What Are They All About? Vancouver Whitecaps
Vindication. This past weekend the Chicago Fire defeated NYCFC 3-2 at Toyota Park in a thrilling contest. Another standout performance from Aleksander Katai was the catalyst for the Fire seemingly punching above their weight to hand Dom Torrent his first ever loss as an MLS coach. The club announced this week that Katai’s loan has been/was/will be/is extended and the Serbian’s spell will last until at least July 31st as they continue to negotiate with Alaves for renewed terms on his purchase option.
While the situation seems like a no-brainer on the surface, reports linking Chicago to various high impact players (perhaps more so off the field than on it) have placed extra strain on the possibility of guaranteeing that Katai’s purchase option is picked up and his full salary is covered. Both Veljko Paunovic and Nelson Rodriguez have a monumental decision to make about the type of club they are trying to build as many feel that an aging Fernando Torres does not satisfy any of Chicago’s glaring positional needs. For the time being, Katai has a chance to add yet another exclamation point to his phenomenal season as Chicago takes on the Vancouver Whitecaps this Saturday (9:30 CT on ESPN+).
Carl Robinson and Vancouver will see this encounter as an opportunity to pick up some bonus points against an out of conference side and will feel that their fast-paced attacking style will get the job done against a Fire side that has consistently struggled at the back this season. Frequent underperformers—based on their squad strength and depth—Vancouver has the chance to solidify themselves as a contender in their conference during an atypical year in the West. Both coaches pride themselves on tactical astuteness and in-match tinkering but only one can come out on top in this one. Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
Vancouver Form Guide: L-L-W-W-D
Previous Result: A 1-0 home loss to the Colorado Rapids.
Formation: 4-4-2; Rowe; Franklin, Waston, Henry, de Jong; Davies, Felipe, Juarez, Shea; Kamara, Mezquida
Strengths: Vancouver has qualified for the post season in three out of the last four years and they might just be on track to continue that run. Carl Robinson brings a sense of discipline and consistency to this Caps side and they’ll certainly be a handful for the Fire. Let’s see where they might succeed this weekend.
Fun and Flair: With the departures of Freddy Montero, Christian Bolanos, Mauro Rosales, and Matias Laba, many onlookers questioned where Vancouver’s creativity would stem from. However, the additions of Efrain Juarez and Felipe, along with the continued growth of Alphonso Davies and the settling-in of Yordy Reyna have alleviated any fears of a lack of productivity. The speed that Davies offers has been exceptionally fun to watch now that he has added to it with a stronger first touch, great control on the ball, and a selflessness when it comes to decision making. The Canadian youngster has tallied seven assists and notched two goals, earning him a spot on the MLS All Star team, while Yordy Reyna impressed enough to earn a call up from Peru for the World Cup. There is a strong attacking core present in this Caps side and they should have the cap space and chemistry to keep it together for at least another season after this one.
A Rough July: While we typically focus on the Fire’s opponent in these previews, we should at least mention that the MLS schedule creators were not kind to Chicago this year. The Men in Red played seven matches in June, logging over 4,000 travel miles, and could be set to play another seven in July should they advance in the US Open Cup. When you factor in injuries to key players and the necessity to manage Schweinsteiger’s minutes, the match against Vancouver could be seen as one for the scrap heap from Chicago’s point of view.
Weaknesses: Two weeks ago, Vancouver was within reach of the second spot in the West and now they find themselves barley grasping onto the sixth and final playoff spot in their conference. Houston or LA could leap frog the Canadians this weekend and do so with matches in hand. This stumble is not accidental, and Vancouver has clear weaknesses that can be exploited. Let’s see where they’ll struggle on Saturday.
Bad Luck or a Need for Change?: In his Tuesday's press conference Carl Robinson was asked about whether or not the frequent occurrence of creating chances but being unable to finish them is a product of Vancouver’s system or just reoccurring bad luck. The question comes on the back of a performance against Colorado that saw the Caps control possession (72%), dominate the shots category (26), complete almost three times as many passes as the Rapids, and still lose. Similar performances against New England, Houston, and LAFC resulted in dropped points as well.
Robinson alluded to possibly switching up his side’s approach leading into the Fire match and given that Kei Kamara should be in the double digits with his goal tally (just 15 shots on target from 41 shots, many of which have been sitters), we wouldn’t be surprised to see a formation change as well as line up changes. With a new system come new opportunities for errors.
We Thought We Dodged a Bullet: When Kendall Waston was called up by the Costa Rican national team for the World Cup, Whitecaps fans knew they were going to miss him. A disastrous loss to Philadelphia in his absence proved them to be correct and supporters couldn’t have been happier when Costa Rica missed out on the knockout round of the World Cup and he was announced as a starter against Colorado. Waston only made it to half time before coming off injured with a groin strain. Although the injury certainly could have been worse, Waston will miss this weekend’s encounter. Given that Vancouver has the wort goals against tally in the league with him in the side, we shudder to think what they might look like without him.
Vancouver will also miss influential midfielder Cristian Techera, who is serving the second game of a three-game suspension for using discriminatory language in a match against Philadelphia.
Overconfidence: Although the aforementioned strengths should come into play at any time, the Whitecaps seem to shine a lot less brightly against opponents that are theoretically underdogs. Losses to Minnesota, Colorado, and Philadelphia, coupled with a draw against bottom dwelling San Jose are largely the reason behind Vancouver’s uncertainty in terms of a playoff berth. If they do miss post season, they will rue those missed opportunities. Chicago certainly won’t be considered a favorite to snag any points in this encounter but given the Caps recent form, that will suit the Fire just fine.
Prediction: As fixture congestion continues during the summer months, the Fire will be happy to get out of British Colombia with a point and Katai will provide them with just that. Chicago 2-2 Vancouver. Katai and Collier for the visitors, Shea double for the hosts.