Match Preview: MNUFC at Vancouver

When I saw that Minnesota was playing Vancouver on aFriday night, of all things, I assumed that at least the game would be on national TV. I figured, correctly as it turns out, that the Whitecaps have a stadium conflict (the undefeated B.C. Lions hosting the undefeated Winnipeg Blue Bombers!), but I also figured that would mean that at least somebody would be showing the game nationally.

I was wrong! And the game’s at the same time as El Tráfico so nobody in the world will be watching it! In conclusion, I would like to say that this stinks.

Anyway, the game is on the usual places – BSN EXTRA, the one that you have to search to find, as well as Channel 23 for those in range of Twin Cities TV – but it’s just not the same somehow. I feel like this game should be on UniMás and only in Spanish, for old times’ sake.

Courtesy MNUFC

What manner of keeper is this?

If you delve even slightly into the expected goals stats in MLS this season, you quickly learn two things:

  1. The xG data really doesn’t think Minnesota is very good (their xG differential this year is -5.6, putting them in the bottom five in the league.)
  2. That they’re still near a .500 record, with an actual goal differential of 0, is mostly due to the play of Dayne St. Clair.

For once, the Loons are scoring about as many goals as the expected numbers say they should, but they’ve given up nearly six goals fewer, and therein lies St. Clair’s work. DSC leads MLS this year in “post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed,” which is a mouthful to say but does give you a single number to rate keepers. St. Clair has allowed 5.1 fewer goals than the expected goals numbers say he should have; Brad Stuver of Austin FC is the only other keeper that’s above 4. (Numbers from FBRef.com)

At American Soccer Analysis, another top-notch source for numbers, St. Clair is at 4.39, just behind Houston’s Steve Clark, who is at 4.40. ASA also breaks down the various facets of goalkeeping into another number, Goals Added, which says that St. Clair has been worth 5.47 goals this year compared to the average MLS keeper.

Goals Added is an interesting lens to further drill into the various facets of goalkeeper play. According to the numbers, almost all of St. Clair’s excellence has come as a shot-stopper, where he’s second in the league.

ASA also rates St. Clair as the second-best “sweeper” in MLS, though looking at the “Sweeper” numbers at FBRef provides some context, in that those numbers look only at defensive actions outside the penalty area. St. Clair clears his lines well, but isn’t rushing outside his own box; he’s only made five clearances outside the area this year, way down the list, and he’s in the bottom ten for average distance of his defensive actions (12.6 yards from goal).

Beyond that, we see a keeper that’s not an Allison-style pinpoint passer, nor someone who’s going to fly out of the goal to intercept crosses. St. Clair is fourth in MLS in average pass distance, and sixth in the percentage of his passes that travel more than 40 yards. He’s also in the top ten in the percentage of his goal kicks that are launched, as well as in the average distance of his goal kicks. And in terms of crosses, he’s almost at the bottom of the league, having intercepted just 2.5% of crosses this season (only Eloy Room from Columbus, and Stefan Frei from Seattle, have lower percentages among regular keepers this year.)

Effectively, St. Clair is an old-school, stay-at-home type of goalkeeper. He’s not really out to prevent shots, or to become the proverbial “fifth defender”; he’s just stopping the ball from going into the net. Helpfully for the Loons’ success as a whole, he’s the best keeper in the league at this.

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Whitecaps never say die

Vancouver doesn’t bother showing up until the weather warms up, it seems.

It happened last season. The Caps were utterly rotten until Canada Day, losing five in a row at one point. On August 15, they had 17 points from 18 games, and had won just once in their previous 14 attempts.

They picked up 32 points from their final 16 games, a New England Revolution-esque pace, and stormed into the playoffs.

This season, Vancouver had four points through eight games, and it looked like the only question was whether they could finish behind the San Jose Earthquakes, whose coach at the time was doing everything but wear the opponent’s jersey on the sidelines in the hopes of getting fired.

Since then, the Caps have 20 points in their last 10 games – does this sound familiar? – and have climbed up near the playoff line, equal on points with the Loons and just two points behind Seattle.

Last year the catalyst was attacker Ryan Gauld. This season, it might be defensive midfielder Andres Cubás, who admittedly has made just three starts so far. That said, since the Paraguay international joined the Caps starting eleven, Vancouver hasn’t lost or given up a goal, and will be hoping to stretch that streak to four games.

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What do the numbers say?

20 – Starts that Cubás made for Talleres alongside Franco Fragapane in 2019-2020. Cubás is pretty well-traveled, having also played for Boca Juniors, for Nîmes in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2, and once in Serie A (for nine minutes).

8 – Starts in goal this year for Cody Cropper, a Minnesotan now plying his trade in Vancouver. Cropper has started the last six games for the Whitecaps in goal, after a nomadic career that’s taken him to England’s second division, MLS, the USL Championship, and now back to MLS – all at the age of 29.

1 – Number of Whitecaps players who have more than two goals this year (Lucas Cavallini, 5). Ten Vancouver players have scored once or twice this season. Cavallini and Gauld, the two best-known Vancouver attackers, have scored just three non-penalty goals this season (all from Cavallini).

9 – Yellow cards this season for Wil Trapp, whose latest card (against Los Angeles) was revoked by the MLS Disciplinary Committee this week. Trapp is tied for second in the league this season in yellows, behind only Robin Jansson of Orlando City.

What happened last time?

Fanendo Adi scored for the Loons the last time they played in Vancouver, which tells you about how well things were going for Minnesota at the time. There were four games to go in 2021, the Loons desperately needed points (and to prevent the Caps from getting points), but a Michael Boxall own goal and a Brian White second-half winner were enough to give Vancouver the three points, despite Adi’s stoppage-time goal.

Prediction

I have finally hit on a system for making these predictions; I think about the most likely outcome, then predict the absolute opposite. Vancouver is playing well defensively but not scoring many goals this year, and they’re at home, so the natural prediction would be a 1-0 or 2-0 Whitecaps win. With this in mind, then, I’m predicting a third consecutive 3-2 win for the Loons.

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