Second Chance: Vancouver Whitecaps looking to disrupt Toronto FC’s rhythm after ‘disjointed’ Tuesday loss (Preview #2)

The Vancouver Whitecaps take on Toronto FC in their 2nd match of MLS’s phase 2 restart on Friday. Here is our preview ahead of that one. 

Not often in life that you get a chance to hit a metaphorical do-over button. 

You may get a second chance to rectify something, but rarely do you ever get a chance to basically try something over nearly right away, unless you’re in a video game. 

Or unless you’re the Vancouver Whitecaps, who have a chance to make amends for a tough 3-0 loss to Toronto FC on Tuesday, as they get set to take on that same TFC team on the same pitch this Friday. 

“I haven’t that situation my career so far, to face the same opponent in three days,” centre back Ranko Veselinovic told reporters on Thursday. “I think we’re going to see, I think it can be better for us, because we played an awful game and they played really well, so I think it only can be different for us, we can play better than we did two days ago.”

And make no qualms about it, Veseliniovic isn’t underplaying his team by saying that they were awful. 

For whatever reason, they came out flat, and just didn’t put enough pressure on Toronto, who looked like they were playing a training match at times. 

So after putting up a lacklustre performance like that, one that saw Toronto run all over them from the first minute onwards, they’ve got a lot to prove in this rematch, as they look to show that the first game was just a fluke. 

“Nobody likes to lose, but not just lose, but also put up a performance like that,” Lucas Cavallini, the ‘Caps star striker said bluntly on Thursday. “For me, honestly, it was an embarrassment. I know we can do so much, so much better. It’s just a game where we learn from our mistakes and we can only get better, you can’t get worse from last performance.”

“Just gotta review what we need to focus on more and that’s what we’ve been doing the past few days.”

But make no qualms about it, this Toronto FC team is special. 

Ever since 2015 they’ve been a team to beat, and even though they’ve lost key players from the team that won the MLS Cup in 2017, such as Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez, they keep replacing them with quality talent, such as Alejandro Pozuelo and Pablo Piatti, who’ve looked good for TFC as a tandem so far. 

They’re no easy out by any means, and that’s why they haven’t lost in MLS regular-season play in over a year, with their lone two losses in MLS play coming in the 2019 MLS Cup Final against Seattle and against NYCFC in the MLS is Back Round of 16. 

But despite that, the ‘Caps have a lot more to give. While we’ve yet to see them show enough quality to beat a team like TFC, they’re far better than what they showed on Tuesday, so they’ll look to at least step up their effort levels in the rematch. 

As a team that wants to work hard, press high up the pitch and make smart decisions with the ball, we saw none of that the other day, something that they’re looking to change in this one. 

So on Friday, look for the ‘Caps to come out more organized, more disciplined tactically, and most importantly, a lot hungrier to win, all things that they were severely lacking in the last match. 

“I didn’t feel that we were fit physically,” head coach Marc Dos Santos admitted on Thursday. “It was weird our level of intensity in the game, it was weird, it was very off. Some of the things were tactical, in my opinion, the way we pressed was incredibly disjointed, and then we allowed a lot of space to the opponent, so we addressed that side tactically, in these two days and made sure that we have an approach for the game that is much more cautious in what we have to do.”

One big thing to monitor tactically will be to see how the ‘Caps midfielders end up deployed, as Toronto’s midfield ran rampant over the ‘Caps pivot of Russell Teibert and Leonard Owusu in the 4-4-2, making it far too easy for TFC to establish their rhythm in the game, while also disrupting the ‘Caps. 

As a result, it sounds like Vancouver will change from a 4-4-2 into a 3-5-2, allowing them to throw another body in midfield, while also adding another centre back into the mix, expected to be Derek Cornelius. 

Teibert and Owusu aren’t quite built for the demands required in a 4-4-2, but in a 3-5-2, in which they’ll have the support of a #10, but also the presence of midfielder-turned-defender Andy Rose at centre back, giving them more support offensively and defensively. 

If the ‘Caps can then use that set-up to transition the ball forward better, while also tightening their lines defensively, that’ll go a long way towards beating TFC on Friday, because if not, it may end up being a lot of the same over the course of 90 minute.s 

“Midfielders are players that are important to link, if you want to build from the back and link with the forwards,” Dos Santos shared. “But they have to be positionally in the right spots, and what we felt in the last game was playing with two midfielders, with the characteristics of Rusty (Teibert) and Leo (Owusu), that didn’t allow us to have a lot of exits through them, because they were a lot of times far from the ball or getting away from the ball and then we weren’t able to link with them.”

“But again, these are things that we’ve addressed and we’re going to be shaped in a different way, tomorrow, to not only deal better when we don’t have to bother with the numbers of TFC but also have more options in our build-up.”

So stay tuned to see what the ‘Caps shape up in on Friday, as it sounds like they’ll be some key fundamental changes tactically, changes that they will hope can give them a chance at breaking this Toronto FC juggernaut. 

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Ali Adnan

Adnan has a conversation with Laurent Ciman during a ‘Caps vs TFC clash in 2019 (Keveren Guillou)

After looking good in a partnership with Cristian Gutierrez during the last match and a half of MLS is Back action, Adnan was far from his best self against Toronto on Tuesday, as he struggled to influence the game in the unique way that he can. 

In the rematch on Friday, no one knows if he’ll play at his usual left back spot again, or if he’ll be moved back up the pitch, but no matter where he plays, the ‘Caps will be looking for a bounce-back performance from him as a starter. 

As they look to improve their service to the forwards, a good performance from Adnan would go a long way towards helping that. 


Can the ‘Caps stop TFC? With such a short turnaround between games, no one knows what to expect from Vancouver, who were outmatched, outworked and outplayed by Toronto on Tuesday, as the 3-0 scoreline reflected. 

While this TFC team is a legit juggernaut, as they haven’t lost in regular-season MLS play in over a year, the ‘Caps will know that they can put up a better effort than the one they did on Tuesday, so they’ll at the very least show that they won’t be outworked 2 games in a row. 

But will that be enough to stop their high-flying rivals? We’ll find out Friday, as Dos Santos and his crew have a big task on their hands tactically, as they’re more than aware of now. 

Can Cavallini get that first? After scoring 4 goals in 4 games to close out the preseason, Vancouver’s record signing, DP Lucas Cavallini, has yet to score in his first 3 MLS games, despite coming close in each game. 

You can’t fault him for his work rate, as his effort levels are always exemplary, and you certainly can’t fault him for his ability to generate chances, as he’s been able to get some quality looks at goal despite not receiving much support from his teammates, so you do wonder when he’ll break the goose egg. 

Knowing him, he’s itching at a chance to break that 0 in his hometown, against his best friend, Jonathan Osorio, so look for him to try and get on the board in this one. 

Defence-first: But while Vancouver has questions to answer in terms of how they’ll score goals, as they’ve only scored twice in the last 4 games, both goals coming in a 10-minute span 3 games ago against Chicago at MLS is Back, the defence was a big worry on Tuesday. 

After closing their MLS is Back tournament by not conceding a goal for the last 220 minutes of play, they allowed 3 again against TFC on Tuesday, the 4th time in 7 games they’ve done that. 

Interestingly enough, in the 3 games they’ve conceded less than 3 goals, they’ve kept clean sheets, winning 1-0, 2-0 and drawing 0-0. 

For whatever reason, it’s been all-or-nothing for Vancouver this year defensively, so they’ll want to hope it’s more of nothing in this one than it is all. 

Stats Splurge: 

In the last game, a few stats stood out between the two sides, so we’ll split them up by team. 

For the Whitecaps, their stats were mostly negative, as they only held 26% possession, the lowest amount of possession they’ve held in a game this year, and only had 4 shots, with only 1 of those reaching the target. 

As a result, they only generated 0.19 Expected Goals, which is less than what you’d want to see from your striker in one half, let alone your whole team over the course of the game. 

They didn’t see a lot of the ball, and when they did, what they did with it was less than impressive, so for Vancouver, their goal will be all about managing the ball better on Friday. 

Meanwhile, for Toronto, it was a masterclass for them, as they held an absurd 74% of possession, in which they completed 851 passes, 580 more than the ‘Caps. 

Due to that impressive ball possession, they had 22 shots, including 8 that reached the target, as they put up a masterclass in ball retention on Tuesday. 

One area of concern, however, was their xG numbers, as they only generated 1.16 xG despite all their possession and shots, with their shot quality being less than exemplary. 

Considering that Toronto is unlikely to keep that much possession two games in a row against the ‘Caps, their chance creation is going to have to be a lot better on Friday, because if not, and Vancouver sees more of the ball, the match could end up being a lot closer than you’d think possible. 

Projected Lineups:

Vancouver Whitecaps:

Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos

Regular Season Record: 2W-4L-0D (6PTS)

Toronto FC:

Head Coach: Greg Vanney

Regular Season Record: 3W-0L-3D (12PTS)

2020 Matchup:

Toronto FC 3-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

Looking Forward:

So all-in-all, there’s a lot to look forward to in this one. 

While the general consensus would be to expect a Toronto win, and after that first game, that’s a very fair conclusion to come to, the fact of the matter is that this is MLS, and in MLS, expect the unexpected. 

Teams have gone and done more obscene things before, so if the ‘Caps were to come out and snatch all 3 points, especially after having had the chance to gameplan, it wouldn’t be an unprecedented result. 

They’ll be in tough against this TFC team, who haven’t lost a regular-season game in over a year, but after seeing what went wrong on Tuesday, they have an idea of what needs to be fixed. 

On the other end, TFC knows where they have to be better as well, so it’s very likely that they come out strong once again, making life tough for the ‘Caps, but at the very least, expect Vancouver to improve their work rate, which could make this a fun game. 

After getting beat into submission last time out, that’s the least they can do for the fans this time out, because if not, people won’t be very pleased with them. 

The ‘Caps have shown glimpses of being a decent MLS team, but they need to start putting it together on a more consistent basis, starting with this rematch, because if not, it’ll be hard to imagine them competing for much as the season continues along. 

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Toronto FC, Friday, August 21st, 2020, 17:00 PST/20:00 EST (BMO Field, Toronto)

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