The Vancouver Whitecaps take on Tigres UANL in Leagues Cup action this Friday. It’s a re-match of sorts as the ‘Caps played Tigres all the way back in the 2017 CONCACAF Champions League. At that time the Whitecaps were hopelessly outmatched, despite a relatively close scoreline. But now, the Whitecaps are a lot better and Tigres are a lot older so the contest should be a lot closer.
The Tigres of 2023 look a lot like the Tigres of 2017. Pierre-Andre Gignac, Guido Pizarro, Nahuel Guzman, Luis Quinones, and Javier Aquino are all still around and still playing a lot of minutes. Tigres are still very good but they have a very old team. Only three players who have played over 50% of the available minutes for them so far in Liga MX are under the age of 30. In contrast, the Whitecaps only have two players over the age of 30 on their entire roster.
Tigres sit 5th in Liga MX after three games this season. Last year they were 5th in the Apertura and 7th in the Clausura. So we can safely say that they are in the top 3rd of Liga MX teams but not necessarily a contender. From the data, it seems clear that their great strength is their defence. Last season (which is probably more relevant since there have only been three Liga MX games so far this year), Tigres was 7th in expected goals for but second overall by only 0.1 xGA in expected goals against. Guzman at the ripe old age of 37, saved 5.4 more goals than expected.
There seems to be a bit of a delta between Tigres’ ball progression and their chance creation. They were top or near-top in things like passes into the final 3rd, and penalty box entries, but only 7th in xG.
I thought it would be fun to re-visit the lineups Vancouver fielded in their two-legged match up with Tigres in 2017.
Leg 1: Ousted; Harvey, Parker, Waston, Williams; De Jong, Laba, Jacobson, Davies; Montero, Shea
Leg 2: Ousted; Harvey, Parker, Waston, Williams; Jacobson, Laba; Techera, Bolaños, Shea; Montero
Things have changed a lot. Looking at these lineups gives me fond memories of my first year of University and spending a whole winter saying “ok, they’re going to replace Pedro Morales with someone, right!?” But now the situation is different. Vancouver is the 5th best team in MLS on expected goal difference (though their actual results have fallen a little short of this). In terms of their quality relative to the rest of the league, Vancouver and Tigres are not that dissimilar. Vancouver, of course, is much more offensively focused and has a much younger squad.
Everyone other than Luis Martins is available for this match, so Vanni Sartini has options, even though the two key recent additions won’t figure into his plans just yet.
All this said, while Tigres is probably a slight favourite, I think the Whitecaps have a pretty reasonable chance of pulling this one off.