SN: What struck you the most about last week’s 2-0 home win over Real Salt Lake?
RICCIO: What stood out was how badly the Whitecaps lack difference makers. Yes, its harsh to come away from a 2-0 win and have a negative feeling, but it is exactly that sentiment that the Whitecaps have instilled in their fan base.
Until 17-year-old phenom Alphonso Davies came into the match as a substitute, Vancouver offered very little in attack, or hope that they would score a goal. The team had 31 percent possession at half time on home turf! Davies earned a deserved place in MLS’ team of the week for the performance, but it raises the question: should a team rely on a young player this much?
How important was it for the Whitecaps to rebound with a win after that humiliating 6-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City the previous week?
It was imperative to get three points, and not just for what it meant to Vancouver’s place in the standings. There was a lot of tension at BC Place amongst the fans after that loss to KC. The supporter groups were singing songs that called for the club to spend more money, and bring in more attacking talent. It’s strange to say for a team that has started the season relatively well, but the sense I get is that the fan base has little belief in the squad, and view the Whitecaps as little more than a fringe playoff team.
Vancouver has four red cards in its last nine matches. How do you account for the team’s lack of discipline?
Well, it is quite staggering. Cristian Techera’s red card last week will likely be seen on the ‘Misplays of the Month’ – taking off your shirt to celebrate a goal when you are already on a yellow? That’s just a lack of focus. On top of that, this discipline issue has plagued the Whitecaps for the past few seasons. Only two teams had more sending offs last year than Vancouver’s six, and in 2016 the Whitecaps were shown the most red cards in the league. This is part of the team’s identity.
Yordy Reyna and Efrain Juarez will be back from suspension this week. How big are their returns for the Whitecaps?
The Whitecaps sit third in the Western Conference this season despite Reyna and Juarez playing below expectations. Juarez’ signing has been largely criticized to this point, while Reyna has had trouble on and off the pitch. If these two players can find their form upon their returns, it will provide the Whitecaps with an opportunity for more consistent results.
What one or two things intrigue you about Saturday’s road game against Minnesota United?
I am intrigued to see more of Anthony Blondell, who scored in his first home start last week. He has shown plenty of raw talent in his limited minutes this season, but the injury to Kei Kamara is providing more playing time for the young Venezuelan. He was heavily involved last week, but despite the goal I thought he did lack a bit of composure in important moments. This is a chance for him to shine against a Minnesota team that hasn’t shown an ability to defend well since entering MLS last year. Blondell is the biggest X-factor of this Whitecaps season, he’ll get another chance to prove himself this Saturday.