-year manager Vanni Sartini’s system. Equally, the addition of Andres Cubas and the growing form of Ryan Gauld gave Whitecaps supporters plenty of reasons to be excited for the second half of the season. If Vancouver can kick-start their second half with a trophy, it could go a long way to seeing this Vancouver team play with more consistent confidence.
Speaking of that confidence, it is exactly what the Whitecaps lacked in their most recent match, a disheartening 3-1 loss at home to the Chicago Fire. While Vancouver did look bright in attack, they held so little of the ball the chances were few and far between. Equally, when out of possession, the Whitecaps appeared to lack identity, often unsure of whether to press or sit deep. All three of Chicago’s goals involved very passive defensive play from the Whitecaps in and around their own area, and as Sartini noted in his post-match press conference if the Whitecaps play the way they did against the Fire on Tuesday, it’s likely going to be a long night against TFC.
It’s not all bad news though. Vancouver, despite their poor play, did actually out Xg the Fire on Saturday night, and the prospect of Julian Gressel and Ryan Gauld feeding Lucas Cavallini and Brian White against a fragile Toronto FC defence is tantalizing. The key for Vancouver is being able to build in possession consistently enough to create those chances. This will require much sharper passing from Vancouver’s centrebacks out of the back, as well as another huge showing from Andres Cubas. One of the benefits of squad rotation on the weekend is that Sartini should have a full host of players available for Tuesday including the aforementioned Cubas, who only played 45 minutes against Chicago, and Ranko Veselinovic, who did not feature against the Fire.
For Toronto, Insigne and Bernardeschi only played 45 minutes this past weekend, while Osorio, Bradley, and Kaye, the three across the midfield, all played 80+ minutes. I would expect TFC to run out largely the same lineup on Tuesday as they did on the weekend, but it will be interesting to see if there are any surprise changes in the midfield. Overall, it’s difficult to read much into Toronto’s play up to this point in the season because they are a vastly different team with their new additions, and really, there are only 45 minutes of sample size with their current top choice XI.
All that being said, the biggest point of mystery across these two teams heading into this match-up might be in between the sticks for Vancouver. Isaac Boehmer earned himself another start on the weekend for the Whitecaps and was decent despite the three goals conceded. What is interesting now though is that if Cody Cropper or Thomas Hasal is going to start this match, it will be cold after recovering from injury. By not giving Hasal or Cropper the net on the weekend, the Whitecaps may be indicating they are going to ride the hot hand in goal, which is a bold choice considering the magnitude of this match. To be honest, I have no idea what the right thing to do is in this situation, but it will be intriguing no matter how it pans out.
The last time these two sides played, Vancouver eked out a 1-0 win that involved a missed penalty, a contentious no-goal call, an injury to Thomas Hasal, and ultimately, a 90th-minute goal for Vancouver from former TFC striker Tosaint Ricketts. It was truly a match that had a bit of everything, leaving many Toronto supporters fuming. That match was also the moment that sparked Vancouver’s impressive run of form that helped propel them back into contention for a playoff spot. So the Whitecaps should have some positive memories to build upon.
In terms of the stakes of the cup itself, Toronto will be looking to hold the unique privilege of winning the Canadian Championship twice in the same calendar year, while Vancouver will be looking to lift the trophy for only the second time, as well as securing their first win ever over Toronto in the cup final.