Matchday 11 Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. MNUFC

Matchday 11


AppleTV  & FS1 | 1500 ESPN

After an historically good start, Minnesota United head west tonight for their second and final meeting of the season with the Vancouver Whitecaps winless in their last four regular season games. Looking ahead to a very busy May and a congested schedule that will leave little room to make corrections if things continue to go sideways, the team is desperate to find its form. Continuing to rely on a stout defense to stay relevant – the Loons’ 8 goals against, 9.9xGA, and 25 shots on target against are all among the lowest in the league – the team has struggled to generate any offense – their 8 goals, 10.6xG, and 99 shots are all also among the lowest in the league. As the team learned last time they faced Vancouver, goals change games and scoring more than one goal a game is important.

Vancouver comes into the night undefeated in their last seven regular season games, a streak that sounds slightly better than it has been. Over that stretch the Whitecaps have won only twice, eking out 5 draws, while also suffering two 0-3 defeats to LAFC in Concacaf Champions League play. Like Minnesota, Vancouver has relied on a stout defense – the ‘Caps 7 goals against, 9.7xGA, and 31 shots on target against are all as impressive as the Loons’ – while having trouble scoring goals. But unlike Minnesota, Vancouver’s underlying numbers – their 11 goals are much lower than their 15.3xG – suggest that they are on the verge of being much better than they have been. With their own busy May ahead, Vancouver will certainly hope to finally find their finishing form at home tonight.


MIN: 7th in the West, 12 pts., 3-3-3, Last five: D(W)LLL

Last game: April 30, MIN 0 – 0 DAL

VAN: 9th in the West,11 pts., 2-2-5, Last five: DD(L)W(L)

Last game: April 29, VAN 0 – 0 COL

All-time head-to-head record: 5-3-4 (2-3-1 on the road)

Last meeting: March 25, 2023, MIN 1 – 1 VAN (García 40’)(Becher 90’+8’)

What to watch

Minnesota United remains a team and club in search of an identity. Continuing to nominally line-up in a 4-2-3-1, they often play into a kind of 4-2-2-1-1, or a rather incoherent 4-4-2. In the past the team has depended on individual moments of quality to generate offense, but without Emanuel Reynoso and with no-one on the roster playing at a level to simply take over a game, the technical staff needs to find a way to get the most out of the players it has. On the road against a Western Conference opponent, with a mid-week US Open Cup match at home against the Philadelphia Union right around the corner, there will certainly be a temptation to remain defensively organized, work to stay locked in for the full 90+’, however long that + turns out to be, and leave town satisfied with a point on the road. A quiet, controlled, error free game might not be a bad thing tonight.

After a bit of tinkering to begin his tenure, Vancouver head coach Vanni Sartini has his team playing a rhythmically consistent style. Lining up in what is mostly 4-3-2-1, Vancouver tends to congest the middle of the field before exploding out into the wings and channels in attack. The underlying numbers say it is working, even if they are having some trouble finding their final touch. Defensively that congestion closes down play through the middle but leaves Vancouver vulnerable to strong attacking outside backs, the one thing Minnesota has consistently offered. Minnesota’s backs will need to stay locked in for the whole game defensively, but if the Loons’ midfield can stretch the field, the flanks should be open.

Who to watch

Although he is often left alone up top, put in a position of indecision and so playing with a lack of confidence, it is clear that Luis Amarilla is at his best as a holding forward playing alongside another attacking forward. In the 4-2-3-1 the role of that second attacking player is filled by either Sang Bin Jeong coming out of the #10 spot or one of the wingers. The last time these two teams met, with an international break depleted roster, Minnesota lined up in a 4-4-2. Tonight, on the road, might be a good opportunity to try that again, a move that would also put Amarilla in a better position to find his best self.

Vancouver likes to crowd the middle of the field. In team’s last meeting, Zarek Valentin was able to take advantage, finding space on the right to send in the cross for Minnesota’s lone goal. Tonight, that space will most likely be open for Kemar Lawrence and DJ Taylor. Catching Vancouver on a counter-attack down the flanks may be Minnesota’s best chance to score on the road.

The big news out of training this week was Bakaye Dibassy’s continued recovery. His injury last season was so unusual that it is still hard to know when he will be fully recovered, but as he starts training with the full team, he also starts to push Micky Tapias. Tapias has, of course, comfortably stepped into the center back pairing with Michael Boxall more quickly than could have been expected. But although Tapias’ defensive work has been outstanding, and his ability to step up early to break up plays down the middle will be important tonight, he has also tended to be dangerously sloppy while in possession. With Dibassy’s return to health Tapias will need to tighten up his game if he wants to hold on to his starting position.

Vancouver goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka has been outstanding. With 4 consecutive clean sheets – the ‘Caps haven’t given up a goal in 410 minutes of MLS play – and a 77.4 save percentage, he has conceded a mere 7 goals from 9.3PSxG (a goalkeeper focused measure of expected goals), meaning he has conceded 2.3 fewer goals than expected as a keeper. He may not get much work tonight, but he is having a very good season so far.

Julian Gressel has long been considered one of the best at serving the ball into the box. In Vancouver’s current style, though, he has tended to play a more inside position. And in that position he is becoming an elite playmaker as well, equally able now to attack from the outside as to generate offense through the middle.

After missing almost all of April to injury – he was an unused sub in last weekend’s match against Colorado – Alessandro Schöpf looks set to return tonight. Prior to his injury Schöpf was settling into the midfield after a rough first year in Vancouver. Although he may not be able to go a full 90’, his presence might be the key to unlock this team.



Suspended: Emanuel Reynoso

Out: Bakaye Dibassy (thigh)

Mikael Marques (ankle)

Note: Although not listed as unavailable, Kervin Arriaga did not travel with the team to Vancouver. In a press availability on Friday Adrian Heath noted that Arriaga would be evaluated and then a decision would be made if he would travel to Vancouver for the game.


Out: Max Anchor (left shoulder sprain)