The Colorado Rapids and Vancouver Whitecaps met for the first time this season on May 3rd in Commerce City, just two days after Anthony Hudson had been fired. The Rapids lost 3-2 thanks to an 86th-minute goal from Andy Rose. Since then, things have changed for both sides as the Burgundy Boys head to BC Place this weekend. We caught up with Ian over at Eighty Six Forever to find out what we can expect from the Whitecaps this time.
Burgundy Wave: Much like our Rapids, Vancouver got off to a rough start this season But after beating Colorado in May, the Whitecaps have gone 2-1-3. What has changed?
Eighty Six Forever: The lack of chemistry borne out of the roster revamp has subsided, particularly on the defensive front. The Whitecaps may not be scoring with consistency, but the backend has been extraordinarily sharp, with Doneil Henry showing a marked improvement over last year, Erik Godoy playing with an eerie amount of calmness, and keeper Maxime Crepeau at times standing on his head. Without Crepeau in particular, you could argue that the 2-1-3 record over the last six could be far worse.
Strangely, recent roster hiccups that could have exposed its lack of depth were navigated without too much fuss. A glut of injuries to a number of players should have derailed the team over the past 90 days, but the roster rotation made by Marc Dos Santos proved to be fairly adroit. What’s crazier is knowing that this was done despite the club having to play seven games across the month of May. A week after our visit to Commerce City, the Whitecaps’ following five matches made for a brutal stretch to run through:
- Friday, May 10th, at home to Portland;
- Wednesday, May 15th, at home to Atlanta;
- Saturday, May 18th, away to Sporting KC;
- Wednesday, May 22nd, away to RBNY;
- Saturday, May 25th, at home to Dallas.
And all this came before a May 31st draw against Toronto to round out the month. Don’t get me wrong, ugly scheduling and grueling travel in MLS aren’t unique to any one team, but this strikes me as ugly.
Then again, the club got results in all but match against Atlanta, which was going to be a difficult test regardless. Perhaps there’s something to be said for not having the time to let neuroses and second-guessing sink in when operating with an average of four days between matches.
BW: The Whitecaps have scored the fewest goals in the Western Conference this year. Besides Fredy Montero with 5 goals, what’s going on with the offense?
ESF: The biggest issue may be an inability to break down the final third of the field. The heat map from any Whitecaps game this season resembles what the Predator sees when it’s looking for a mud-caked Arnold Schwarzenegger: nonexistent.
But not unlike an unseen Arnie, it’s not as though the offense simply doesn’t exist. Bangoura and Lucas Venuto have occasionally shown flashes of brilliance, but they’ve been too few and far between, while Joaquin Ardaiz has simply not been the striker hoped for. The link-up possession passing that was initially expected from Jon Erice and Hwang In-beom has wilted a little, the former because of defensive priorities and the latter from an exhausting schedule kept, having moved straight from his old club to the ‘Caps while peppering in full 90 minute runs with the Korean national side. And Montero does have those 5 goals, but admittedly three have come from PKs.
Ultimately, it comes down to a need for offensive consistency. In fairness to Montero, PKs inherently suggest that the penalty area was indeed earned (to a certain degree), but when the club is averaging a nearly league-worst 10.4 shots per game, it’s clear something is missing from the attack. I’d put my money on a playmaking #10 in the Diego Valeri mold. Someone who can put the ball to the corners from the center of the pitch rather than having a majority of everything originate from the back, while also successfully circumnavigating the opposing 18 as opposed to, you know, not doing that.
Reyna can occasionally do so, but he usually finds himself either on the wing or in Montero’s role at the top of the attack, which counterintuitively means Montero isn’t on the pitch. Whether its Reyna or Montero up top, the absence of a solid #10 usually results with the defense bypassing the midfield to hit either the wingers up the sides or a low-hanging Reyna/Montero forced to retreat back far enough to receive passes to distribute. In that case, there’s no longer a high target because he’s too busy playmaking in the middle of the field. Too many shades of the Carl Robinson “punt and pray” counterattack from the past few seasons.
If all that happens without a midfielder available to hold the ball and distribute with consistency, instead forcing a striker do so, the Whitecaps’ offense will continue to be a Predator forever looking for its Schwarzenegger.
BW: Now that Marc Dos Santos has been in charge for about half of a season, how are fans feeling about him?
ESF: Cautiously optimistic. It was fair to expect the opening of the season to be rough as it was, and despite the aforementioned ugly schedule and thin roster suffering through untimely injuries, Dos Santos has kept a very even keel. Nevertheless, there’s a number of fans who will never stop asking, “But when are they going to spend the Alphonso Davies money?”
Knowing that, and that the club is desperate to find a play-maker, a goal scorer, or a combination of the two (because everyone loves a two-fer), that translates to making the absolute most of any player signings this summer. That includes the hopefully permanent transfer of leftback Ali Adnan from Udinese, as well as the rumored move for Korean striker Hwang Ui-jo, who In-beom is very high on.
But any good faith built from Dos Santos having successfully navigated the first half of the season after such a tumultuous end to 2018 will most likely go out the window if the club can’t locate something that resembles a goal scorer. You know, the kind of problem that’s unique to the Whitecaps and no one else ever.
If only we held onto Kei Kamara. I wonder if he’s available...