The Vancouver Whitecaps are taking on CF Montreal in week 4 of MLS action. Here’s our match preview ahead of that one.
After a tough week, the show must go on.
The Vancouver Whitecaps might have been disappointed after dropping a 1-0 result to the Colorado Rapids last week, but they’ve had to quickly pick themselves back up and get ready for what lies ahead, as they now get set to embark on a tough week of MLS action.
With 3 games in 8 days now awaiting them, they’ve got the chance to bury the sting of that loss against Colorado, starting this Saturday when they’ll take on rivals CF Montreal, who come into this game as one of the remaining seven undefeated teams in the league with a record of 1W-0L-2D.
Much like the ‘Caps, they’ve managed to surprise onlookers with a stingy but coherent style of play, one that has managed to frustrate the likes of Toronto, Nashville and Columbus through 3 weeks of MLS action.
Heading into an important all-Canadian game, which always seem to mean more for those involved, it makes the ‘Caps wary of what Montreal can do, as they’ll look to avoid being the latest MLS team to be burned by Wilfried Nancy’s side.
“Similar start to ours, but they play in a different way than we do,” Whitecaps head coach, Marc Dos Santos, told reporters on Wednesday. “They have a lot of experience, and they have young players mixed with that experience, a lot of new guys in the league, and we know the qualities of the new guys. We know their strengths, we know their weaknesses, and they also know us very well. It’s always an interesting game and always rivalry when you play against any kind of Canadian team.”
And when speaking of strengths, this Montreal team has quickly built up a coherent way of playing, one that starts with a defensive-first approach, before bursting forward to try and punish teams in transition.
They’ve done it very well at times, as demonstrated in a surprising opening day win over Toronto, but failed to maintain it enough to grab wins against Nashville or Columbus, as they were forced to settle with draws in both of those games.
At the very least, though, they’ve shown to be a team that will not stray from their defensive approach, no matter what happens, as they instead invite teams to try and break them down.
For Vancouver, who have struggled against teams with that style of play under head coach Marc Dos Santos, it’s going to be a challenge they have to find a way to address on Saturday, because if not, a repeat of the Colorado game beckons.
“That’s how they are, they were also like that against Nashville,” Dos Santos said. “Normally, they’re defending deeper with a line of five, two midfielders plus Mihailovic that comes in between them, then very dangerous in transition. The players they have in transition create problems to any opponent, they did a lot of that in the game against Toronto in the first game.”
And what’s most impressive about Montreal’s start is that they’ve done it while playing in the brutal Florida heat, which has certainly done its best to slow them down in games, despite their best attempts to avoid succumbing to it.
The conditions won’t be any better for them in Salt Lake, where the ‘Caps are currently based, as the altitude will play a role, but you do wonder if playing in the cooler climate of Utah might be a relief for this Montreal side, who had to cut training short on Thursday as the temperature hit a nice 35 degrees celsius during their session.
For Dos Santos, that makes him even warier of their transition threat, though, as he knows that the fresh air may benefit Montreal’s speedsters, who won’t have to worry about slugging through the Florida heat on Saturday.
“Now what stuff to see is the games they play in Florida, because there’s a huge heat and humidity factor there and sometimes it slows down the game,” Dos Santos continued. “So, if you see Montreal playing in Florida and sometimes you think some actions are slow, it could be related with the temperature also, so I know the profile of the players and the quickness and the speed they have, and how we have to be aware of that.”
So on the ‘Caps side, the emphasis will be to grow from what they learned in their first 3 games of the season, while also getting prepared for the threat that Montreal offers.
While they’ll have to be ready for their opponents, they have to continue to defend well, do damage on set pieces, and hound teams in transition, while continuing to work on their play in possession, which has been their big worry through 3 games.
If they do that, they have what it takes to win, but if not, it could be a long 90 minutes of frustration against Montreal’s stingy 3 at the back system.
“First time this season we’ve played a team with 3 at the back,” ‘Caps defender Andy Rose said Thursday. “So (there are) some differences, some things we went through in training today tactically that we need to be aware of, obviously the speed they have up front, the transition, they try to suck you into play over the top, all of these things are going to be important for us to have a strong focus on over the weekend.”
BTSVancity Player to Watch: Maxime Crepeau
That means that heading into this game, goalkeeping is going to be huge for the ‘Caps, especially if they find themselves too spread out against Montreal, as was the case against Colorado.
