It’s been a disappointing pair of games for the Vancouver Whitecaps. Just as things were starting to look up, a couple of heartbreaking defeats have settled the ‘Caps in the fringe playoff spots.
It’s not all doom and gloom within Vancouver’s camp though. Despite being on the wrong end of a famous Leo Chu performance, they have the opportunity to finish strong before the Leagues Cup break. It’s a two-game window that will either keep them within playoff position or doom them to an uphill battle the rest of the season.
The first test is against Austin FC Wednesday night at BC Place, a team the Caps have drawn against once before this season, with a 0-0 score-line down in Texas. Sitting four points above the ‘Caps, on 29 points but with one more game played, Austin’s having a decent season. It’s nothing like their high flying 2022, but it has granted them fifth spot in the West. While unable to overtake Austin with a win, the Whitecaps have an opportunity to keep within punching distance if they are able to get the best of the Verde at BC Place.
In terms of form, Austin currently have the Whitecaps bested. Putting things into perspective, Austin has enjoyed a combined 10-2 scoring record over the past four games, while the Whitecaps are 6-9. Austin’s coming off a four game undefeated streak, with three wins against Western Conference opposition, winning by 3 goals each time. The Whitecaps, meanwhile, are coming off of two losses in a row, although the fixture with Seattle was tight all the way through, unlike SKC which was more one-sided. Much of Austin’s fortunes have come down to goalkeeper Brad Stuver and their very stout defending.
Offensively, Austin wasn’t clicking earlier in the season, but recently they’ve found a spark, and are a force to be reckoned with. Fagundez, Zardes, Finlay, and Driussi all have two goals over the past four games, so the bulk of the problems for Vancouver will be coming from those four players. Both Finlay and Driussi also have two assists over that run, so keeping those two in check will be crucial.
Who better to do this than a recently extended Andres Cubas. The Paraguayan signed an extension that keeps him in beautiful BC until at least 2026. With Austin’s attack being on fire at the moment, It’s crucial for Sartini to hold down the midfield in order to minimize the chances for Austin’s dynamic attackers. This could see Cubas pair along with Berhalter in dual holding midfield roles. Ryan Gauld, as always, will also have a lot on his plate trying to break down a stingy Austin defence. Julian Gressel is currently busy with the Gold Cup and Ali Ahmed may not be match ready in time to be in the midfield. Brian White provides some consistency up front but other attackers remain an unpredictable variable.
It’s been a rough couple of matches for the ‘Caps, and they’re going to have to beat a team that is quite on form at the moment. If there’s ever a time to test out Vanni Sartini’s ANDIAMO! philosophy, it’s right now.
As much as I’d like to believe it, I do see Vancouver suffering a 2-0 loss against an impressive Austin team.
What are your thoughts? Sound off in the comments below.