VANCOUVER – History has shown the month of August can make or break a club’s chances of securing a playoff spot in Major League Soccer. The Vancouver Whitecaps experienced that a year ago and are hopeful the same can happen in 2018.
The Whitecaps have four critical regular season matches on tap this month, starting with a visit to New York City FC on Saturday. Coming out of the All-Star break two points below the playoff line in the Western Conference, the players know what is at stake, beginning this weekend in the Big Apple.
“You want to end the year well and it starts in August,” veteran midfielder Brek Shea said following training this week in Vancouver. “If we can get some points here, it will put us in a good spot.”
Last August, the Whitecaps took points in four of five matches, setting themselves up for a strong push into the post-season. This month brings a new set of challenges – road games against NYCFC, Portland and San Jose, plus a meeting at home with the New York Red Bulls. Throw in a pair of mid-week matches against Toronto FC in the Canadian Championship final, and everyone knows how important the depth of the squad will be over the next four weeks.
“I’ve told the guys they’ll all play. There will be rotation,” coach Carl Robinson said of the hectic schedule that sees his club play five times over 14 days. “We’ve got to fly to the east twice and we’ve got Toronto home and away. We know it won’t be easy, but all the players will get their chance.”
July produced a mixed bag of results for the Whitecaps across all competitions. They posted three wins, including back-to-back victories at home to close out the month (4-2 vs. Minnesota United and 2-0 vs. Montreal Impact in Canadian Championship). On the flip side, Vancouver lost four times, being out-scored 7-1 over those matches.
“We had a tough month of July,” Canadian Doneil Henry admitted. “We all understand we need to be better. Fatigue is going to happen, but we need to be able to dig deep and make sure we don’t go out of this season with any regrets.”
If the Whitecaps are to make the playoffs, they will need to continue to depend on their scoring depth. Kei Kamara has delivered where it counts the most, leading Vancouver with nine goals. Cristian Techera has matched his total from last year with six. Yordy Reyna, who did not score in his first eight appearances of the season, now has four goals and five assists. And we all know what Alphonso Davies has provided, as his five goals and 10 assists make him one of the Caps most dangerous weapons.
“As a team, we don’t rely on just one person,” said Shea, who has netted three goals in 2018. “Anyone can score at any time. It’s great to have that.”
Robinson added: “It’s important we score by committee. We’re doing that a lot at the moment, but we still need to tighten up defensively. We’ve leaked too many goals.”
While scoring has not been a season-long issue for Vancouver, defending has been a problem area. Entering this weekend, the Whitecaps are tied with Minnesota with 44 goals conceded, the most in the Western Conference. With 12 regular season matches remaining, Robinson knows they cannot afford to continue allowing two goal every match.
“As the games get more intense towards the latter part of the season, we need to make sure we don’t give away silly goals,” Robinson said. “But we need to continue to create chances. My players know what their jobs and roles are. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don’t. On Saturday [against Minnesota] we did.”
NEWS AND NOTES
Defender Kendall Waston will not be available on the weekend as he serves a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation. He joins midfielder Efrain Juarez, who has two games remaining on his three-match ban.
Midfielders Jordon Mutch and Aly Ghazal will also not be available Saturday. Mutch continues to recover from a foot injury sustained July 21 in Seattle, while Ghazal left last Saturday’s match against Minnesota with a leg injury.
This weekend marks just the Whitecaps’ second visit Yankee Stadium. On April 30, 2016, David Villa netted a pair of goals in a NYCFC 3-2 victory. Christian Bolanos and Tim Parker scored for Vancouver in the loss.
NYCFC are one of the hottest teams in MLS entering August. Despite a 3-1 loss on the road last Sunday to the Seattle Sounders, New York is just four points behind Atlanta United for top spot in the league. They also sport the best home record in MLS (10-0-1).
Three players share the goal-scoring lead for NCYFC. Maxi Moralez, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and David Villa each have eight goals on the season. The next start Villa makes will be the 100th of his MLS career. His status for the weekend is unknown, as he has missed the last six matches with a knee injury.