The Houston Dynamo's road trip was largely a disaster, but they return home to face a top team in the league, the Vancouver Whitecaps. In their previous match against the Colorado Rapids they struggled against an aggressive Rapids offense while utilizing a make-shift backline due to the injuries to DaMarcus Beasley and Raúl Rodríguez.
In our preview of the match we scouted the ‘Caps and discussed the Dynamo options, but we wanted to know a bit more about our friends north of the border so we spoke with Jon Szekeres of Eighty Six Forever to talk about things Whitecap related.
Dynamo Theory: The Whitecaps currently sit in 2nd place overall and it looks like they'll prove to be legitimate contenders in the Western Conference as they've swept the Galaxy and won in difficult places away from home like Century Link Field (Seattle), and Rio Tinto (Real Salt Lake). What is different about the Whitecaps this year that has helped them achieve their current level of success?
Eighty Six Forever: It all comes down to depth in scoring. Last season, the Whitecaps really depended on one guy up front, and that was Captain Pedro Morales. He scored 10 times en route to winning MLS Newcomer of the Year, but the 'Caps didn't really seem to have a plan 'B' behind him. When Morales wasn't playing well, the team sagged too. Now, the 'Caps have the luxury of several 'go-to' guys for the attack. Morales is still there, but he's joined by names like Octavio Rivero, an improved Kekuta Manneh, Cristian Techera and a reinvigorated Mauro Rosales, when he's healthy. They can hurt you from several different ways now, and it's making it harder for teams to game plan for them. I mean, they signed veteran Robert Earnshaw to provide some secondary scoring, and the dude can't escape from the bottom of the depth chart - there's simply too much talent on the roster. It's gotta be a nice problem to have for Carl Robinson.
DT: Kekutah Manneh has managed to score 2 goals and grab 3 assists in his last 4 matches all of which have greatly contributed to a nice run of form for the Whitecaps as a whole. What makes Manneh so valuable to this Whitecaps side that has more than a few creative and offensive minded players?
86F: Manneh has been such a fun player to watch since he first pulled a Whitecaps kit over his head. Manneh can beat you with his speed, and his foot work is good, and steadily improving. He's also got that desirable mix of finish and creativity, perhaps best highlighted by this beautiful goal Cristian Techera scored against FC Dallas last weekend.
Manneh is brilliant in the set-up of the goal, looking more like a 10 year veteran than a ___ year old. He shows patience, and then uses his speed to gain separation from the Dallas defender. The rest is history, as Manneh is able to hook up with Techera for the goal, which proved to be the match winner for Vancouver. He's a special player.
DT: The Whitecaps have a surprisingly similar record away from BC Place than they do at home this year with a 6-4-1 record at home and 8-5-2 away. Despite more games played on the road so far, the team has given up the same number of goals to teams on the road as they have at home at just 13. How has Vancouver managed to stay so competitive on the road despite obvious travel burdens flying from Vancouver BC? (Follow-up question is how can the Dynamo emulate this? We tend to play too conservatively on the road).
86F: Even more than the distance of travel, the Whitecaps have managed to stay competitive in the Western Conference despite playing 7 matches in the month of August already. (This weekend is number 8). They are a resilient bunch, and while they've had large stretches of inconsistency this season, the Whitecaps can absolutely suffocate teams when they play their defensive game. LA learned that back in June, when they were shut out 1-0 by the Whitecaps in LA. I'm not sure what gives them their strength on the road, but I do know they play their best when they're aggressive. When the Whitecaps are controlling possession, showcasing their deadly counter attack, and the backline is in harmony, they are downright scary. Of course, sometimes all the cylinders aren't firing.
Projected Whitecaps starting lineup: Ousted, Beitashour, Kah, Waston, Harvey, Laba, Koffie, Techera, Morales, Manneh, Rivero
86F prediction: Fatigue catches up to the Whitecaps, but they still eke out a 1-1 draw
For my answers to Jon's excellent questions head on over to the Eighty Six Forever to check them out!