In this edition of Oppo Research, Hudson River Blue spoke with Samuel Rowan of The Third Sub to learn more about the Vancouver Whitecaps, New York City FC’s opponent on Matchday 28 at Yankee Soccer Stadium. Here is your NYCFC vs Vancouver preview.
1. Road-weary, but two road wins in a row ain’t bad
Hudson River Blue: Vancouver looked very sharp in Wednesday’s win on the road against the Chicago Fire. But are the Whitecaps road-weary? They arrive in the Bronx after traveling to Portland last Saturday and Chicago on Wednesday. How are Vancouver handling this schedule?
Samuel Rowan: So far, so good. The Whitecaps had been terrible on the road this season up until these last couple of matches, so I think they have really embraced the idea of an extended road trip. It also helps that this team is about as healthy as they have been all season, and they also have added depth at key positions with the inclusion of Sam Adekugbe and Richie Laryea. Squad rotation will obviously be a factor on the weekend, but I think Vancouver’s left themselves in a decent spot after mixing things up a bit in Chicago.
2. Game Plan: Limit the opponent to one goal
HRB: Vancouver are one of the best sides in MLS on both defense and offense. The Whitecaps have the second-highest xG, only behind LAFC, and rank in the top six for tackles and interceptions. Vancouver also trail only LAFC in total goals in the Western Conference. What are the vibes in Gastown these days?
SR: Especially with the recent moves, I think this is about as excited as the fanbase has been about this team in the last five years or so. As you pointed out, scoring goals has not been a problem, so generally Vancouver’s matches are entertaining. Equally, they’ve been a very good home team under Vanni Sartini, so that always gives the supporters something to cheer about on matchday.
Attendance is still lagging behind pre-Covid figures, but I think a lot of that has to do with factors outside the Whitecaps’ control: The crazy cost of living in Vancouver, the move to Apple TV, and the change of match schedule to all 7:30 local starts, which has not been great for families or people who don’t live in the city center.
Adding a little bit more to the way Vancouver has played this season, while they are a willing defensive unit with good players, they’ve been a bit plagued by unforced errors and struggles defending crosses into the box. Because of the way Vancouver pushes their wide players forward (creating all those chances), it asks a lot of center-backs and fullbacks. When other teams have been able to expose this, it’s been a bit of a problem for Vanni Sartini’s side.
I’m interested to see how they will look on the narrow pitch at Yankee Stadium. Generally, if Vancouver limits the opponent to one goal, they are able to win the match.
3. Sergio Cordova is a target man who loves to break in transition
HRB: The offensive duo of Brian White and Ryan Gauld has worked well this season. The striker duo combined for a total of 19 goals so far. Who else can trouble NYCFC on Saturday?
SR: Those two have played heavy minutes already this week so I wonder how much we will see of them on the weekend. In terms of a like-for-like replacement, Venezuelan striker Sergio Cordova is an enigmatic character.
He has a big frame at 6-foot-2, but he really thrives when Vancouver is out on the break in transition as opposed to being a target man. He only has two goals in MLS play but those goals came in the two matches immediately preceding the Leagues Cup break. During the Leagues Cup, he continued to show his goal-scoring touch with a brace against Leon.
Elsewhere on the pitch, Pedro Vite is a 21-year-old Ecuadorian midfielder who’s taken a big step forward in each of his first two seasons with the Whitecaps. He made his senior debut for his national team back in July and scored a goal in that match, he also has four goals across MLS play and five in all competitions this season for Vancouver. Pedro came to the Whitecaps as a No 10 who needed to work a lot on his play off the ball. Since then, he’s become a much more capable defender, one who the Whitecaps have been able to rely on as a box-to-box midfielder as well as an attacking mid. On the ball, Pedro has always had great composure and vision, and it’s only a matter of time before he’s ready for a move to a bigger club in Europe.
Lastly, Sam Adekugbe and Richie Laryea, as mentioned, have brought some Canadian national team experience to this side, joining over the last month. While both are fullback/wingback types, Richie loves to run at players 1v1, while Sam is more patient and technical. Overall, both are solid defenders who offer attacking upside at a position that is crucial to the way Vancouver plays.
4. The X-factor: Yankee Soccer Stadium
HRB: What’s the X-factor that could decide Saturday’s game?
SR: Is it crazy if I say the pitch at Yankee Stadium? Vancouver has a lot of success opening teams up in space and hitting on the break in transition, and I wonder if they will be able to do this against NYCFC on their home pitch. It looked to me as though NYCFC was pretty buttoned up defensively against Montreal, although, obviously, Vancouver has some different threats to offer.
Overall, I think the X-factor will be if Vanni Sartini and his staff can make the tweaks needed to adjust to the pitch while still staying true to what his team does best, which has been a challenge on the road this year, at least until this week.
5. Predicted Vancouver Starting XI
HRB: Prediction time: Starting XI, final score?
SR: Despite my optimism about the way Vancouver has played this week, I can’t in good conscience predict they’ll go three for three with all those matches being on the road. If White and Gauld are limited, as I suspect they will be, I can see these two teams playing out a 1-1 draw on Saturday.
(I know, sorry for the lame prediction).
In terms of Starting XI, here’s how I see things shaking out: