Saturday night at BC Place, the Vancouver Whitecaps will round out the 2023 MLS Regular Season by hosting Los Angeles FC. Heading into decision day, each of these teams still has something to play for, with Vancouver looking to secure a place in the top four, while LA needs to match Seattle’s result in order to ensure they maintain their second-seed status.
In terms of the specifics for Vancouver, they will need to win, as well as have at least two of Houston (away vs. Portland), Real Salt Lake (away vs. Colorado), and Seattle (away vs. St. Louis) drop points if they want one of those top four seeds. Additionally, the only way Vancouver can pass Seattle is if they lose outright. So, while some things do have to go in the Whitecaps’ favour, it’s not inconceivable this could be a very exciting final day of the regular season if they are able to take care of their own business at BC Place.
This will be the fourth meeting between the Whitecaps and LAFC this season, as Vancouver played two legs of the CONCACAF Champions League against LAFC, losing 6-0 on aggregate. The better news for Vancouver was their result in MLS play, where the Whitecaps travelled down to LA and upset the reigning MLS Cup Champions by a final score of 3-2 in late June. Vancouver scored inside the opening two minutes in that match, and although they surrendered a large amount of possession from there on out, they were also clinical when it mattered thanks to Ryan Gauld and Brian White, managing to secure a massive road result.
Things might look a bit different at home for Vancouver this Saturday. Not only will the Whitecaps have a home crowd behind them, but they’ve looked much better defensively as of late, having just recorded two clean sheets against a couple of the top teams in the West. Undoubtedly, Vancouver will still have to approach the likes of Dennis Bouanga (presumptive MLS Golden Boot winner) and Carlos Vela with extreme caution. However, Vancouver should be able to dictate proceedings more than they have in their other three matches against LAFC this season.
Looking at Vancouver’s lineup specifically, Andres Cubas is the biggest question mark, as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury sustained against St. Louis. While the Paraguayan midfielder has trained this week in Vancouver, I would expect his minutes to be limited this weekend to whatever he needs to be 100% come playoff time – so perhaps a 20 or 30 minute stint.
Elsewhere, Ryan Gauld appears to be fit after a bit of a scary moment in training. Finally, perhaps the greatest area of interest heading into the playoffs, and especially in a match like this against LAFC, is what Vanni Sartini will do with his third centreback spot. Both Javain Brown and Mathias Laborda have put in good showings as of late, but neither is a locked in starter either. What happens on Saturday could very well dictate who Vancouver goes with for the playoff run.
Overall, this will be a great test for Vancouver as they prepare themselves for their first playoff match since 2021 and their first home playoff match since 2017. Vancouver has the underlying numbers to pose a threat to any team in this league, but being able to produce results under the pressure of elimination is a unique challenge. While the stakes are not quite so high this weekend, pushing for a win against one of the best teams in the continent should be very good preparation for what is coming.
While the Whitecaps have long had a reputation as a team that falls short in the big moments, the growth this team displayed in the Canadian Championship and Leagues Cup this season has left me encouraged. Given this, I’ll predict the Whitecaps head to the playoffs on a high, with a big 2-1 win over LAFC.
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments.