VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Whitecaps have a chance to make it three wins in a row on Wednesday night, something they were not able to do in 2018. To do that, they will have to find a way to knock off the defending Major League Soccer champions, as Atlanta United make their lone visit to BC Place.
When Vancouver went winless through its opening six matches of the campaign, many wondered what the club needed to do to get on track. All of a sudden, the Whitecaps have taken points in four of their last five games, and are just under the playoff bar in the Western Conference.
“It feels good that our hard work in training is paying off,” defender Jake Nerwinski offered. “We still want more. We’re not overly happy with where we are. We expect to be higher in the table at the end of the year.”
The Whitecaps play seven times in May, making it one of the most challenging months on their MLS calendar. Things cannot have started any better for Vancouver, with a 3-2 road win over the Colorado Rapids on May 3, followed by a 1-0 shutout win at home last Friday over the Portland Timbers.
“As a team, we are believing in the process,” commented Freddy Montero, who tallied his third goal of the season in the win against Portland. “We were doing really good defensively. The team is comfortable now playing forward. We want to keep it up.”
In Vancouver’s 1-1 draw on April 27 against the Philadelphia Union, Montero did not so much as get off the substitute’s bench. Whether or not coach Marc Dos Santos intended that decision to be a wake-up call for his striker, the response has been positive. Montero has played a full 90 minutes the last two matches, has collected two goals and an assist and led the team with four shots on target.
“Freddy is a player that in every place he’s been, he’s scored goals,” Dos Santos said of Montero who was named to MLS team of the week. “It’s better from Freddy, but it can still become better.”
If the Whitecaps are to continue their winning ways, they are going to have to find a way to contain an Atlanta United squad that is playing their best soccer of the year. Like the Whitecaps, Atlanta started slowly posting just one win in its first six outings. Under new coach Frank De Boer, the Five Stripes now look like the club that won MLS Cup last fall.
Atlanta comes to the west coast having won four straight matches. What is even more impressive is all four have been shutouts, marking the ninth time in MLS history a club has kept four clean sheets in a row.
At the other end of the pitch, Josef Martinez continues to carry the offensive load. After winning league MVP honours in 2018 with a MLS-record 31 goals, the 25-year-old Venezuelan has found the net four times, the latest coming in Atlanta’s 1-0 win last Sunday over Orlando City.
“We know they’re the champs. They have a strong front four,” Nerwinski said of Atlanta. “Martinez is starting to heat up. We’re going to have to play the same way as we did against Portland.”
“We want to make it tough for teams to score [at home]. I think we have been doing that the last few games and that’s what we expect.”
NOTES & TIDBITS
In their lone meeting last season, Atlanta cruised to a 4-1 victory over the Whitecaps at Mercedes Benz Stadium. Martinez netted a hat trick in a match that saw Vancouver captain Kendal Waston sent off in the first half.
Vancouver and Atlanta have only played each other once at BC Place. In their previous meeting in June of 2017, Montero netted an insurance marker in a 3-1 Whitecaps victory.
In Atlanta’s victory last weekend, veteran midfielder Jeff Larentowicz made his 400th appearance in a MLS match. Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman (472) and Seattle Sounders defender Chad Marshall (409) are the only other out-field players to have played more games in the league.
Brek Shea is the only member of Atlanta roster to have spent time with the Whitecaps. After playing the last two years in Vancouver, the 29-year-old has appeared in every match so far this season.