Vancouver Whitecaps: Key Storylines vs. Orlando City

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 05: A general pitch overview during a MLS soccer match between New York City FC and Orlando City SC at the Orlando City Stadium on March 5, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 05: A general pitch overview during a MLS soccer match between New York City FC and Orlando City SC at the Orlando City Stadium on March 5, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images) /

Previewing this weekend’s MLS action for Vancouver Whitecaps FC, as the ‘Caps head to Florida to face Orlando City SC in one of the league’s longest road trips.

Ah, Rivalry Week. The week when the biggest rivalries in Major League Soccer take centre stage. Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers. Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC. New York City vs. New York Red Bulls. And, of course, who could possibly forget Orlando City vs. Vancouver Whitecaps?

Three days after coming back from a goal and a man down to draw 1-1 with Seattle, the Whitecaps are in Orlando, having covered almost 3,000 miles in one of the longest trips in MLS. What can the jetlagged ‘Caps expect from Saturday evening’s game?

Desperate opponents

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The Whitecaps are sitting in sixth place in the West. It’s an uncomfortable position, just above the red line, but the two points of clearance and two games in hand on San Jose give Vancouver a bit of breathing room.

Orlando, on the other hand, have no breathing room at all in the much tougher Eastern Conference. They’re five points out of the playoff positions and have played more games than both Montreal and Atlanta. Orlando also haven’t won a match in almost a month.

With Kaká back from suspension, the Whitecaps will need to be prepared for desperate opponents who will look to dictate the action. It looks like it’ll be another low possession outing for Vancouver, looking to hit Orlando on the break.

Robinson likely to ring the changes

ORLANDO, FL – MARCH 06: Brek Shea
ORLANDO, FL – MARCH 06: Brek Shea /

The ‘Caps played a gruelling game three days ago, half an hour of which was played with only 10 men. This is their third game in a week, and they’ve also spent 12 hours travelling across the continent.

This is also probably the least important of Vancouver’s games in the next month, as it’s one of only two against Eastern Conference opposition. They can afford to drop points against Orlando without giving their playoff rivals a huge leg up.

Add all this to the fact that the ‘Caps opted not to use one of their four MLS-approved charters for their longest trip of the year, and all the signs point towards some substantial rotation, similar to what we saw against New England (although hopefully with better results).

Tony Tchani will miss out for certain after his red card against Seattle, meaning that unless newcomer Aly Ghazal is ready, Vancouver are down to two available defensive midfielders. So Andrew Jacobson and Russell Teibert are likely in line to start in the middle.

Brek Shea will almost certainly start, given his familiarity with playing in Orlando and his recent lack of minutes. His position, however, is less obvious. He’s been played at the #9 role several times this season in similar circumstances, and if Robinson wants to give Fredy Montero a rest and Alphonso Davies a start, then Shea could well be up front rather than on the left.

In defence, other newcomer Aaron Maund has a good shot at making his first appearance for Vancouver.

Predicted Lineup:

Davies in line for a start

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If there is one player who’s earned his place in the starting XI, it’s Alphonso Davies. It’s no coincidence that the Whitecaps only improved from their dire first half performance on Wednesday once Davies was subbed on. His energy and willingness to run and take players on give the ‘Caps’ attack a new dimension, as seen when he chased down Chad Marshall to set up Montero for the equalizing goal.

Robinson’s willingness to protect Davies and allow him to develop at his own pace is admirable. But at some point he has to let the 16-year-old back into the line of fire, and this would seem to be a perfect opportunity.

Next: MLS playoffs get a fourth sub in extra time

How to Watch:

Where: Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, Florida

When: Saturday, August 26th, 4:30 pm PT (7:30 pm ET)

Channel: MLS LIVE, TSN (Canada Only)