Defending set pieces key as Whitecaps continue quest for win against Galaxy
VANCOUVER — It's a new week, but the goal remains the same for the Vancouver Whitecaps — earn their first win of the Major League Soccer season.
The Whitecaps (0-2-1) will take their quest for points to Southern California on Saturday, taking on the L.A. Galaxy (0-1-1), another side that's seeking its first victory of the 2023 campaign.
“Obviously, they’re going to be a good team. They have good players," said Whitecaps striker Brian White.
"They gave us a hard time last year here in L.A. So it’s going to be important for us to come off on the right foot, build off the things we’ve been doing well in the games previously and try to get a win.”
Vancouver is coming off a bittersweet mid-week matchup with Real CD Espana in CONCACAF Champions League play. The 'Caps dropped a 3-2 decision on Wednesday but advanced to the tournament's quarterfinals with a 7-3 aggregate score across the two-leg series.
With a packed schedule, Whitecaps coach Vanni Sartini opted to leave some of his usual starters in Vancouver for the second leg.
Defender Ranko Veselinovic was among those who stayed, training with the club's academy prospects and watching his teammates play from afar.
“It was a little bit weird, to be honest," he said. "Because (we’re) watching these guys in Honduras, preparing for a game and us staying at home and looking."
Veselinovic rejoined his teammates in California on Thursday and is looking forward to facing L.A., including his longtime friend and fellow Serbian Dejan Joveljic.
The 'Caps split their season series with the Galaxy last year, dropping a 5-2 decision on the road, then blanking the visitors 3-0 at B.C. Place a month later.
“I think it’s going to be a lot different game than last season," Veselinovic said.
"You never know what to expect in these games but I just think that we need to focus to do a little bit better than the previous games. And offensively, we need more chances and to score from those chances. And I think we’ll be good.”
One area where the Whitecaps need to focus more is defending set plays, he added.
The 'Caps gave up two goals off corner kicks and one off of a free kick on Wednesday.
Sartini said defending set pieces is the one area where his team has been "insufficient" to start the season.
“You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand it’s probably been our weakest part (this season)," the coach said.
In order to come out with a win over the Galaxy, the Whitecaps will need to be defensively sound and aware of L.A.'s technical quality, Sartini added.
"What we need to do is not to chase them," he said. "If we are able to stay structured and compact, I think that they can get frustrated and they can open a lot when they defend.”
Vancouver's likely to face a loud, hostile atmosphere at Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday as the Galaxy play their first home game of the season.
Concentrating on their own play instead of what's happening with the opponents will be key, White said.
“I think it’s a point that we start the game strong, not be intimidated by their home opener, not be intimidated by any players they may have," he said.
"(We need to) come out and play the style of soccer we want to play, be intense from the start and, when we get the opportunity to finish the game off with goals, hopefully, take that opportunity.”
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (0-2-1) AT L.A. GALAXY (0-1-1)
Saturday, Dignity Health Sports Park
ON THE MEND: Vancouver will be without defender Luis Martins (groin) while midfielder Russell Teibert (ankle) is questionable to play. L.A. forward Javier Chicharito Hernandez (hamstring) and midfielder Douglas Costa (calf) are both expected to miss the game.
CRAMPED CALENDAR: Saturday will mark the Whitecaps' fifth game in 14 days across MLS play and CONCACAF action. The hectic schedule is set to continue next month when the 'Caps face reigning MLS champions Los Angeles FC in the Champions League quarterfinals on April 5 and 11th.
MILESTONE WATCH: Whitecaps defender Tristan Blackmon could make his 100th MLS appearance. The 26-year-old American spent four seasons with LAFC before he was traded to Vancouver ahead of the 2022 campaign.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2023.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press