Atlanta United is traveling north of the border this weekend for their first-ever matchup against the Vancouver Whitecaps (5-6-1), who currently sit in seventh place in the Western Conference. Kickoff is set for Saturday at 5:30 p.m. ET, and anyone who couldn't spring for a cross-country plane ticket can catch the game on Fox Sports Southeast or via FOX Sports GO. Here is what fans of the red, black and gold expect from the 'Caps:
Fredy Montero may have just joined Vancouver this offseason, but he has a long track record as one of the most dynamic players in Major League Soccer. Montero made more than 100 appearances for the Seattle Sounders from 2009 to 2012, earning two MLS All-Star berths and still to this day holding the record for the most goals scored for the club.
Ever since, he's spent time abroad including three years in the Portuguese first division and another year in the Chinese Super League before joining the Whitecaps on loan earlier this year. Once known as a mercurial, sometimes inconsistent player with a penchant for the spectacular, he has shown a more mature side of his game since returning, getting more involved in the buildup play and converting his chances clinically. He's once again leading his team in scoring, and it will be crucial for the Atlanta United defense to shut him down if they want a win Saturday.
Cutting Off the Supply
When exciting young winger Kekuta Manneh left the Whitecaps this offseason, U.S. international Brek Shea was brought in with hopes to fill that void. But he's been relegated to a substitute role by the play of veteran midfielder Christian Bolaños, and if anyone is going to set the plate for Montero's finishing, it's most likely to be him.
The veteran winger is a key member of the Costa Rican national team – earning man of the match honors in several of their last World Cup Qualifying matches – and is replicating that form at the club level. He finished with five goals and eight assists last year, and leads the team in assists once again so far this year. Technically a wide player with license to roam inside, he's also a major threat delivering balls from set pieces, including one assist from a free kick against Sporting Kansas City two weeks ago. And he's in form, with two man-of-the-match performances in May alone. Strangling service to the front line of attack will be a huge help to the Atlanta United defense, and that starts with shutting down Bolaños.
A Solid Back Three
While Vancouver has made their name recently as a counter-attacking side, their defense is nothing to sniff at. Their back three triangle of center backs Kendall Waston, Tim Parker and goalkeeper David Ousted is one of the more formidable back lines in Major League Soccer.
It all starts with consistency. Waston and Ousted have been playing together for years, while Parker quickly became a consistent starter after being selected in the first round of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. Parker – who earned his first call-up to the U.S. Men’s National Team camp last year – has made 44 starts for the Whitecaps since them, nearly all of them alongside Waston and Ousted. Waston, who joined the team in 2014, quickly became an indispensable member of the team, logging over 5500 minutes in the league and earning a spot in the MLS Best XI of 2015. Another Costa Rican international playing in Vancouver, Waston is one of the most physical defenders in the league, capable of contributing on both sides of the field with seven goals for Vancouver in just two and a half seasons. And don't forget about Ousted, a two-time all star who led the league in clean sheets just a couple seasons ago. Atlanta United lead the league in goals but will have to break through one of the best back lines in MLS to keep up their blistering scoring pace.
Last Time Out
Finally, here's how they played in their last game, a 4-2 midweek loss to fellow Canadians Montreal Impact:
Once again, kickoff is set for Saturday at 5:30 p.m. ET, and will be broadcast on Fox Sports Southeast or via FOX Sports GO. You can also listen to the game on our app or through one of our radio partners, 92.9 the Game or, for Spanish-speaking listeners, La Mejor Atlanta