Saying the third match of the season is a “must-win” affair for the Vancouver Whitecaps feels a bit weird.
In 2011, you would’ve been insane to say such a thing. In 2013, a “must-win” designation would be woefully optimistic. However, here in 2016, we’ve been spoiled by consecutive seasons of improvement. Entering match number three with zero points – zip, nada, nothing – is precariously close to a legitimate panic situation.
If not a “must-win”, the first Cascadia Cup clash of 2016 is at least a “must-leave-CenturyLink-Field-with-at-least-one-point” match.
Venue: CenturyLink Field, Seattle
Time: 7:00 pm
All-Time MLS Record vs. Seattle: 5W-4D-5L
MLS Record vs. Seattle Away: 3W-1D-2L
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) March 13, 2016
A lack of wins notwithstanding, the Whitecaps have shown encouraging signs in their opening two games.
The home opener against Montreal featured two goals from set pieces – an area the ‘Caps have sorely needed to see improvement in.
The attack looks more potent than the 2015 version, with a healthy and rested forward corps making life miserable for opposing defenders. Yes, the attackers have still left much to be desired with their finishing, though I would argue hot goalkeeping – especially Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush – has been more of an issue than a lack of talent or focus.
The most important thing is that at least Vancouver is scoring goals, plural.
Seattle Sounders FC
— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) March 17, 2016
Seattle, on the other hand, have exactly one goal after two matches, raising the question of just how much their offence relied on the now-departed Obafemi Martins.
Those of you who enjoy seeing the Sounders suffer may recall the state of the team after Fredy Montero left for Sporting CP in Portugal, taking his bushels of goals with him. Considering super-hyped homegrown product Jordan Morris is also on the shelf with a head injury, this might be the best chance the Whitecaps will have in the opening stages of the season to beat up an anemic offence.
Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei is listed as questionable. If he’s not in net, expect backup Tyler Miller to fill in and expect goal-scoring expectations for the ‘Caps to rise.
Heck, the whole darn Sounders roster is pretty anemic these days with injuries galore. In addition to Morris and Frei, the Sounders’ injury report lists defenders Brad Evans, Roman Torre, and midfielder Erik Friberg as “out”, with midfielder Michael Farfan and forward Nelson Valdez labelled “questionable”.
That’s a decent cross-section of starters and role-players gone for Seattle. If you’re looking for an ideal time to bank three points, “now, against a wounded team” is pretty tough to beat.
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) March 18, 2016
Vancouver (4-2-3-1) – Ousted; Harvey, Waston, Parker, Aird; Laba, Morales; Techera, Mezquida, Bolaños; Rivero
Seattle (4-3-3) – Miller; J. Jones, Mears, Scott, Marshall; Roldan, Alonso; Ivanschitz, D. Jones, Dempsey; Anderson
Vancouver is missing defender Christian Dean (left foot injury), midfielder Russell Teibert (left calf strain), and forward Kekuta Manneh (right ankle injury) to injuries, as well as defender Jordan Smith and midfielder Kianz Froese to suspension.
The Smith suspension is for his horror tackle against SKC, while Froese was suspended by the MLS DisCo retroactively for an incident involving Roger Espinoza.
I’m really, really, really hoping Carl Robinson doesn’t go back to Deybi Flores as Matias Laba’s partner in midfield, hence the projected call of a deep-lying Pedro Morales. Then again, Robbo has been nothing if not faithful to a fault with his youth prospects. Don’t be surprised if Flores returns to the fold, pushing Morales higher up the field and leaving Mezquida on the bench.
Oh, you thought Mezquida was injured? Funny story:
@86forever Im ready since 2 week ago
— Nicolas Mezquida (@nico_mezquida) March 13, 2016
Yup. Nico’s been chilling with Whitecaps FC 2, getting match fit and patiently biding his time. Perhaps this is his moment.
Then again, for all I know, Marco Bustos will get the start, sending me into a Canadian Men’s National Team hype-frenzy.
Oh, what the hey – let’s make it a trilogy of crazy speculation and, as another alternative, predict Christian Bolaños in the middle with Masato Kudo on the wing. You never know!
Look, I really want to see three points for the good guys. I really do. Were this the 2015 Whitecaps, I’d be saying 2-0 and laughing all the way to the bank.
However, this is 2016 and the ‘Caps have yet to show they’ve changed for the better. Until the defence shows it can replicate its stinginess of yesteryear and the offence shows it can finish more than once every ten shots, I’m not entirely confident in predicting a win. Prove me wrong, Vancouver.