‘Tough test’ awaits Vancouver Whitecaps in Los Angeles

Newly extended Whitecap Tristan Blackmon visits Banc of California as a member of the away team for the first time.

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They say you can’t go home again, but Tristan Blackmon has already found a new home.

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The former Los Angeles FC defender was traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps in the off-season, but, on Thursday, the Caps signed the Las Vegas native to an extension through 2023, with team options for the next two years. And Sunday’s game will mark his first time back in LA since being traded.

“I was there for some time,” said the 25-year-old. “So it’s gonna be exciting going back seeing not only the fans, but the players as well. Good relationships built with a lot of people in LA over the four years I was there.

“(But) I’m very happy to finally have (negotiations) done and the papers signed. I’m excited to keep going on this year with knowing… that I’m going to be here for a while.”



Vancouver Whitecaps (0-2-1) vs. LAFC (2-0-1)

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7 pm, Bank of California Stadium. TV: TSN1 Radio: AM730

Blackmon has been a bright spot on the right side of coach Vanni Sartini’s three-man backline — Opta data-fueled analytics site whoscored.com even has him as the highest-rated Cap — even as the team has struggled on the field. The Whitecaps (0-2-1) have yet to win a game, have scored just a single goal and are last in the West heading into Sunday’s game with LAFC (2-0-1) — who were first in the West heading into this weekend’s slate of games.

“It’s gonna be a tough game. We know that already,” said Blackmon. “Going in, we have ideas as a team, how we want to play, and if we execute those to the best of our ability, we’re going to put ourselves in a good position to (win).”

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Only Austin, with its surprise league-leading 10 goal total, have more goals than LAFC (six) in the West. The Whitecaps have one Lucas Cavallini score in three games, and an expected-goals-per-90 (xG/90) of just 0.7, last in MLS. The red-card-assisted 4-0 loss to Columbus skewed the statistics, but two games with possession under 40 per cent have put the Caps on the downslope of the numbers.

And now they head to Banc of California Stadium, where they’ve yet to win in six visits, without the services of Brian White. The Whitecaps’ striker will miss a second straight game with a strained right calf, after missing the opener with a foot contusion.

“It’s good that after LA, we’re going to have a week off, so now the focus is trying to have him against Kansas City when we play back after the international break,” said Sartini.

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Vancouver will stick with the 3-4 base formation they turned to last week, finding more stability with twin eights, but Sartini hasn’t decided if he’ll run with two No. 10s like he did against Houston, or turn to the single 10/two strikers’ deployment they used to such success last season.

In addition to White being out, the Caps will also miss centre-back Erik Godoy and Caio Alexandre in LA, although midfielder Pedro Vite is expected to start after being yanked from last week’s game due to concussion protocol.

“We’ll have some trouble in maintaining our intensity for the 90 minutes at the moment, and for sure we’ll make the decision (Saturday) on the starting 11 on who’s the readiest for the game,” said Sartini.

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“For sure, we’re gonna do the three and four… probably for the foreseeable future… When we have the ball, we need to be more structured and more practical. Why do I say that? It’s a message for (the players) to stay on-script … We know that if we stay on-script like we did last year, players they can do even those passes forward because they’re in the right position … and because they make the right choices.”

Cavallini will likely make a fourth straight start as well for Vancouver. Sartini switched to a one-forward formation last week to limit the amount of pressing the Canadian international had to do, and is keeping that in mind for this weekend too. He wants ‘El Tanque’ to be fresh-legged and a “point of reference” in the middle of the park, a pressure valve for his team to target with long passes when pressed by LA

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“Lucas is doing well,” said Sartini. “We are working to find a way to take the best of his characteristics from him. (He’s) a striker that is very physical, so he can win duels with long balls played to him. He is a striker that maybe he’s not the top for a high pressing… but if you give him a defensive task, he does it.

“So next Sunday, we want him to be very focused on what we have to do without the ball, not losing a lot of energy in trying to chasing a lot of balls. If you’re under pressure, play the ball to him because if he wins the majority of the duels like he did last week, the game is gonna be on the path that you want.”

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