The Vancouver Whitecaps will look to win their first game of the 2023 season away to the surprisingly hot Minnesota United. The match will be heavily impacted by international call-ups with both teams missing several key starters.
Vancouver made several win-now moves in the offseason and late in 2022, bringing in players in their peak years in the hopes of boosting the team’s quality significantly. So to have 0 MLS wins so far is sub-optimal. I plan to go into things in more detail once we have a larger sample size. But to give you a quick overview of where things are at, the Whitecaps are just slightly below average across the board (so far). They give up slightly too many high-danger chances to be a defensive force and don’t generate quite enough of those chances themselves to be an offensive force. They are pretty unlucky to only have two points so far but that should not be confused with saying they are actually good. The one exception has been the goalkeeping of Yohei Takaoka who, despite an error, last week, has saved the team’s bacon numerous times.
The Whitecaps will be without Andres Cubas and Javain Brown due to international call-ups. I would imagine that Mathias Laborda and Sebastian Berhalter will slot in as their replacements.
Minnesota has only played three matches so far and is off to a surprisingly strong start with two wins and a draw. Minnesota has been without star player Emanuel Reynoso who is suspended without pay for failing to report to pre-season training.
The Loons have (so far) had the season I was kind of expecting the Whitecaps to have. They generate very few chances but concede so little that they have been able to come out on top so far. But the twist is that Minnesota will be without eight players due to international call-ups. To get an idea of just how devastating this could potentially be, I had a look at American Soccer Analysis’ G+ (or goals added) statistic which looks at a player’s on-ball contributions. Minnesota will only be able to field one player who has played more than 90 minutes that the G+ model considers to be an above-average starter (Hassani Dotsan). The biggest miss might be Canadian standout Dayne St. Clair. With him absent the presumptive starter is Clint Irwin, who did not play a single MLS game in 2022.
Now, winning on the road is extremely hard in MLS. It is one of the most home-team-biased leagues in the world. But Axel Schuster said, in a preseason interview with AFTN, that the Whitecaps should be able to finish in the top-4 this year. This is the type of situation a top-4 quality team should be able to take advantage of. So, best of luck to them.