With three games left in the MLS regular season, the pressure is on every team to punch their ticket to the bright lights of postseason. Vancouver is caught in the perilous position of being within reach of security, but equally, they could still miss out if they really slip up. A strong road trip fizzled out near the end, where the Whitecaps looked tired and were unable to hold leads. The same themes continued at home this past weekend against DC United. The week upcoming will not be any easier, with a midweek match against St. Louis, and a weekend match against Seattle away, as the schedule will continue to push the players’ fitness, and their mental resolve, to its limit.
Focusing on their first match-up of the two, the Whitecaps are tasked with taking down Western Conference Champions St. Louis City SC. A surprise juggernaut this year, many critics were expecting the newest MLS team to suffer the freshman curse, but the results have shown this team is a danger to anyone they face, scoring goals in bunches and unseating the traditional Western Conference powerhouses.
What does this mean for the Whitecaps? At the very least, this is going to be a tough mental hurdle to get over, even if St. Louis City is cruising a bit, having already secured their playoff seeding. Rather than bringing in a key aging European star, St. Louis City opted for a more frugal approach to their roster development, targeting underrated mid-20s players from lower rated European teams, as well as steely MLS veterans.
Interestingly, their biggest swing on a star player was in goal, securing the services of 32-year-old Swiss keeper Roman Burki, as his long stint with Borussia Dortmund came to an end. This bet has payed off, as Burki has held together a very sketchy defensive unit, posting a staggering +9.2 post shot expected goal differential.
Further up the pitch, Joao Klauss and Eduard Lowen have been the heart of the offensive juggernaut, while astute expansion draft signings such as Nicholas Gioacchini and Jake Nerwinski have filled in the teams impressive depth for a first year outfit. The latter right back isn’t the only former Whitecap on the team, as defender Tim Parker has had his most influential season to date under head coach Bradley Carnell.
All of this spells a major challenge for the ‘Caps, who have already lost to this team in St. Louis this season, and aren’t in the best form right now. If Vancouver makes the same defensive gaffes they did against DC United, St. Louis will surely punish the Whitecaps with multiple goals, as they have scored 6 goals in their last 2 matches and are undefeated in their last 5.
For Vancouver, they also have to place an emphasis on getting players fully healthy in time for the playoffs, providing they can secure their place. Andres Cubas, Sam Adekugbe and Yohei Takaoka have all looked less than the best versions of themselves in recent weeks, and they’ll need key contributions from all three if they want to make a real playoff run. It will be a challenge for Vanni Sartini to balance the desire to win in front of a home crowd, but also manage his squad in a way that keeps players healthy.
St. Louis, depending on how they set up on Wednesday, could be the toughest remaining challenge for Vancouver. When you combine that with the need for some rotation, I think the Whitecaps could be in tough for this match. After a disappointing draw to a team that is outside the playoff line in the East, I can’t see the Whitecaps picking up three points Wednesday night. While Vancouver has had a habit of surging to the finish line, this could be a season where they are doing the opposite, holding on for dear life as they fall down the table in the final weeks. Given this, I’m predicting a 3-1 loss to St. Louis, a result that will undoubtedly frustrate the fanbase and leave the Whitecaps in a dangerous situation heading into the final two games. I hope I’m wrong!
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