“We need to be confident”: Vancouver Whitecaps looking to stick to the game plan as they chase first goal and win of 2022 MLS season in Houston

The Vancouver Whitecaps are getting set to take on the Houston Dynamo in MLS action on Saturday. Here’s our preview ahead of that one. 

In chase of their first win, they must head south. 

South, of course, being Houston, Texas, where the Vancouver Whitecaps are getting set to take on the Houston Dynamo in MLS action Saturday, as they continue their still young 2022 MLS season here. 

And there, they’re looking to not just continue their MLS season, but really jumpstart it, too, as they look to put up their first win of the MLS campaign. 

Sitting with 1 point through their first two games, having lost 4-0 to the Columbus Crew in their opening game before drawing New York City FC 0-0 in their second match, they’re now looking for redemption against a Dynamo side in a similar position having drawn and won one game so far. 

But to do that, there is one thing that the ‘Caps must do that they’ve struggled with so far this season, and that’s score a goal, having been shut out in each of their first two games. Not only that, they have just one shot on target to show for themselves between both of those matches, further highlighting their offensive struggles.

Obviously, it hasn’t helped that they’ve missed their 2021 top scorer, Brian White, who has been limited to under 30 minutes so far this year with injury (and will be absent from this game along with Erik Godoy and Caio Alexandre), but it’s not as if the ‘Caps lack for offensive punch with the likes of Lucas Cavallini, Ryan Gauld and Deiber Caicedo still in the squad. 

As simple as it sounds, to win games, you need to score goals, and the ‘Caps are well aware that they’ve been lacking in that department, especially considering some of the personnel that they have at their disposal. 

“I think we need to stick to the game plan,” ‘Gauld said of the team’s offensive struggles so far. “We have come up against two very good teams, and two of the last champions, so it’s not as if we’re coming up against teams that have the worst defensive records or anything.”

“We need to be confident going into the game, we showed last year that we’re capable of creating a lot of chances and scoring a lot of goals, so hopefully that starts up Saturday.”

At the same time, it’s not as if the ‘Caps have been playing badly heading into this match. The opening game against the Crew was one to forget, of course, but they bounced back quite nicely against NYCFC, who are the defending MLS Cup champions for a reason. 

So even though they didn’t create much offensively in that game, they were very solid defensively, and managed a lot of the key moments in the match, which was a big improvement after the opener. 

Other than physically getting shots on target and then into the net, things looked a lot better for Vancouver in that NYCFC clash, and they’re just looking to build off of that as they head into this Dynamo matchup.

“It was much more the game that we wanted to play in terms of tactical awareness and doing the things that we’re supposed to do,” Sartini explained. “I think tactically we were good, I think the movement we were good at, but I think our choices with the ball weren’t that good sometimes in the last game, so that’s what we need to do better.”

And speaking of the offence, they’ll get a good chance to test out Sartini’s ideas against this Houston side, who are very defensively solid, as seen by the fact that they’ve given up just 1 goal through 2 games, but are more of a team that prefers to sit deep and let the game come to them.

Led by a new head coach in Paulo Nagamura, he’s slowly been shaping the team to his identity, and with it still being early in his reign, that remains a work in progress. 

Because of that, while they’ve quickly proven to be a team that’s frustrating to play against, the ‘Caps should get a chance to control the game more than they did in their prior two matches, where they were starved of the ball.

In this game, Houston won’t give away the ball cheaply, of course, but they won’t be as intent on keeping the ball as, say, NYCFC was (they ended up holding 70% possession against the ‘Caps for a reason), which could play into Vancouver’s hands. 

“They’re a very structured team, we saw the first two games they played a very elegant 4-3-3, very different than the first two teams that we played in the first two games, they look a little less intense, they are less aggressive in the pressure, they wait for the team and then the try to counter, and when they have the ball, they try to possess a little bit in their half and then try to expose behind you.”

Yet, despite that, there is one thing that the ‘Caps have to watch out for – the Dynamo’s quest for more goals.

Much like the ‘Caps, they too are yet to score this year, so there’s a strong chance they’ll also see this game as a chance to break their duck, as well. 

Because of that, there’s a chance that they sway slightly from their game plan to try and make that happen, which could open the game up. 

The ‘Caps aren’t fully banking on that, but are expecting it, just adding another layer to what should be an intriguing Western Conference clash for a multitude of reasons. 

“We have to keep our mind open,” Sartini admitted. “Because like us, they come from two games where they didn’t score any goals, so maybe they have that urgency that we feel to try to put the points on the board.”

BTSVancity Player to Watch: Cristian Dajome

So with all of this talk of goals, it only makes sense to keep an eye on those on both sides who have proven to be pretty good at slotting them home if needed, and for the ‘Caps, one such name is Cristian Dajome. 

Last year’s second-leading scorer, he had a knack for burying home goals in big moments for his team, but hasn’t really threatened opposition defences the same way this year.

To be fair, it also doesn’t help that he’s been playing more as a wing back this season, a change from the winger and second striker roles that he often occupied last year, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get involved more offensively from that deeper position.

So seeing that the ‘Caps will be without White on Saturday, this is a good opportunity for Dajome to find his goalscoring boots again, getting off the mark for 2022, making him one to watch in this game.

Dajome battles for a loose ball against NYCFC last weekend (Yannick Schieve)

The Big Question:

Can Lucas Cavallini finally break that scoring drought?

And continuing on the theme of goals, that leads us to the big question, in which we highlight the ‘Caps starting striker against the Dynamo, Cavallini, who heads to Texas looking to snap a lengthy scoring drought.

In fact, the last time he scored actually came in Texas last year when he scored against FC Dallas on July 4th. Since then, he’s gone 19 games (for club and country, all competitions) without breaching the net, which for a #9, isn’t exactly ideal production. 

But with White still out as he deals with an injury, this is Cavallini’s time to shine, so it’d be huge if he’d be able to grab a goal here. To give him credit, he’s actually been very good in these last two games, so he’s done well to grab this opportunity, but at a certain point he needs a goal, so he’ll look to conjure up some more Texas magic on Saturday, allowing him to break that Texas-sized goalscoring duck. 

Stat to Watch: 

The last two meetings between the ‘Caps and the Dynamo? 0-0 draws. They enter this game both yet to score in this MLS season. 

But to end off with some more talk of goals, given that it’s the dominant theme of the day when it comes to discussing this match, this stat to watch does maybe suggest that goals might not be on the horizon here. 

Given that the last two meetings between these teams were also short of goals, and considering their recent records, it almost seems written in the stars to see another 0-0. 

Of course, now that it’s been put out there, this match will end 4-3 for one of the teams, but if you were to gamble money on it, a 0-0 scoreline is looking like a very tantalizing offering right now. 

Last meeting: 

In the middle of a playoff push last year, the Vancouver Whitecaps headed down to Houston, where they fought and clawed their way to a 0-0 draw, one of many important results that the team ground out en route to making the postseason last year. 

Projected XIs:

Vancouver Whitecaps: 

Record: 0W-1L-1D (1 PT)

Head Coach: Vanni Sartini

Houston Dynamo:

Record: 0W-1L-1D (1 PT)

Head Coach: Paulo Nagamura

Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs Houston Dynamo, Saturday, March 12th, 2022, 15:30 PST, 18:30 EST (PNC Stadium, Houston) 

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