It was a sunny day at the National Development Soccer Centre for Vancouver Whitecaps training on Thursday.
The mood was good, and the team was in good spirits but a huge test is coming. LAFC is coming to town. They are the MLS leaders with an 11-3-3 record and 36 points.
LAFC are a dangerous team. They have solid players like forward Carlos Vela, midfielder Kellyn Acosta, defender Ryan Hollingshead and former Whitecaps goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau.
The team from the City of Angels is also going to get stronger. Legendary Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini and five-time Champions League winner and Welsh winger Gareth Bale have signed for LAFC. However, they won’t be in the lineup for Saturday’s clash at BC Place.
The Whitecaps played LAFC at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles on March 20 and ended up losing 3-1. Vancouver head coach Vanni Sartini remembers that game and he and the team have learned lessons from it.
“We need to be on top of our game for a hundred minutes,” said Sartini after Thursday’s training session. “I think we did play well that game…unfortunately, we made a mistake on a set play and they scored on a set play. They created two goals from nothing because of the quality of the team. If we conceded a goal like the game in Los Angeles like Hollingshead’s banger, then Ok. But if we concede a goal like the first goal, (Also scored by Hollingshead on a corner) we need to be angry at ourselves. To be honest, LAFC is the best team in the league and then they’re going to be even better with Chiellini and Bale.”
Sartini was asked about LAFC and how they are like the team of monsters from Space Jam.
“Hopefully some of our guys are Michael Jordan,” joked Sartini.
One player knows LAFC very well and that is right-back, Tristan Blackmon. Blackmon played 64 games for them from 2018 to 2021. He also scored the Whitecaps’ only goal in his return to LA in the game in March.
“I think they’re obviously very good going forward,” said Blackmon. “They provide a lot of opportunities for us on the defensive end things. So it’s been interesting being on the other side of things for sure.”
Blackmon spoke about the team’s good form over the last couple of months.
“We’ve been on a good run lately, guys are feeling really good about what we’re doing here right now,” he said. “I think we have to keep that momentum going that way. We’ve shown that we can get clean sheets and bottle-out results. That’s really big going into the middle of the year and towards the end of the season…I think anybody who goes into a game against top players, you know it’s going to be a good match-up, obviously (we have to) limit as many possibilities as they have. Just using that and sticking to our principles is going, gonna help us a lot.”
One player who can potentially do some damage is Lucas Cavallini. The Canadian striker is Vancouver’s leading scorer with five goals on the season.
“Everything has been thanks to my teammates,” said Cavallini on his season so far. “The club has been helping me to reach that potential. I haven’t, I could show it so I just have to keep going. There’s still a lot of games left. I still haven’t proved anything. We still have to improve a lot yet, but we’ll get there. Just take it day by day.”
Cavallini spoke about the importance of winning games against a team like LAFC at home.
“In this time of the year, what we’re trying to for the playoffs,” he said. “I think this is a big opportunity for us at home to get three points. They’ve been the best team this year so far, but that’s always a motivation for us. We need to keep adding points to the table, still fighting for that playoff spot.”
The Whitecaps’ club-record signing also says the team has improved since the game in LA in March.
“Obviously the last time we played them, weren’t the same team we are now, but I still think we had some really good moments in that game, even though the result wasn’t the greatest,” said Cavallini. “But I think that as a better team, now, we could push the, to win the game and try not to shut them down at certain points of the field. Obviously, we’ve gotten better on certain points where they hurt us a lot last game. So I think here we’re going to do more damage than last year.”
It will be the return of former defender Doneil Henry, former head coach Marc Dos Santos and of course, Crépeau who was traded to LAFC last winter.
Cavallini is friends with Crépeau and he spoke to him on Thursday morning.
“Max was an important piece for us here,” he said. ” Everyone’s gonna be happy to see him again. He’s a friend of mine as well, so it’s always good to play against friends. That being said, eventually, I want to score a goal, but it’s not easy. But you know, I just have to find the ball in the back of the net.
Sartini also is excited to see his former goalkeeper and former coaching staff member.
“I think it’s going to be nice,” he said. “I think the fans are gonna salute with respect. He was one of, I would say our most important player for the last three years. So I think it’s going to be beautiful to see friendly faces like him, like Doneil, like Mark on the bench. “
As for what kind of lineup we will see on Saturday, Sartini said this:
“We’ll play the most offensive lineup possible because I think that the only way to beat the team that is so strong offensively is to be offensive-minded,”
Kickoff is at 7:00 p.m. The first 3000 fans at BC Place on Saturday will receive a free bucket hat.