Do you like drama in your sports? Of course you do. And you’re in luck; Saturday night’s match between the Colorado Rapids and Vancouver Whitecaps will be just for you. A rematch from less than a month ago when the Rapids made their sole trip to Canada in 2022, the game will pit together two teams vying for a playoff spot.
Much like last week’s match against Nashville SC, this game could give a six-point swing to the victor, should there be one. The Rapids only have five games remaining and sit below the playoff line. As has been the case for the past few matches, it is crunch time in Colorado. Every point is pivotal, every goal taken can lift the roof off a stadium and every goal given can elicit a library-like hush over thousands of supporters. The playoffs produce unreal drama and tension, and we’re in the thick of it.
On the other side, the Vancouver Whitecaps will feel just about exactly the same as Colorado. After all, the two sides are separated by just one point in the Western Conference standings. Within the walls of the ‘Caps’ training facility, there’s probably the same steely confidence that despite being below the playoff line, if they handle their business, things will turn out fine. That’s how I imagine it is for every team that doesn’t yet feel assured of playing extra games in 2022.
The Whitecaps will be without two of their biggest stars. Scottish midfielder Ryan Gauld will serve a yellow card suspension, and Canadian forward Lucas Cavallini is serving a suspension for violent conduct. The last time the Rapids hosted a Western Conference foe that was depleted due to suspensions, they defeated Minnesota United FC 4-3. That was August 6th, and the last time the Rapids took three points from a contest. If the Rapids see themselves playing through autumn, this match demands a win.
The good thing about winning is it cures everything. The Rapids have two home games within five days. If they earn six points in less than a week, they’ll board the charter to Los Angeles believing themselves to be masters of their own destiny. The funk they’ve been in the last month will be a distant memory, the gap in the table will likely narrow and if momentum is real, they’ll have it.
You gotta love the drama of what this two game homestand means for the Rapids. Here’s how they get the first three points Saturday night.
Attack with Confidence
The Rapids are returning home after a three-game road trip where they scored one goal in 270 minutes. It was bad timing for the offense to sputter and stall, but they did play two MVP candidates, a team that may win the Supporters’ Shield and a D.C. United team that has rallied behind its new coach, Wayne Rooney. Last month when the Rapids played the Whitecaps, they went down 2-0 after two self-inflicted wounds gave the Canadian side a head start. The gifts proved too much to overcome, and the Rapids fell 2-1. But they were the better team on the night, they created better chances, they were knocking on the door until the very end. If soccer games were 100 minutes instead of 90, maybe the Rapids win 3-2. The club needs to rediscover some of that form. It was there in spurts against D.C. United, and the entire first half in Nashville. Now is the time to put it together for a full 90 minutes.
The Vancouver Whitecaps have scored just 32 goals in 2022. Nobody in the Western Conference has scored fewer. And due to the suspensions listed above, they’ll be missing the goal scorers of 14 of those 32 goals. Will Yarbrough and his backline put together a fine performance against D.C. United. Yarbrough denied a former Premier League striker his first goal in MLS when Yarbrough saved Christian Benteke’s penalty, Felipe Gutiérrez headed a ball off the line and everybody kept their concentration for 90 minutes. A great performance against a D.C. team that has lacked production in 2022, having scored just 32 goals themselves, as well. The same can be said for Vancouver. A clean sheet won’t come easy because they never do in MLS, but this will be one of the better opportunities to put a goose egg up on the scoreboard. And back-to-back shutouts heading into the most critical stretch of soccer will do nothing but good things for the confidence in the locker room.
Own the Ball, Run the Game
With Gauld and Cavallini absent from the game, the Whitecaps strategy will change dramatically. It’s difficult to predict what manager Vanni Sartini will go with because these guys have played in the majority of matches, and they are the two most influential players for the Whitecaps. Cavallini can win balls in the air against any defender, and Gauld can dictate a match from the midfield by himself. Without them, I’d expect the ‘Caps to concede possession to the Rapids. But that doesn’t mean they’re conceding the game. On the contrary, the Whitecaps may be more comfortable defending deep and looking for counters to pounce on. The Rapids need to take the possession they’ll get and then run the Whitecaps in circles. A soccer ball can always move faster than a person. Ping it from one side of the field to the other, whip it through the midfield, get it to Diego Rubio and Gyasi Zardes.