Atlanta United vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
7 p.m., B.C. Place Stadium, TV: TSN; Radio: TSN 1040 AM
Lucas Venuto vs. Brek Shea
The Whitecaps’ jitterbug winger has quickness and technical ability on the ball, tying for second in dribbles per game (1.1) on the squad, and finally cracked the scoresheet two weeks ago against Colorado.
Shea has slotted in at left back for Atlanta, and if there’s a weakness in his game, it’s defending one-on-one against skilled attackers — as many who follow the Caps painfully remember.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
1.) Shots fired
Say what you want about basic stats, but they have their place. The Whitecaps give up the most shots (17.4) per game, and surrendered a whopping 27 to Portland last game. Of the worst five Major League Soccer teams in shots against, all but four have losing records (Seattle) and three have worse records than Vancouver (San Jose, Cincinnati, Portland).
Conversely, Atlanta averages 15.4 shots for per game, second in MLS, and have averaged just under two goals per game during their four-game unbeaten streak.
2.) Road warriors
The Whitecaps have a reputation of being a tough out away from B.C. Place Stadium, but Atlanta has supplanted them for the title. Since they joined MLS in 2017, no team has more road victories (16) than the Five Stripes, who have won their past two away games by a combined 5-0 score. The Caps, for the record, are tied for third (13) with New York City FC.
3.) Missing engines
Vancouver will be missing a key cog in Jon Erice, who leads the team with 55.6 passes per game, and tops the midfield in tackles (3.2) and blocks (1.0) per game. Atlanta’s Darlington Nagbe didn’t make the trip to the West Coast, meaning tonight’s visitors are without the player who tops MLS in final third passing accuracy (88.89) and started out last game against Orlando going 35-for-35 in passes ending in the opposing third.
4.) Picking up the tempo
Both teams had rough starts to this season. There were early calls for coach Frank de Boer’s head after Atlanta, the defending champs, went winless in their first four games, scoring just two goals. But they’ve turned it around, winning five of six, including four straight. Vancouver was winless in its first six before going 3-1-1 over its past four.
“OK, they had a spell in the beginning of the year with the change of coach, a change of identity that needed adaptation,” said Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos. “But when you have players on your roster that have won the MLS Cup … they have quality.”
5.) Pressure, possession
Atlanta expects Vancouver to bunker down tonight — and why wouldn’t they? The Caps rate as one of the most passive teams in the final two thirds, while Atlanta is one of the most aggressive and pressing.
Also, while the Caps’ possession numbers (46.8) are 22nd in MLS, Atlanta tops the table with nearly 57.3 per cent per game.
PREDICTED STARTING XI
Bangoura — Montero — Venuto
Hwang — Felipe — Teibert
Adnan — Henry — Godoy — Nerwinski
Villalba-P. Martinez — Gressl
Larentowicz — Remedi
Shea — Pirez — Robinson — Escobar
Whitecaps: Michael Baldisimo (ankle), Jasser Khmiri (knee), David Norman Jr. (right foot), Yordy Reyna (left hamstring), Jon Erice (ankle).
Atlanta: George Bello (right adductor), Kevin Kratz (calf), Mikey Ambrose (right meniscus), Brandon Vazquez (knee); Ezequiel Barco (international duty).
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