Lost amidst the buzz surrounding Zlatan Ibrahimovic coming to MLS is the fact that the Vancouver Whitecaps host the LA Galaxy on Saturday night.
The “Super Swede” won’t be in the line-up for the Galaxy at BC Place Stadium, but it’s still an important match between the Western Conference rivals.
Here are five key storylines to take note of ahead of Saturday’s contest.
Kamara back for Vancouver
Star forward Kei Kamara will be back in the line-up for the Whitecaps after sitting out last week’s 4-1 road loss to Atlanta United with a groin injury.
Traded to the Whitecaps in the off-season, Kamara has hit the ground running, scoring goals in each of Vancouver’s first two games of the campaign, both of them wins.
Kamara’s goal-scoring ability has given the Whitecaps a big shot in the arm, but he has provided much more than that.
“He has been a perfect fit for the Whitecaps’ system. Fredy Montero had a solid campaign for Vancouver in 2017, but Kamara is the type of No. 9 this team really needs to find success in-season and in the playoffs. His hold-up play and ability to connect with those around him has been a major factor in Vancouver’s two wins,” Sportsnet 650 commentator Dan Riccio wrote in his weekly blog for sportsnet.ca.
“It’s hard to imagine how he could have had a better start to his Whitecaps career. I also believe his confident and charismatic persona is beneficial to the squad, and some of the younger players within the team.”
Defensive shakeup for Whitecaps
Whitecaps centre back Kendall Waston is away on international duty for Costa Rica, which means he won’t be available for Saturday’s game.
The good news is that left fullback Marcel de Jong is back after missing the Atlanta game through injury. Without Waston, though, coach Carl Robinson will be forced to go with a new pairing in the centre of defence, assuming he plays four at the back. Who will likely partner Aaron Maund in the middle of Vancouver’s back line?
One option is Canadian international Doneil Henry, who has yet to debut for the Whitecaps due to injury, but who has trained in full this week. Jose Aja, another off-season addition, could also slot into the middle of defence. Regardless of who starts next to Maund, it’ll be interesting to see how they gel, and whether or not the unfamiliarity between the two could be something that the Galaxy can exploit.
Unleashing “The Bug”
Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson deployed a defensive starting 11 and took a more conservative approach last week in Atlanta. As such, Uruguayan winger Cristian Techera didn’t see any action.
But Robinson could insert Techera, nicknamed “El Bicho” (The Bug), back into the line-up on Saturday against a defensively porous LA side. The Galaxy will be missing defenders Ashley Cole (suspension) and Emrah Klimenta (away on national team duty with Montenegro), potentially leaving a lot of room in LA’s half of the field to operate within for the wily and quick Techera.
Jordon Mutch making an impact
While Kei Kamara has garnered the majority of the headlines for Vancouver, another newcomer has also left his mark for the Whitecaps thus far.
Jordon Mutch made his first MLS start last week since joining the Whitecaps on loan from Premier League side Crystal Palace. The Englishman provided a steady and physical presence on the left side of midfield, and he played a wonderfully weighted ball over the top of Atlanta’s defence for Erik Hurtado, who collected it in full stride and then scored with a composed finish.
Mutch is expected to be in the starting lineup again on Saturday against LA. While the physical nature of play in MLS is somewhat similar to what Mutch experienced in England, he is still adapting to new teammates.
“No league is easy to play in. It doesn’t matter who you are or what league you’re playing in. You have to be on it at 100 per cent … There’s a lot of big players in MLS, and I’ve found it difficult,” Mutch told Sportsnet 650 earlier this week.
Davies available for Whiteaps
Even though Canada will play New Zealand in an international friendly on Saturday in Spain, Canadian coach John Herdman did the Whitecaps a big favour when he didn’t call up Alphonso Davies for national team duty.
Instead, Davies remained in Vancouver and he will be available to play against the Galaxy on Saturday.
Davies was one of the few bright spots for the Whitecaps last week in Georgia, as he was a dangerous threat down the left side with his speed, deft ball control and technical skill. Atlanta right fullback Franco Escobar struggled to contain the talented teenager, who burned him for pace and nearly opened the scoring in the first few minutes of the match.
Look for Davies to give Galaxy right fullback Daniel Steres all he can handle on Saturday night at BC Place Stadium.