The Vancouver Whitecaps were all set for a party atmosphere. There were upwards of 55,000 fans coming to the show, not necessarily to see the Blue and White, but to watch a single man in pink.

Yeah, that’s not happening.

Inter Miami rolls into Vancouver as these two teams get ready to play for the first time in their respective histories. The Whitecaps are the only club in MLS that Miami has never played.

The juggernaut of the east

Inter Miami has lit up the league since their high-profile signings in the latter half of last year and the offseason. In fact, you have to go back to March 23—10 matches—to find their last loss in MLS play.

Miami leads the league in points, goals, shooting accuracy and oddly enough, offsides.

But all four of these stats point to one thing: Miami is solely focused on the attack. Sure, their players may flirt with the opposition’s defensive line a bit too closely, but they can get away with that because when they do beat it, they are relentless and ruthless.

However, Miami is not that greatest defensively. 

Their overall goalkeeping save percentage is worse than the Whitecaps (68.3 per cent to Vancouver’s 70.0 per cent), and they have five more goals against (15 for the Whitecaps versus 20 for Miami).

But their mediocre defence is no worry because Miami lives by a simple philosophy: Score more than the other guy.

If Miami lets in a goal, they score two or three. If they let in two, they score six (May 4, New York Red Bulls). 

What makes this possible? The one-two punch of Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez.

Suárez is currently tied for second in the league on goals with 11. Messi has 10.

But Messi dominates the league in assists, leading everyone with 12. He is the only player to have double digits in goals and assists at this point in the season.

In noting the offensive punch of Miami’s two main attacking pieces, Sartini said it’s not possible to stop them directly.

“You can’t limit Messi and Suárez,” he said. “You have to limit the ball to arrive to Messi and Suárez.”

But in a not-so-predictable twist, the Whitecaps will not have to deal with these two.

In a statement released yesterday by the Whitecaps and reported by numerous sources, Messi, Suárez and defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets were being left behind in Miami.

No injuries. Just rest.

MLS, when you sell your stars to the masses, the masses expect them to show.

Once you remove Miami’s attacking duo, few others have shown such a prolific offensive threat.

Leo Campana and Matías Rojas each have three goals apiece. Three other players have two. Sure, they can still move the ball well and into the box; they have Diego Gómez and Julian Gressel for that, but a once-menacing threat starts to look a little ‘all bark and no bite’ without their big boys up front.

Whitecaps in a slump

It has been a tough month for the Whitecaps. Winless in their last five MLS matches, they are looking for a spark to reignite their season and get back to their early form.

But Sartini has not been too upset with their play in the last couple of MLS matches. He credited their defensive shape and discipline, arguing they deserved more in a few of these matches.

“We need to…focus on what we did in the last two games in the league, in Seattle and in Colorado where we were very disciplined, very good, very intense,” he said. “And that’s the reason why we made the point in Seattle and we deserved much more in Colorado. And that’s what we need to do.”

It is ‘back to basics’ Sartini added, which for the Whitecaps is “defensive organization and buildup.”

And he is right. Defensively, the Whitecaps have been sound. They have let in 15 goals in 13 matches, placing them seventh in the league. For comparison, FC Cincinnati has let in 11 goals in 14 matches to be in the top spot defensively.

Even in these last five winless matches (not counting the 3-0 LAFC debacle), the Whitecaps have been beating their xGA.

They also lead the entire league in clearances and are second-lowest in fouls.

What they need is to find their offensive form. Their last goal in open play came on April 27 against the New York Red Bulls when Brian White became the highest goalscorer for the Whitecaps in the MLS era.

Ryan Gauld scored a penalty in the last match against Seattle to salvage a draw, but that is it, two goals in five matches.

So, who do you pick as a starting XI? Well, if the last match against Cavalry FC in the Canadian Championship is where you want to find your answer, you may want to keep looking.

“If you ask me tonight, who plays Saturday? I don’t know. I have no idea because they were all bad,” Sartini said after that match.

Despondency aside, there are a few locks to start. Yohei Takaoka will be back in. He has played a significant role in the Whitecaps’ defensive proficiency.

Add Gauld and White to the mix. When the top team in the league comes to town, there is an expectation for your big boys to deliver.

Andrés Cubas is healthy after dealing with an ankle issue and missing the Canadian Championship match. He was sorely missed in that match and will slot right back in.

Even Ranko Veselinović will likely play. He was the culprit in the own goal in the Canadian Championship, but there is no one else that can be trusted to take the middle spot in the back three. 

And Veselinović’s own goal was a rare off-play for him. There is a reason why the Whitecaps rank so high in clearances; Veselinović leads the league in them with 59 so far.

But that is about it. Damir Kreilach appears to be ready again, but expect him on the bench. Sam Adekugbe is still out. They are targeting early June for him to be fully match-fit.


The Whitecaps need a win for a couple of reasons. First, they need to end their slump.

Second, they invited the largest crowd in their MLS history to BC Place to watch the stars of another team. And the stars did not show.

There will be more than a few angry fans in BC Place, and unfortunately, they will vent that anger against the players and coaching staff.

So, it is up to them to change the narrative.

Do not make Saturday about the stars that failed to show. Make it about a red line, a collective decision to get back to form and to entertain those who came to be entertained.

Sartini called the Canadian Championship match on Tuesday “by far the lowest point in my career at the Whitecaps.”

Make Saturday one of the best.