Interim Vancouver Whitecaps FC head coach Vanni Sartini admits he will have to get creative with his team selection when his side takes on Austin FC at BC Place on Saturday.
Sartini is preparing for his second game in charge following the sacking of Marc Dos Santos, the Italian having guided the Caps to a 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake in his first match.
Vancouver is expected to be without injured pair Jake Nerwinski and Cristian Gutierrez for Saturday’s visit to Austin, while Javain Brown has been called up by Jamaica.
That leaves the Caps particularly light of options at fullback, but Sartini has been experimenting with different options since last week’s victory against RSL.
“We need to be creative,” he said. “Again, I want to really give credit to the players – if I ask them to do something, they do it. And of course, you need that extra coaching for players that are not maybe playing the same position they have for the whole entire career, but they all want to help the team.”
Vancouver has enhanced its playoff hopes with three wins in a row in the league, while Austin has lost seven of its last nine matches and are struggling towards the bottom of the West.
Josh Wolff’s side lost 5-3 to FC Dallas last time out and a response is needed when they make the trip to Vancouver this weekend.
“We’ve talked about the last game. We all take responsibility and how we can get better and we’re now looking ahead to this match with Vancouver,” Wolff said. “It’s a difficult trip and we’ll be up against a physical opponent. We’ve had a bit of a roller coaster but we’ve got to focus on the positives.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Vancouver Whitecaps – Bruno Gaspar
Gaspar is the only out-and-out fullback available to Sartini and will have an important role to play out wide against Austin. The Portuguese defender has endured a frustrating time of things since arriving on loan from Sporting CP in March, but he led the way with four interceptions against RSL and only Florian Jungwirth (56) had as many touches.
Austin FC – Moussa Djitte
Djitte made his long-awaited debut late on in the Dallas match and is in line to feature again on Saturday, although Wolff has hinted it will again be a substitute appearance.
Prior to last weekend, the 21-year-old had not played a competitive match since May 15 while with former club Grenoble, so Wolff will be eager to get the forward up and running as soon as possible.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Vancouver came from behind to beat Austin in Texas on August 18 in the first meeting between the sides. The Whitecaps have lost only one of their last seven matches against expansion sides (W4 D2) dating back to 2017.
– The Whitecaps have won three straight matches for the first time since August-September 2017 as part of their nine-match unbeaten run (W4 D5), the longest in the club’s MLS history. Vancouver has won four straight matches just once in club history, doing so in March-April 2015.
– Austin has scored three goals in each of its last two games and has scored a total of seven goals in the last three games. Austin had scored just eight goals in its previous 14 matches dating back to mid-May.
– After scoring just once in his first 11 appearances for the Whitecaps, Brian White has found the net in three straight games. White is the first Vancouver player to score in three straight games since Pedro Morales in 2016, while no Whitecaps player has scored in four straight games since Erik Hurtado in May-June 2014.
– Diego Fagundez has scored in each of Austin FC’s last two games. Fagundez is the only Austin player to score in consecutive MLS matches, also doing so in April-May.