Saturday night at Dignity Health Sports Park, the Vancouver Whitecaps will take on the LA Galaxy at 7PM Pacific. The last time these two teams met in the regular season, Marc Dos Santos was still managing the Whitecaps and Patrick Metcalfe was starting in the centre of the midfield. Oh, how times have changed.
Because these two teams are meeting for the first time so late in the season, it means that they will be seeing each other twice over the critical final ten games here in 2022.
Currently, the only margin that separates these two teams is a game in hand, as the Galaxy are on 23 games played and the Whitecaps are on 24. At the moment, both of these teams find themselves in the middle of an incredibly tight battle for the final playoff spots in the West. Right now, the difference between 3rd and 11th in the conference is only six points. Therefore, the home and home between these two sides could go a long way to determining which of these teams will find themselves above the playoff bar at the season’s end.
Simply put, the Galaxy are currently in a brutal run of form, with just one win and no draws over their past six matches. In their most recent contest, LA dropped a 4-2 decision to cellar dwellers Sporting KC on the road and only saw them score twice in the late stages after the match already looked out of reach.
Despite their recent struggles, the Galaxy have been analytics darlings in 2022, as they currently have the second best expected goal differential in the West at +7.4, only behind their crosstown rivals LAFC.
Overall, it appears as though the Galaxy have no problem creating scoring chances, however, some of their young players have been struggling to convert those chances. While Javier Hernandez and Dejan Joveljic have been lights out for the Galaxy with nine goals each, they are going to need more from their depth contributors: Kevin Cabral, Samuel Grandsir, Erfrian Alvarez etc. if Greg Vanney wants his side to perform up to potential. Equally, the Galaxy have struggled to keep the ball out of their own net in recent weeks, as in three of their last five losses, the Galaxy have conceded three or more goals.
Stylistically, the Galaxy play a very different game than Vancouver’s most recent opponent Houston. The Galaxy hold the 4th most possession of any team in MLS while the Whitecaps hold the least. In a strange way, this may actually play into Vancouver’s hand as they look more comfortable against sides that clearly want to dictate play by being on the ball (like Toronto, LAFC, etc.).
As for Vancouver specifically, after a smash and grab comeback result at home, Vanni Sartini and his men will be looking to build on their respectable recent road form which has seen them grind out three consecutive draws away from home.
While it looks as though regular starters Andres Cubas and Marcus Godinho will be available for this one, the Whitecaps will once more be without Lucas Cavallini (yellow card accumulation) and Brian White (rib injury). This places the striking duties in the lap of either Tosaint Ricketts, Simon Becher, or perhaps Emiliano Brienza or Easton Ongaro. For a less traditional approach, Vanni Sartini could also elect to get a bit more creative and play someone like Cristian Dajome or Ryan Gauld as a false nine. The manager indicated on Wednesday that he won’t be making a final call on this position until late in the week.
Vancouver will also be expecting contributions from recent additions Julian Gressel and Alessandro Schopf in the coming matches. Gressel had somewhat of a coming out party against Houston as he starts to find his feet with the Whitecaps, while Schopf, after dressing as an unused sub this past weekend, will be looking to potentially make his MLS debut in LA on Saturday night. The Austrian has only started full training with the team during the middle of this week, so if he does see the pitch in Los Angeles, his minutes will likely be quite limited, but he is making the trip. For the Whitecaps, the prospect of Schopf, Cubas, and Gauld all starting together in the midfield at some point soon would demonstrate a quality of talent at the position that this side has not enjoyed since its induction as an MLS franchise.
The big question that remains is if Vancouver will be able to find points in the city of angels this weekend? I’m inclined to say yes, despite the fact that the striker spot is an area of concern. Equally crucial is that the Whitecaps keep the ball out of their own net for the first 15 minutes. Can the Whitecaps fix this mental block? It remains to be seen. Ultimately though, I think Vancouver matches up well with this Galaxy side and that there will be opportunities for them to counter when LA looks to attack. That’s why I’m going with a big 2-1 win for the Whitecaps.
For anyone who is new to the site, if you’re looking for more Vancouver Whitecaps content in audio form, be sure to check out The Third Sub podcast, which I host with Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic. This can be found wherever you listen to your podcasts, the latest episode is linked here.