Storylines is back from the future and, good news, there looks to be goals there. And no, it wasn’t an alternate 2023. It was this season’s timeline, and it was our Loons…and we were happy (*single tear*). After a rather maddening matchup with FC Dallas in which plenty of opportunity knocked on the door, but the squad just wasn’t able to answer with scores, it’s time to rip off the rearview mirror on this Delorean and head even more North than our version of North, as the Loons take on Vancouver Whitecaps for a second time in 2023.
Saturday night at BC Place will see a matchup between clubs on opposite ends of the spectrum from the last time they met, as the Whitecaps are on a five-game unbeaten streak in regular season action while the Loons are hoping to put an end to a four-game winless streak in MLS play.
But, a closer look at Vancouver’s body of work in that run indicates that there’s reason to have faith that MNUFC can break out of their slump and get the train back on the right track. That faith comes from making a season scoring comparison between the teams and, aside from a five-goal explosion against Montreal in early April, the Whitecaps have yet to register more than a single goal in any other MLS contest this season.
Obviously, nobody can say with certainty that the Loons will bust out of this scoring slump against the Whitecaps, but knowing that Vancouver haven’t been a scoring juggernaut either definitely helps MNUFC’s chance of claiming three points. That said, the scoring challenges don’t exactly get easier for the Loons on Saturday, as both squads have high-quality goalkeepers minding the net. For Minnesota, Dayne St. Clair continues to perform at a high level and has proven time and again that 2022 was anything but an anomaly. While the Loons backfield has, for the most part, been quite consistently dependable in its role as DSC’s last human-wall of defense, St Clair continues to exhibit the kind of athleticism and skill set that truly make him a game changer with a knack for keeping wins from turning into losses. Plus, he’s only conceded three total goals on the road this season. So, another mark in the “Pros” column.
Buuut, in terms of current form, Vancouver goalkeeper Yohei Takaoka has been playing particularly well between the pipes of late. After being honored as the starting keeper for the MLS Team of the Matchday for week 8 after holding Austin FC in check, he followed it up with a second straight week as the starting keeper for week 9 as well. The Japanese international had a clutch save on a penalty kick in the 78th minute to preserve the 0-0 draw against Colorado Rapids. Not only that, but his clean sheet against Colorado made for his 4th in a row helping the Whitecaps extend their shutout streak in MLS play to a total of 410 minutes, the longest such streak in the league this season.
With two elite keepers minding the nets, it's safe to say that goals may once again be at a premium this weekend. But, when it comes to finding the answers to the Loons’ scoring drought, Coach Adrian Heath knows that the challenge lies in working through the grind and recapturing the confidence of his attacking strikers and mids. As he discussed after training on Wednesday when asked what a score can do for the mindset of his attacking front, saying “You hope so. I think Luis [Amarilla] went on a little run last year, and hopefully he can get a goal this weekend and kickstart his season because we’re going to need some goals from the next few months.” It will be a tough test for them, but here’s hoping the boys up front can break the habit this weekend and put some goals on the scoreboard as they look to leave the Great White North with a whole bunch of mojo and, most importantly, a big W.