It's a case of same again for Vancouver Whitecaps. After a successful switch in formation for last week's home win over Houston Dynamo, 'Caps head coach Carl Robinson is expected to keep the same lineup for their match against Colorado Rapids at BC Place (Saturday at 3:30pm pt live on CTV BC).
We have seen many good qualities from Robinson in his opening months as a rookie head coach, the latest being just last week when he showed a willingness to change. The Whitecaps had played his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation in the opening three matches, but needed to find a way to get the best out of forward Kenny Miller and also Chilean midfielder Pedro Morales. So Robinson made a switch, and the diamond midfield worked well as the Whitecaps won 2-1 against the Dynamo to keep their unbeaten start to the season alive.
There's little doubt about the star of the show last week - Morales was magnificent, especially in the first half. The Designated Player was everywhere, making the most of the freedom afforded him as a central attacking midfielder, showcasing his full range of ability, highlighted by his sublime passing. A cross-field ball driven between three Houston players was the top moment for me, but his first-time cross to the head of Andy O'Brien, who then set up Jordan Harvey for the first goal, was very close behind.
Morales is a difference maker that the Whitecaps have been craving for some time. He excites the crowd and makes those around him more effective. His influence on games will be key to deciding how successful the Whitecaps will be this season.
Another big factor will be the depth of the 'Caps squad. They have assembled a quality group of players that gives Robinson plenty of options and will be extremely valuable as the season progresses. It also gives him the flexibility to change both personnel and formation within games, something he has already shown he is not afraid to do.
One of the positives of the 4-4-2 diamond is that Darren Mattocks and Kenny Miller are both able to play in their favoured positions up front. Miller was less effective when playing wide as one of the three attacking midfielders in a 4-2-3-1, but his experience alongside the youth of Mattocks is important for the Whitecaps and against Houston, the partnership worked well.
Other positives last week included a strong performance from goalkeeper David Ousted, more excellent work from young Argentine Matias Laba in his role as a defensive midfield destroyer, and solid displays from both fullbacks Jordan Harvey and Steven Beitashour.
Everything seemed to work against Houston. Now the Whitecaps look for similar success against a Colorado side that is 1-1-1 through its first three matches. They have scored five goals, but all of them have been a result of penalties, four scored by Vincente Sanchez, and one rebound after Deshorn Brown saw his spot kick initially saved. Being awarded five penalties in just three games sets a new MLS record, but finishing chances from the run of play is something the Rapids have been struggling with through the first three matches (1-1 at New York, 2-0 win home to Portland, 3-2 loss home to Kansas City).
Colorado are expected to play a 4-2-3-1 formation, but Pablo Mastroeni's team will be missing some key pieces in Vancouver. Former Toronto FC defender Marvell Wynne is suspended after a sending off in the loss at home to Sporting Kansas City a week ago, regular left back Chris Klute is injured, and there is also a question mark about whether veteran players such as Sanchez and Edson Buddle will play on the BC Place turf.
Colorado finished three points ahead of Vancouver last season, beating the 'Caps to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, although the Rapids exited at the first hurdle, losing their Knockout Round match against Seattle, 2-0. The Rapids have kept many of the same players who got them to the postseason. Spanish defensive midfielder Jose Mari is one of the new names likely to play in Vancouver as he returns from a one-match suspension picked up in just his second game in MLS as the Rapids beat Portland 2-0 at home a fortnight ago. Thomas Piermayr could make his MLS debut in defence after signing with the Rapids this week following a trial spell with the club.
While most of the players are the same, there is, of course, a new coach. Mastroeni had a long and successful MLS career as a player and is now embarking on a new challenge. With two rookie coaches on the sidelines at BC Place, it will be an interesting tactical battle.
The Whitecaps have equaled their best start to a season since joining Major League Soccer with eight points from their opening four matches, a win against Colorado would set a new high standard, and also lay a strong foundation ahead of back-to-back matches against LA Galaxy.