The Vancouver Whitecaps came away with a draw against the New England Revolution last weekend at BC Place in a somewhat frustrating match that had moments of quality, but that was not sustained.
That seems as good a place as any to start Terminal City Thoughts this week before we jump into the upcoming match against LAFC.
The Revs: One point gained or two points lost?
Teams want to win at home. It’s their fortress as head coach Vanni Sartini likes to refer to BC Place. While BC Place has lived up to that identifier in recent months, there was not a lot of attack in that last match.
Sartini stated he liked the movement he saw in the second half as opposed to the first. But while ball movement improved, not everything did.
“The second half, it was more…a matter of the quality of the final pass. We’re working on that, as we’re working on everything, as we’re working on improving our buildup, which is actually really good so far,” he said.
That’s not to say the Whitecaps did not test the Revolution’s goalkeeper, Đorđe Petrović. They had six shots on net compared to the two their opponents had on the night.
But the excellence of scoring chances just was not there. The Blue-and-White only registered a 1.2 xG in those six shots, highlighting the lack of quality.
Lucas Cavallini had the best chance for the Whitecaps late in the second half. The cross-pitch pass to the Canadian striker off the far post was taken off his chest and down to his feet. But the shot was saved and ended up bouncing back off Cavallini and out of play.
What we witnessed were a few good individual performances, some decent individual performances and one notable poor performance. But despite some good ball movement and passing in the second half, there was nothing that created much in the way of goalscoring opportunities.
It can be tough to look at this match and not think it was two points lost. The run the ‘Caps have been on suggests that have what it takes to get these types of games over the line. They have a way of finding a last-gasp effort in the final few minutes.
There are a few things we can examine here. First, the partnership between Ryan Gauld and Brian White still exists, but it is not near as lethal as it was last year. That’s not to say it can’t get there again. We saw it on display in the last Canadian Championship match against York United FC.
Gauld is still able to find White in open positions. Unfortunately, goals have been harder for White to find, possibly a result of less consistent playing time given how well Cavallini has done and his injuries this year.
Second, that partnership Gauld has with White has not translated well to Cavallini. None of Cavallini’s team-leading five MLS goals this season have been assisted by Gauld.
That is not necessarily problematic. Gauld is often the player starting chances from the midfield, passing out to wingbacks for the ball to be crossed back in higher up the pitch. But it is concerning when the most creative playmaker and the highest-scoring striker are not connecting.
But given the significant goal difference the Whitecaps have on the season (-10), goals are something of a problem. They are averaging only 1.06 goals per game right now. The only way to win games with such low production is to be good defensively and keep clean sheets, something that is simply not possible every week.
LAFC come to town a week too early for their new superstars
LAFC has already been busy in the past couple of weeks signing big names out of Europe. Giorgio Chiellini was signed after leaving Juventus, and Gareth Bale was recently announced after leaving Champions League winners Real Madrid.
However, the MLS transfer window does not open until July 7, so both players will be watching from the stands (or their TVs) when their new team makes the trip up to Canada.
But even without those two players, LAFC is a dominant club. They are first in the Western Conference and Supporters Shield standings, posting a record over 16 matches of 10W-3D-3L.
One of those wins was against the Whitecaps back on March 20 in Los Angeles, where the home team won 3–1.
But Sartini is taking lessons learned in that match as they prepare for the upcoming weekend.
“We learned that we need to be always on top of ourselves because I think the last time we played very well, but we made a terrible mistake on a corner kick,” Sartini said. “So, we conceded a goal on a corner kick. And we basically, we played the same game as them. We were good, but with their quality, Vela scored a good goal and Hollingshead found a banger in the second half, so with teams of that quality, we have to be extremely solid defensively and be ready to attack them at any time.”
LAFC will be coming into Vancouver with not as much time to rest and prepare. They face FC Dallas on Wednesday, June 29, three days before playing the Whitecaps.
Sartini said this will not change their approach to the game.
“You’ve seen [LAFC’s] last game against [New York] Red Bulls,” the head coach said. “In the middle of the second half, they took off Latif [Blessing] and [Kwadwo] Opoku, and they put in [Cristian] Arango and [Kellyn] Acosta, that are top players. So, they have a lot of options. And they don’t change their identity according to the players. So, they still play their same style. So, our preparation doesn’t change.”
He said the Whitecaps will be more concentrated on playing their game rather than playing the guessing game on LAFC’s lineup.
LAFC is averaging two goals a game right now and just over a goal against. They are well situated to dominate possession and force teams into their patterns of play. For the Whitecaps, a team that doesn’t look for loads of possession, the focus will need to be on not falling into that trap because, as we have seen in the past, the ‘Caps can lose their focus on such occasions.
Unfortunately, the New England match saw Déiber Caicedo go down with an injury. It was relatively early in the match and did not involve any other player.
However, his right knee was in some discomfort, and he was subbed off.
“He went to a specialist,” Sartini said. “He did some images. He will go to other…consultations with specialists too. So, his knee injury is an injury. He will be out for some time.”
It’s a difficult injury for the Whitecaps, and given the nature of it, could see the Colombian out for a while. There is no update on exactly what type of knee injury it is.
But in better news, both Jake Nerwinski and Érik Godoy are fit and ready to go. The head coach said both are available for selection on the weekend.
In addition, Thomas Hasal continues his recovery.
“He’s 100 per cent. He will go to Minnesota to play with the second team again this week. And from next week, he will be 100 per cent, I would say, available for selection for us.”
This does leave an interesting argument for who will take goalkeeping duties for the Whitecaps.
Cody Cropper is 8W-2D-2L in all competitions since he stepped up and took over between the sticks. Hasal was 1W-1D-6L before the injury to his finger.
“[There will be] a nice battle between him [Hasal] and Cody to get the spot for the starting goalkeeper. I can tell you easily that we won’t have a number 1 and a number 2. We will have two number 1s,” Sartini said.
The numbers strongly suggest Cropper is the man to go with. On top of that, he’s the goalkeeper in current form.
Giving Hasal game time against eastern opposition, where the points don’t matter as much in terms of getting into the playoffs, may be a way to share the duties.
But Cropper has earned the spot for now.
A new player on the horizon?
Nick Salihamidžić, the 18-year-old son of Bayern Munich’s sporting director, Hasan Salihamidžić, looks to be signing a loan deal with the Whitecaps for the upcoming transfer window.
The deal is an 18-month loan for the right-back, initially to Vancouver’s MLS Next Pro team, Whitecaps 2. However, he will be given training time with the first team and ample opportunities to move into consideration for first team selection.
Starting January 2023, the player is expected to be with the first team for the full length of the 2023 season.
Salihamidžić, who is in the process of extending his Bayern Munich contract until June 2025, is in advanced talks for the move to the Whitecaps.
It would take some work for Salihamidžić to break into the first team, either as an RCB or RWB, depending on how offensive-minded he is. Currently, Javain Brown, Marcus Godinho and Tristan Blackmon can fill both of those roles, while other players can handle one of them.
But there is plenty of positive discussion around Salihamidžić, who has featured predominantly for Bayern Munich II and their U19 side.