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Match Preview: An Astronomical Playoff Push That Either Begins (or Ends) with the Galaxy

It’s as do-or-die as it gets Wednesday night, as anything less than a win could end the Whitecaps’ season.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at LA Galaxy Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Gameday Number Thirty-One! Though the Vancouver Whitecaps (9-7-14) technically have a chance to make the MLS Cup playoffs, there’s zero room for error if the club want to make their faintest hopes a reality. Lloyd Christmas, give me strength! Up next is a Wednesday night match against a team that’s also chasing the last playoff spot in the conference: the always problematic Los Angeles Galaxy (11-7-11).

Match Information

Where: BC Place, Vancouver, BC

When: Wednesday, September 14th at 7:08 pm PST

How: TSN1, TSN 4 (TV); AM730 (Radio); TSN App (Internet)

Like I said, there’s zero room for error for the Whitecaps, as only a win keeps the fire alive another day. A loss or a draw combined with an RSL win over Austin will end Vancouver’s season with three matches remaining.

Recent performances don’t exactly make for a positive playoff outlook, as the ‘Caps are 1-1-3 in their last five and have now lost three in a row. A return to BC Place is usually good when the Whitecaps wounds need licking, but not when it’s against a team that’s historically dominant against Vancouver. All-time, the Whitecaps are 9-6-14 in MLS regular season matches against the LA Galaxy, with a goal differential of -15. That’s not great, Bob.

But good news, everyone! That record gets slightly better when the ‘Caps are playing at home, with Vancouver posting a record of 5-4-4 and a differential of +2. Also worth noting is how Vancouver has won two of their last three at home against the Galaxy, netting six goals in the process.

The downside? All those matches took place in the Whitecaps’ COVID homes-away-from-home of Sandy, UT, and Portland, OR. The actual last home match at BC Place against LA was …a 2-0 loss, way back in 2019.

What Happened Last Time?

We only have to go back to August 13th and, uh, it wasn’t pretty.

Goals from Samuel Grandsir, Javier Hernandez, and Victor Vasquez put LA up 3-0- after only thirty minutes. Though Ryan Gauld was able to claw one back at 38’ (off a goalkeeper assist!), the three-goal lead was restored moments later thanks to a second goal from Grandsir.

Though Tosaint Ricketts banged home a right place, right time goal at 70’ to make it 4-2, two yellows from Cristian Dajome (who assisted on the Ricketts goal) inside a span of seven minutes was the coffin in which a fifth goal courtesy of Efrain Alvarez ultimately buried the ‘Caps.

Who’s Starting?

The list of unavailable Whitecaps is perhaps at its shortest since the start of the 2022 season. Though Lucas Cavallini still has two games to serve on his suspension, only Sebastian Berhalter (knee) and Deiber Caicedo (knee) were listed as Out on the league Availability Report. Sarita Patel reported yesterday that Caicedo is now rehabbing his knee following his July meniscus surgery. Though he certainly won’t be back this season, it’s great to hear that Caicedo is progressing through his recovery.

And the good news keeps on coming: Ryan Gauld is back! After serving a one-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation, the Scottish midfielder will be available Wednesday night.

Potential Vancouver Lineup - Hasal; Blackmon, Veselinovic, Nerwinski; Raposo, Teibert, Cubas, Gressel; Gauld, Schopf; White.

Coincidentally, the Galaxy also had two players listed as Out on the Availability report due to knee injuries: defender Jorge Villafaña and midfielder Jonathan Pérez.

The roster coincidences end there, however. Where the ‘Caps have one player returning from suspension, the Galaxy will have two players suspended Wednesday: defenders Sega Coulibaly and Raheem Edwards both picked up yellow cards against Nashville on Saturday and will be sitting out due to accumulation.

Potential LA Galaxy Lineup - Bond; Gasper, Williams, DePuy, Araujo; Grandsir, Puig, Brugman, Delgado; Vasquez, Hernandez.

What’s Up With The Enemy?

The Galaxy’s push for the playoffs has been arthritic.

Following a Fourth of July beatdown of Montreal, Los Angeles was arguably sitting pretty in the Western Conference standings. Sure, they were only one point out of eighth, but they were also one point out of third! If they could get some results and avoid any kind of end-of-summer tumult, the playoffs were a sure thing!

So what happened? Well, LA plummeted down the table after going 1-0-5 following that win over Montreal. The aforementioned 5-2 thumping of Vancouver in mid-August initially appeared to be the needed salve, as the Galaxy have gone undefeated in the time since.

However, “undefeated” in this case means one win and four draws in their last five matches, a span where the Galaxy’s xGD is -0.1 and is actually buoyed by having earned five PKs. Expected Goals on their own don’t tell the full story, of course, but if each PK is worth 0.76 xG, that differential becomes much lower.

Over that same five-game span, LA’s xG was 8.0 against 10 goals scored. Strangely, that xG inflation is actually the opposite of how the team was trending before the all-star break, where the Galaxy had scored 32 goals vs. an xG of 41.

This would probably explain why, as Matt Doyle puts it, Greg Vanney is, “throwing darts every week,” when trying to build a lineup with “new shape(s) with new guys in new roles“ that works consistently. Sounds like a season of never quite knowing how to get things right or, when taking the flip-flopping xG stats into consideration, knowing where your goals will be coming from.

Gee, that all sounds very familiar.

Who’s Worth Watching?

Riqui Puig

It has to be, right? The Galaxy TAM’d him from Barcelona at the beginning of August and he’s already registered two goals and one assist while going the full 90 in four of his five matches. In those four particular matches, he’s led his side in touches every single time while registering nine shots, five of which were on target. The guy gets involved.

I think it’s fair to say that he’s very quickly fit into the Galaxy starting eleven and if he proves to be the linchpin for LA’s attack on Wednesday, Andreas Cubas is going to have a heck of a battle in the center of the park.

Kind of Related & Kind of Hilarious

Keep Chicharito in your thoughts & prayers if the Galaxy end up missing the playoffs, because this panenka was awful:

Of course, the Whitecaps and their fans know what awful panenkas look like, but at least ours didn’t jeopardize a playoff spot.

Who’s Going To Win?

Despite how challenging this season has been for the Whitecaps, along with the inevitable threat Chicharito and Puig will prove to be, I’m going with a 2-1 Vancouver win Wednesday night.

The Galaxy have been kind of terrible on the road this season, going 4-4-6 overall with only one win since early May. The absences of Coulibaly and Edwards may be larger than expected for the Galaxy and, if Cubas can keep a lid on Puig while Grandsir is (hopefully) kept under wraps on the wing this time around, the Whitecaps could capture all three crucial points.

Eighty Six Forever Predictions

Andrew: 2-0 Galaxy

Caleb: 2-1 Vancouver

Luis: 2-0 Vancouver

Sam: 3-1 Galaxy

Officials

Referee: Fotis Bazakos; AR1: Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho; AR2: Chris Wattam; 4th: Alex Chilowicz; VAR: Drew Fischer; AVAR: Eric Weisbrod.