Whitecaps head to Houston hungry to find the back of the net

The Vancouver Whitecaps haven’t scored yet this year, but aren’t panicking yet, feeling like they’re trending in the right direction

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If you build it, they will come.

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If you build up, the goals will come.

That’s been Vanni Sartini’s mantra this week in training, as the Vancouver Whitecaps have been working on their build-up and progressive ball movement.

The sample size is small — and situationally skewed — but through two games, the Caps have zero goals and just a single shot on target.

“What we want to see of our team is continuing the trend that we created at BC Place last game,” said Sartini. “Being very fast in build up and trying to establish possession in their half, because that’s the only way for us to try to create goal chances. We know that with goal chances the goal is going to arrive.

“It’s a priority to arrive much more in the final third. I think that the shots are gonna naturally arise if we are in the final third.”

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There have been goal-scoring opportunities that aren’t registered as shots on goal, like Lucas Cavallini’s missed scissor kick and Cristian Gutierrez’s knuckleball that landed on the top mesh against New York City FC.

But a 4-0 red-card aided loss to Columbus to start the season, and a scoreless tie with NYCFC last week, has left the Caps with an expected goals per 90 minutes (xG/90) of just 0.48. That’s better than just a single team in the West — their hosts this Saturday, the Houston Dynamo (0.39).



Vancouver Whitecaps (0-1-1, 13th West) vs. Houston Dynamo (0-1-1, 11th West)

3:30 p.m. PT, PNC Stadium. TV: TSN1/4. Radio: AM730

The Dynamo had a 0-0 tie with Real Salt Lake at home in their season opener, then fell 1-0 to Sporting KC the following weekend in Kansas City. They played a patient, well-organized system in both games, looking to counter without exposing themselves defensively. Sartini expects them to do the same against the Caps, in either their 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 with Darwin Quintero as a NO. 10.

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“It’s not important how the other team looks in their shape,” he said. “It changes something in the way the area that we want to explore, expose, offensively, but the most important thing is that we … keep doing the things that we started to do last week — playing really fast in build-up having more options for the ball carrier and trying to establish possession.”

Striker Brian White didn’t practice this week, still feeling the effects of a foot contusion, with the medical staff determining his fate for this weekend tomorrow. Even if he’s fit, the lack of training means Cavallini will likely get a third straight start, and the Canadian international is confident the team is on the rise offensively.

“As a team, our chemistry, you saw the last game, it was much better than the first game,” he said. “To win games, you need to score goals and we need goals right now. It’s something we need to be working on attack-wise. Especially set plays… the height we have, we have to take advantage of it.

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“We need to find solutions to have more chances on net. We still have a lot to improve.”

Set pieces and throw-ins were the Whitecaps bread and butter last season.

They scored 43 goals in 2021, sitting mid-pack, but were last in shot-creating actions. When it came to generating chances in open play, they averaged 1.06 goals off live balls per 90 minutes — better only than (you guessed it), Houston’s 0.97.

But when it came to shots (2.24) and goals from (0.26) off dead ball situations, Vancouver was sixth and first overall, respectively. There hasn’t been the same production to start 2022 — again, it is a small sample size — with just two headers off 10 total corners, and seven free kicks.

The open-play production improved in the latter half of last season, as Sartini’s possession philosophy revolves around players knowing their roles and the situation, being able to assess the options in front of them without thought, just reaction.

“The way that we play in our build-up is very automatic — scripted movement,” he said. “(The players) have to be very, very well rehearsed during the week. So the more you rehearse, and the better we rehearse, the better the build-up is going to get out (of our zone).”

The three-man back line has been a solid base in playing from the back, but they will be without the services of center back Erik Godoy this week. He’s yet to play in a game this season, and Sartini said his calf soreness will keep him out of Saturday’s game in Houston.

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