Have a good international break, Whitecaps fans? Time to focus back onto the goal at hand- reach the postseason. Canada’s hopes are looking positive for the World Cup, and let’s hope that good air can follow the returning ‘Caps to BC Place and carry them over their next two challenges. Luckily the first test is a home game, but it also is a stage for the Whitecaps to stick the landing on the 2022 season, at least for the fans living in Vancouver. It is no easy feat, though, as the team they are facing is second-place-in-west Austin FC. Something must have been in the water in the Lone Star State, as the clubs (Other than Houston) have risen from the ashes of last season and have basically cemented themselves with playoff spots. Austin has shone the brightest, and has caught many by surprise at just how good the city’s only major sports team has performed on their sophomore season.
Driussi has made a monumental impact in his first season with @AustinFC.— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 15, 2022
A key to @NashvilleSC's success, Hany Mukhtar's stats speak for themselves.
The MVP race is tight as these two face off Saturday night at 9pm ET on ESPN+.
They have players ready for MVP contention, and their goal difference of +18 eclipses all but two teams within the MLS itself. As such, beating them will be no easy feat, especially with Sebastian Driussi having a higher goal tally than the top three Whitecaps goalscorers. (Cavallini, Gauld, and Ricketts have 19 together.) Austin even looked like a lock to be Supporter’s Shield contenders, but a recent rough patch of form ended these aspirations.
This is where the Whitecaps can step in and ruin the Texan party. Their last five games have been nearly identical, with three losses being followed by points gained in their last two. Where they differentiate is where the Whitecaps have picked up six whereas Austin only four. The wheels on the bus may be falling, or the foot has been taken off the gas once they achieved the playoffs. Whatever it is, the Whitecaps are at home and have the opportunity to boss the game the way they did against both Seattle and the LA Galaxy.
The Whitecaps are a team that thrives off of low possession and counterattacks. When the system works, it’s capable to taking down superstars, but it’s a limited system due to its nature of being thought of by a coach with limited experience. That’s not a slight on Vanni Sartini, who has done a decent job with the tools set in front of him, but rather a reflection of the reality of the situation. As was seen at the start of the season and with the midseason slump, the insistency of relying Vanni’s rigid system led to some poor results that showed the limitations of his abilities. Luckily, while it’s not great on paper, the Whitecaps have recently developed an X Factor in the shape of Ryan Gauld, who has been having an excellent run of games, even with the Whitecaps underperforming at times. (I’m sure if we all still remember his recent assist against Seattle.)
Pedro Vite fires home from the perfect Ryan Gauld cross#VWFC │ #VANvSEA pic.twitter.com/DXBOJe7Ozw— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) September 18, 2022
Austin has been extraordinarily strong on their right side, but their left side is exponentially more subdued. None of their players have demonstrated any extreme proficiency when firing from the left side, and this is also true for their attacking trio who prefer to use their right foot when scoring their goals. This will put some pressure on Luis Martins, who will have to make sure that his side doesn’t get exposed in the transition to pushing Austin’s attack to their weaker side. Cubas would be great to deploy in the middle were he fit to play, as he could push play towards a certain part of the field, and could shut down Driussi’s attack before they begin. Luckily, even if Austin decides to change things up, the Whitecaps’ right side is strong with Julian Gressel providing relief as another of the Whitecaps’ top performers this season.
Beating opponents fourteen positions above you is certainly no easy feat, but Austin’s recent away record hasn’t been great. They are a team that loves possession, but the Whitecaps thrive on the counterattack, and haven’t done too bad themselves at home. Playoff hopes are on the line and the Whitecaps have disappointed many times before, but I do think that there is something to maybe hold onto. It feels like it’s not the end of the line for the ‘Caps, so I’ll wager a 2-0 Win will get the Whitecaps one step closer to the promised land.