The Vancouver Whitecaps defeated the Portland Timbers 1-0 at home Friday. The Timbers had arrived in Vancouver on the back of a three-game winning streak, but were sent home empty-handed by the Caps. Next, the Caps want to end Atlanta United’s four-game winning streak at 7 p.m. PST Wednesday.
“We know they are the champs,” Jake Nerwinski said after practice Monday. “They have a strong front four. [Josef] Martinez is starting to heat up a bit. [Hector] Villalba has been good. But we want to make it tough for teams to score when we play at home, and I think we have been doing this year.”
Doneil Henry said he’s seen Atlanta’s quality, but thinks the Caps are ready for the test.
“OK, they had a spell in the beginning of the year with the change of coach — a change of identity that needed adaptation,” Whitecaps cach Marc Dos Santos said. “But if you have players on your roster that have won the MLS Cup, some of them — like Darlington Nagbe — not just with one team, they have quality.”
However, Atlanta United will travel to Vancouver without Darlington Nagbe and defender Michael Parkhurst.
But the Whitecaps will be without midfielder Jon Erice. The Spaniard had to be carried off the field during practice Monday.
“It doesn’t look good,” Dos Santos said of his injury.
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The captain has been a bit of an unsung hero for the Whitecaps this season and started in all but one game, against Orlando City, for the Whitecaps. According to Analytics website Wyscout, Erice leads all Whitecaps field players with a pass completion rate of 87.66 percent. Erice also completed the most defensive actions per 90 minutes among all Whitecaps midfielders with 7.46 per 90 minutes.
Vancouver has been good on defense this season, conceding 14 goals in the first 11 games, which ties them for fourth place in the Western Conference. Without Erice, that defensive stability might be under threat.
In Felipe Martins, however, the Whitecaps might have just the right player to replace Erice in midfield. The Brazilian is ranked just behind Erice with 7.35 successful defensive actions per 90 minutes this season. In fact, Martins on average has won more defensive duels (27.27 percent per 90 minutes versus 24.29 percent per 90 minutes) than his Spanish teammate. Felipe has also been solid completing 84.46 percent of his passes on average this season.
The Caps have scored just 11 goals in 11 games this season. Only expansion side FC Cincinnati has scored fewer goals this year (10 in 12 games).
Following the Portland game, Dos Santos believed the Whitecaps were on the right track in the attacking department.
For 45 minutes the Caps dominated the Timbers, but then struggled to carry that dominance into the second half.
“It is better, but it is not at the level that I want yet,” Dos Santos said Monday. “I feel we can kill games more. We have more opportunities than what the scoreboard looks like.”
That was certainly the case against Portland where the Whitecaps had several chances, even when the Timbers were dominating the game, to put the game to bed. Ultimately, the one goal scored by Fredy Montero was enough to secure the Whitecaps three crucial points against their rivals on Friday.
On Wednesday, however, the Whitecaps will face an Atlanta United side that is tied in first place with LAFC for the least amount of goals conceded in MLS with eight.
That means chances could be hard to come by, and the Caps will have to be clinical when it comes to finishing opportunities.
Said Dos Santos: “We have to be a bit cleaner in the final third.”