The Vancouver Whitecaps are getting set to take on FC Dallas in MLS action on Wednesday. Here is our preview ahead of that one.
The homestand is finally coming to an end.
Billed as a chance to turn around a rough start to their 2022 MLS season, this most recent four-game homestand was a huge chance for the Vancouver Whitecaps to get things back on track, making it a crucial 10-day stretch for them.
And as they reach the end of that homestand here, getting set to play FC Dallas in what will be their fourth game at BC Place in the last 10 days, there is no doubt that they have gotten things back on track now.
Having won two of the games, first beating Toronto FC in league play before downing Valour FC in the preliminary round of the Canadian Championship, to go along with a draw, coming against the San Jose Earthquakes, this has been the longest stretch of games they’ve gone without losing in 2022.
Which for them, is exactly what they needed. Having gotten off to a nightmare start to the campaign, with just one win and one draw through their first eight games, they’ve at least found their feet now, giving some hope that they can slowly start to turn around this season.
Of course, if they’re to fully do that, a long road awaits them ahead, as they remain rooted to the bottom of the league standings, but the good news is that the league table is quite tight right now, and the ‘Caps are starting to accumulate some games in hand on opponents.
Because of that, it makes this Dallas clash key. Currently the second-best team in MLS, and arguably the most in-form of anyone in the league right now, beating them would represent a huge step for the ‘Caps, who do lack a statement win of the sort so far this year.
So while they remain aware of the magnitude of the task ahead, they’re preparing to make some magic happen, allowing them to grab such a result.
“Yeah, we have a lot of respect for FC Dallas because they’re a really good team, a team also with a lot of confidence,” Whitecaps head coach, Vanni Sartini, admitted this week. “(But for us), the last three games were really good, we were in kind of a good roll, I would say, and we want to keep this momentum going.”
But if they’re to be good enough to snatch such a win, there’s a lot for the ‘Caps to improve on. Principally, their attack is the big one, as they’re tied for second-last in MLS with just 10 goals, which has made it hard for them to win games considering that their defence has been all over the map.
So while the good news is that a recent formation switch has seemed to shore up that defence, helping them keep back-to-back clean sheets last week for the first time all season, the offence remains a problem.
Because of that, it appears a formation switch could be back in order ahead of this game. To be fair, the original switch was quite minimal, as it saw the ‘Caps switch from a back three to what they called a ‘back three and a half’, but still, it’s worth noting that a switch back would be a big move.
Fresh off of what happened in the Earthquakes game, however, where they came alive and scored three goals in a game for the first time all season, all coming in the second half after they reverted to the old back three, it seems the change is going to be made permanent for this Dallas clash.
At the same time, changes are coming from within that formation, one that certainly needs tweaks. For example, while the ‘Caps scored three goals against San Jose, they also conceded three, all in a half, just highlighting what they had to risk to score those three goals.
So because of that, look for Sartini to strike that balance in this game, making sure things don’t get too open.
“I like the solidity defensively when we played a back four,” Sartini explained. “We basically didn’t concede any goals the two games and a half with this back three and a half.”
“We need to drop more with the backline, to not engage, and we need to be faster with the guys that are running back to help the backline.”
He added: “The most important thing is the balance that we have as a team, if we concede a goal, it is not a defensive line problem, it is a team problem, so we need to be more balanced when we attack and not concede fast transitions to the opposition.”
Whitecaps player availability:
Much as in the last game, it looks like ‘Caps talisman, Ryan Gauld, will remain out as he goes through health and safety protocols, although it looks like Tosaint Ricketts, who was also in the H&S protocols, will be good to go. Otherwise, Tristan Blackmon, Caio Alexandre and Thomas Hasal all remain out, while Erik Godoy will be given the night off as he eases back from an injury.
Player to Watch: Lucas Cavallini
So with Gauld still out, a lot of onus goes on the healthy Whitecaps attackers to create in his absence, which is a tall ask. The good news, however, is that Cavallini really stepped up and filled that void in the Earthquakes game.
In that match, he only finished with a goal, but could have arguably had way more considering that he had seven shots, showing his willingness to go to the right areas. Not only that, but he also had a secondary assist and a key pass to go along with that, too, showing good creativity in what Sartini said was arguably Cavallini’s best game in a ‘Caps shirt.
As a result, the ‘Caps will be eager to see a similar performance from Cavallini in this game, especially with Gauld still out, continuing to build on what has been a resurgent campaign from the DP striker, who is playing his best soccer in a Vancouver shirt since arriving ahead of the 2020 season.
The Big Question:
Did the recent home schedule create a mirage?
But while the ‘Caps have found their feet again with their recent run of results, it’s worth noting that their run of two wins and one draw in the last three games have come against opposition that they’re expected to beat, as they got the chance to face a struggling TFC side, a lower-league opponent in Valour FC and a fellow bottom-feeder in San Jose.
So even though they have plenty to be optimistic about from that run, it’s still not a run that shows that the ‘Caps can make a run back into a playoff spot, which would require a bunch of results from them.
But if they can beat this in-form Dallas side, that narrative can slowly start to change, showing why this game is so key for the ‘Caps.
Stat to Watch:
Lucas Cavallini has just scored in back-to-back games twice for the Whitecaps.
At first, this stat might not stand out, but given that Brian White did this three times last season alone for Vancouver, it shows how much of a tough time Cavallini has had scoring goals consistently ever since he joined the ‘Caps.
And as he comes fresh off of a game where he did find the back of the net, it’ll be interesting to see if he can make it two games in a row here, allowing him to find a bit of form.
Plus, for what it’s worth, there is some fate working on his side ahead of this game, as the last time he scored back-to-back games? It was when he nabbed one against Seattle last season, before scoring against… you guessed it… FC Dallas.
So let’s just say it wouldn’t be the worst time to repeat that feat…
Record: 2W-6L-2D (8 PTS)
Head Coach: Vanni Sartini
Record: 6W-1L-4D (22 PTS)
Head Coach: Nico Estevez
Up Next: Vancouver Whitecaps vs FC Dallas, Wednesday, May 17th, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (BC Place, Vancouver)