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‘Hard, but not impossible’: Whitecaps aiming to topple best team in MLS

Los Angeles FC forward Kwadwo Opoku, front, and Vancouver Whitecaps defender Jake Nerwinski (28) battle for the ball during MLS action in Los Angeles, on Sunday, March 20, 2022. LAFC won 3-1. Ashley Landis / The Associated Press

The Vancouver Whitecaps know they’re about to embark on a daunting task — toppling a giant is never easy.

A giant is exactly what the ’Caps will face on Saturday when they host Los Angeles FC.

The Black and Gold sit high atop the Major League Soccer standings with a seven-point cushion on their nearest competition and are coming off a decisive 3-1 victory over Dallas FC on Wednesday.

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Vancouver (6-8-3) remains undaunted, though, said head coach Vanni Sartini.

“They win almost every game,” Sartini said Thursday. “So we have to think about us and to think of doing a good performance. And I believe if we do a good performance, we have chances to win.

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“It’s going to be hard, but it’s not going to be impossible.”

The two sides have already faced off once this season with LAFC (11-3-3) taking a 3-1 win in California back on March 20.

Sartini thought his group played well that game, but made some costly mistakes.

“We need to be on top for 100 minutes,” he said. “That’s the only way to be the best team. And, to be honest, LAFC is the best team in the league.”

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The ’Caps are in much different form than the last time they faced the Black and Gold. Since the beginning of May, Vancouver has posted a solid 8-2-2 record across all competitions.

It’s a wave of momentum the club is looking to ride heading into Saturday’s game.

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“Guys are feeling really good about what we’re doing here right now,” said defender Tristan Blackmon, who spent four seasons playing for L.A. before being dealt to Vancouver in December. “And I think we have to keep that momentum going that way.

“We’ve shown that we can get clean sheets and battle out results. And that’s really big going into the middle of the year and towards the end of the season. So this is a big matchup, and hopefully we can keep it going that way.”

In order to eke out a win, the Whitecaps will need to foil some familiar faces. LAFC defender Doneil Henry played two seasons in Vancouver and ’keeper Maxime Crepeau was a star in the ‘Caps net from 2019 to 2021.

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Vancouver striker Lucas Cavallini said he’s been exchanging barbs with Crepeau — his teammate on the Canadian national men’s team — over the looming matchup.

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“It’s always good to play against friends. That being said, eventually, I want to score against him,” Cavallini said. “It’s not easy, but I just have to find the ball in the back of the night. And I’m just worrying about the team’s performance and getting those three points.”

The game will also mark a return to B.C. Place for former Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos, now an assistant with LAFC.

Sartini said it will be “beautiful” to see friendly faces like Crepeau, Henry and Dos Santos.

“I will be very happy to see them,” he said. “And I will be very happy if they’re not that happy at the end of the game.”

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LOS ANGELES FC (11-3-3) at VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (6-8-3)

Saturday, B.C. Place

GOAL DIFFERENTIAL: The Black and Gold lead the league in goals with 35 on the season. The ’Caps have scored the third least with 17.

ON THE OUTS: The Whitecaps will be without midfielders Michael Baldisimo (ankle) and Sebastian Berhalter (foot), forward Deiber Caicedo (knee) and defender Cristian Gutierrez (calf). LAFC midfielder Jose Cifuentes will miss the match due to suspension for yellow card accumulation.

IN THE WINGS: LAFC recently acquired a pair of big stars, signing 37-year-old Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini over from Juventus FC and Gareth Bale, a 32-year-old Welsh forward, who spent nine years playing for Real Madrid. The potent duo won’t play in Saturday’s game, but Sartini hopes the ’Caps see them later in the campaign. “I will be happy to play against them in the playoffs,” he said.

BOTTOM LINE: The Whitecaps come into a matchup after securing two straight shutout wins. They are also 5-5-1 against Western Conference opponents and are 3-1-0 when they score twice. LAFC is 6-3-2 in conference matchups. LAFC has drawn a league-high 114 corner kicks, averaging 6.7 per game. The matchup is the second meeting this season between the two teams. LAFC won the last game 3-1.

LAST 10 GAMES: Whitecaps: 5-3-2, averaging 1.2 goals, 3.5 shots on goal and 3.2 corner kicks per game while allowing 1.4 goals per game. LAFC: 6-2-2, averaging 1.8 goals, 6.1 shots on goal and 6.9 corner kicks per game while allowing 1.1 goals per game.

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With files from The Associated Press

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