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'Lighthearted' Whitecaps confident ahead of FC Dallas matchup

Damir Kreilach Vancouver Whitecaps Damir Kreilach - Getty Images

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps will be without some major baggage as they hit the road this season.

Last year, away games quickly took on a weight for the team, said head coach Vanni Sartini. The 'Caps battled to several draws and collected victories at home but didn't win on the road in Major League Soccer action until June 24.

“Maybe some of them we played well, but we didn’t win for, like, the first seven or eight (away) games," Sartini said. "And it became maybe a little bit a kind of curse or something that you need to break. And it can go into your head."

That weight has already been lifted this year. The 'Caps (1-0-1) captured their first victory of the campaign last Saturday, beating the Earthquakes 2-0 in San Jose.

"Now that we have the first win, we can be a little bit lighthearted," Sartini said.

Vancouver will look to add another three points Saturday when it visits FC Dallas (1-2-0).

In Texas, Vancouver will face some fearsome forwards, including Dallas's big off-season acquisition, Petar Musa. The 26-year-old Croatian striker comes to MLS from Portuguese side Benfica, where he registered 17 goals in 66 appearances.

Whitecaps attacking midfielder Damir Kreilach also hails from Croatia and has been watching Musa's ascent.

“He’s a young player, a young star, a great holding-up striker scoring so many goals for Benfica the last couple years," Kreilach said. "I just hope he’s going to be far away from the ball this weekend.”

Vancouver also needs to watch out for Colombian striker Jesus Ferreira, who had 12 goals in MLS play last season — including two in the Toros 2-1 win over the 'Caps on May 17.

Locking the game down defensively doesn't simply fall to the back line, said 'Caps captain Ryan Gauld.

“It’ll be just good teamwork to prevent (Ferreira and Musa) from getting on the ball as much as possible," he said. "They’re good players, so it’s inevitable that they’re going to get on it. And we just need to them down, be as close as possible, put them under pressure, just do our best to stop them from influencing the game.”

The game in Dallas isn't one where the 'Caps will be happy to come out with a draw, Gauld added.

While the Whitecaps were ousted from the playoffs in the first round last year, they finished the regular-season with a five-game unbeaten streak (1-0-4) and the bar has been raised for the 2024 campaign.

Two games in, the 'Caps know there's still a lot of work to do both on and off the field, Gauld said.

"Obviously we're not at our best now, just a few games into the season," he said. "We're not at our sharpest, we're not where we want to be tactically so it's going to be a process.

"We’ve started well, but we need to go hopefully take points off of Dallas and keep us moving in the right direction.”


Saturday, Toyota Stadium

INS AND OUTS: Sartini will watch from the press box as he continues to serve a six-game suspension. On the field, the Whitecaps are still without Canadian fullback Sam Adekugbe (knee). The Toros have an extensive injured list and are expected to be missing seven players this weekend, including defenders Geovane Jesus (knee), Sebastien Ibeagha (calf) and Amet Korça (groin), as well as midfielders Asier Illarramendi (adductor), Marco Farfan (back), Paxton Pomykal (knee) and Alan Velasco (knee).

HISTORY BOOKS: The two sides have met 28 times in MLS regular-season play. Dallas holds an 11-9-8 record in the all-time series and won the last matchup 2-1 on May 17, 2023.

THE NEW GUY: Ralph Priso trained with the 'Caps this week after Vancouver being acquired from the Colorado Rapids for general allocation money and draft picks on Monday. Schuster said he's long had his eye on the 21-year-old Canadian midfielder and believes Priso is a versatile young player who has yet to reach his ceiling. The sporting director said the move will add depth to a Whitecaps roster that's expected to see a lot of action across various competitions this year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2024.