In what we hope will be a weekly feature, we are going to take an in-depth look at our next opponents to help you better understand what Orlando City SC is up against and who you should watch out for. First up, the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Club History and Coach
The Vancouver Whitecaps have been in Major League Soccer since 2011, after making the jump up from the transitory USSF Division 2 league. They have been coached by ex-Welsh international Carl Robinson since December 2013. Since taking over, Robinson, one of the youngest coaches in Major League Soccer, has managed to take the Whitecaps to the MLS Playoffs and the CONCACAF Champions League. Vancouver was the most successful Canadian MLS franchise last year, easily beating out high spending counterparts, Toronto FC.
The Whitecaps underwent quite the MLS off-season. They lost their talisman center half, Jay DeMerit, to retirement, lost two players to expansion side New York City FC (Mehdi Ballouchy and Omar Salgado), and chose not to renew defensive veteran Andy O'Brien's contract, despite good appearances for the club. They did, however, sign soccer journeyman Pa Modou Kah to fill in the defensive gaps. Vancouver also added Uruguayan Octavio Rivero, the forward that has every MLS soccer commentator abuzz after he has gone for two goals in his first two games played.
The Season So Far
The opening game for the Whitecaps saw them take on their Canadian rivals, the new and potentially improved Toronto FC, at home in front of 21,000 fans. Vancouver started off strongly, grabbing the first goal through Rivero. Despite having more of the possession and on-target shots, they were unable to hang on against a Toronto FC team that now includes Jozy Altidore (who had apparently remembered where his scoring boots were, after failing to take them with him to England), and the Whitecaps ended up losing, 3-1.
The score was unfair to Vancouver, who actually had a good game overall but just couldn't ultimately keep up with Toronto in the second half and conceded a last minute PK to make it look worse than it was.
Their second game this season, away to the Chicago Fire, ended up a little better for the Whitecaps. Despite being drubbed in possession (58.7% to 41.3%), the Whitecaps were able to effectively use the long ball on Chicago, thereby cutting out the ineffective play of Mauro Rosales, to get 18 shots at goal, and ended up finishing as 1-0 winners, thanks to an 86th-minute goal by Rivero.
Overall, Vancouver played a good game, especially goalkeeper David Ousted, who had four excellent saves, however, if the Chicago Fire had been in mid-season form, or if the midfield partnership of Harrison Shipp and Shaun Maloney had come together immediately, then I would have expected the game to have ended very differently.
My Player to Watch
Since you have seen Rivero's name a few times in this article, I am sure you are thinking that he would be my man to watch, and in most cases you would be right. However, after a stellar game against Chicago, I am going to go with the Whitecaps' young left back, Sam Adekugbe.
In only his third MLS start, Adekugbe had a great game, gaining an MLS Team of the Week nod (alongside Orlando City's Rafael Ramos) and he really strengthened the attack for Vancouver whilst going forward, using his very quick pace (it's not often a defender gets caught offside). But he was also able to track back and shore up the defense when Michael Stevens went forward for Chicago. He was probably the best Vancouver defender (if not player) against Chicago and I would expect him to get the start this week against Orlando on Saturday.
And that's it. Let us know if the comments if you want to see more of these types of pieces or if you have more questions about the Vancouver Whitecaps, and make sure to come back to The Mane Land throughout the week as we get you set for Saturday night.
And don't forget to check out our match thread on game day to stay up-to-date with everything that's happening, including lineups and how to watch. We'll cap match day with recaps, player grades and more from our on-site reporters.