SCCL PREVIEW: 3 things Whitecaps must do to overcome 3-goal deficit vs. LAFC
It’d be an injustice to call the task anything but impossible.
After having suffered a 3-0 defeat at home in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final tie versus LAFC last week, the Vancouver Whitecaps are behind the eight ball right now, and then some, as they get set for the return leg this Tuesday LIVE on OneSoccer.
Needing to score at least three goals just to push the game to penalties (assuming LAFC doesn’t score), and needing more than that to bring home the win, it’s a daunting task, given that LAFC are the tournament’s favourites for a reason.
Yet, while the task may seem impossible, and certainly is improbable, it’s worth noting that the Whitecaps do enter this game with a chance of advancing to the next round.
Because of that, they still head into this game with belief in their minds, even if that chance is minuscule. Especially after how things went for LAFC in the Round of 16 versus Alajuelense, where they carried a similar 3-0 road lead into their home game, before seeing their opponents nab two goals to put LA under pressure until a late LAFC goal, LAFC did show in that game that they’re not completely invincible.
Therefore, here’s a look at how Vancouver could potentially revive this tie, as they chase one of the most unlikely CONCACAF Champions League comebacks of all time, erasing the heartbreak of their leg one result.
1. Now's the time to overcome road woes
Of course, there are plenty of reasons to doubt why Vancouver could make a comeback. From how good LAFC is, to the number of goals that they’d need to score, there are a lot of limiting factors, without a doubt.
Yet, for Vancouver, there’s one, in particular, that they must get over ahead of this game - their struggles on the road.
Entering this game, they haven’t won in their last 12 games on the road (all competitions), and have just two wins in their last 22 road games (all competitions), which is less than ideal.
Not only that, but they’ve only scored 50-24 in those games, as they’ve struggled on both sides of the ball, making it hard to point at a specific reason why they fail to play the same way on the road as they do at home, where they’re typically much better.
Plus, LAFC has not been a kind away day for them historically, as the Whitecaps have drawn three and lost three of the six games they’ve played at LA’s BMO Stadium, getting outscored 20-7 across those matches.
Safe to say, that’s a lot of history that the Whitecaps will have to get over in this game, both in terms of their overall road form, as well as playing LAFC away, in particular.
For what it’s worth, a big reason for Vancouver’s struggles is that they tend to almost play too cautiously on the road, which doesn’t really suit their style of play, which relies on a good combination of aggressive pressure and rigid defensive posture to succeed.
In this game, however, one where they need goals, and a lot of them, they’ll have to be far more aggressive than they have usually been on the road, which could actually suit them.
Either way, it shows that while Vancouver has to be encouraged with their strong start to the MLS season, especially their form as of late, a big obstacle for them to overcome before they really take a big step forward has been their road play, something that they’ll look to change this game - win or lose.
2. Watch the tape on Bouanga… and Vela
It has not been fun to be an opposing defender against LAFC this season. Having scored 19 goals in nine games in all competitions, they’ve been running roughshod over most of their opponents, scoring three or more goals in five games already this year.
In particular, Denis Bouanga has been on a tear, scoring 11 of those goals and adding two assists, while grabbing two hat tricks, one of which came this past weekend in MLS play (just days after he torched the Whitecaps for two goals and an assist in leg one).
Denis Bouanga is just scoring goals for fun at the moment. 👏 pic.twitter.com/aBUzJJd9Jl— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 10, 2023
For the Whitecaps, that’s a tall task, as while Bouanga on his own would’ve been enough of a problem to worry about, he’s also surrounded by Carlos Vela, Kwadwo Opoku and Stipe Biuk, who are all different threats up front.
And Vela is the one that the Whitecaps will be most scared of, as while he has just two goals and three assists this year, there’s a reason why he has 81 goals and 46 assists across five-plus seasons with LAFC, as he’s consistently been one of the most dangerous attackers in the league.
Before, though, he was often the main option for LAFC up front, but now, teams are left trying to figure out how to stop Bouanga, which could mean more space for Vela than he’s typically used to seeing in recent years.
Because of that, Vancouver is going to have to be very wary of the dual threat of Bouanga and Vela. Of course, they’ll need to keep an eye on Bouanga, but doing so while not forgetting about Vela would only lead to disaster, especially given that he has five goals and four assists in his career against Vancouver, a team he seems to relish playing against.
3. Capitalize on your chances when they come
But of course, the biggest thing that the Whitecaps will need in this game is goals, and to do that, they’ve got their work cut out in that regard.
The good news? They’ve actually been pretty good at generating chances this season, averaging 1.92 xG and 14.3 shots per game in all competitions, but are scoring 1.8 goals a game, most of which coming from a pair of 5-0 wins over an overmatched Real CD España and a shorthanded CF Montréal.
Because of that, it’s going to be crucial that they’re clinical with any chances that they get, as that has sometimes hurt them this season. In particular, Brian White will need to be clinical, as he’s averaging an elite 0.75 xG per 90, yet is scoring at a rate of 0.52 goals per 90, which is still good, but not quite the level he could be at.
Along with Simon Becher, who after scoring five goals and one assist in his first 105 career minutes of first-team action for the Whitecaps (all competitions), has cooled down a bit by not scoring in his last 94 minutes of play, that pair will be heavily relied upon up front.
Simon Becher is now the fastest player (87 minutes) in MLS history to score his first four goals. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/0KeZ81nM7E— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 2, 2023
From there, the likes of Ryan Gauld, Pedro Vite and Julian Gressel will be tasked with creating chances for them, with Gressel in red-hot form with five assists (all competitions) this year, while Gauld and Vite are eager to pick up some goal contributions after a mixed start in that regard.
No doubt, this is going to be a very tough task, one that is going to require perfection in the execution of their game plan, but they certainly got the tools to at least have a chance at doing so.
So now, look for them to try and make the impossible a possibility, as they look to put a forgettable first-leg result behind them with a performance to remember.