For that reason, we’re picking the ‘Caps goalkeeper, Maxime Crepeau, as our BTSVancity Player to Watch on Saturday.
Against his former team, who he’ll relish getting to play against for only the second time since coming to the ‘Caps, Crepeau will look to once again show Montreal that they got robbed when they traded him to Vancouver at the end of 2018 for $50 000 GAM, in what has proved to be one of the better trades the Whitecaps have made in their MLS history.
After a player of the game performance against the Rapids, he comes into this one in good form, as well, so look for him to put his fingerprints all over this game, showing his value to this ‘Caps team.
Elsewhere, here are some of the storylines that stand out to us ahead of this all-Canadian clash, the third such matchup between the 3 Canadian teams in MLS this year.
-Will last year’s bad blood carry over?
Speaking of derbies, it’ll be interesting to see if any of the bad blood both teams showed last year will carry over, as they combined for 3 red cards in 3 games, sort of reigniting the two sides’ famous rivalry from the 2000s.
Obviously, Montreal’s main focus will always be on beating Toronto FC, but that doesn’t mean that they will be okay with losing to their other Canadian rivals, Vancouver, even if their rivalry has become a lot friendlier in recent years.
With a strong Montreal connection on Vancouver’s side, as Dos Santos and Crepeau used to be part of that organization, this game will mean a lot for the ‘Caps, so you do wonder if that’ll translate to some more fireworks on Saturday.
-Open play woes
But while the ‘Caps will want to show some good fighting spirit, they’ll also just want to score some goals, as they’re looking to bust a lengthy offensive slump against Montreal.
They’ve now gone 3 competitive games to start 2021 without scoring from open play, and only have 4 open play goals in their last 8 games dating back to 2020, showing their struggles at making things happen when the ball is in play.
Considering how well they’ve defended, for the most part, only having conceded 3 goals through the first 3 games of the MLS season, they need those goals to come in, pronto, starting with this Montreal game.
-The battle of the ‘disrespected’
And even though there will be a lot of nationalistic pride on the line during this game, there will also be some personal pride, as well, with both teams looking to continue and defy most pundits’ predictions with another win here.
With most experts pegging Vancouver and Montreal to finish last in the Western and Eastern Conference, respectively, that both teams have gotten off to decent starts will certainly have some questioning their decision-making, while also pondering if those results are a fluke.
So for both sides, they’ll want to make sure they can keep rolling with a win, showing doubters that they’re for real, turning those doubtful predictions on their head.
Statistically, these teams are quite similar, especially when diving into the Expected Goals (xG) numbers.
Defensively, the ‘Caps have given up 1.56 xG a game, while Montreal has given up 1.54 xG a game, showing the fine margin between them there.
Offensively, Montreal has a slight edge, having averaged 1.30 xG for per game, but the ‘Caps aren’t that far behind them, putting up 1.03 xG per game.
Possession-wise, Vancouver has the edge, having averaged 52.6 % possession so far this year, compared to Montreal, who have averaged 50%.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that both teams have struggled at getting shots on target, as they have each averaged 4 shots on target per game, yet Montreal has scored 6 goals compared to Vancouver’s 4, and have the better xG numbers, showing their ability to get into dangerous areas.
Record: 1W-1L-1D (4 PTS)
Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos
Record: 1W-0L-2D (5 PTS)
Head Coach: Wilfried Nancy
CF Montreal 2-0 Vancouver Whitecaps
Vancouver Whitecaps 2-4 CF Montreal
Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1 CF Montreal
Now, all that’s left for these two teams is to do battle on Saturday afternoon, in what will hopefully be a fun matinee affair between two longtime rivals.
As both sides look to continue decent starts to the season, they’ll know the value of picking up 3 points, especially considering the logjam that has already built up in both conferences so far this year.
This game won’t decide a team’s playoff fate, of course, but it could put a team in a good position through 4 games, putting a little less pressure on them heading into bigger matches.
Plus, with the added permutation of it being an all-Canadian matchup, there’s the added bonus of that, so hopefully that puts a little more sting in this one.
So look for some fireworks on Saturday, as the culmination of factors could make this a fun one, much like the 2020 games between these two sides were.
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs CF Montreal, Saturday, May 8th, 2021, 12:00 PDT, 15:00 EDT (Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy)