Know thy enemy: 'Caps set to host reigning champs NYCFC in home opener

2019.08.31 Caps MLS v NYC HiRes_217 (1)

Vancouver Whitecaps FC are set to host 2021 MLS Cup champions New York City FC in their home opener this Saturday, March 5 at BC Place.

Saturday's meeting will be the first time the two sides play each other since August 2019, meaning plenty has changed amongst both rosters.

In this edition of ‘Know thy enemy’, we look at the reigning champs and their ability to conjure up opportunities through smart spells of possession.


The defending champs have many pieces that played key roles en route to winning their first MLS Cup last December but arguably the most important of the bunch is Argentine striker Valentín Castellanos, who finished as the league's leading goalscorer in 2021 thanks to his 19 tallies.

Originally arriving to NYC as a winger in 2018, Castellanos has become one of the top finishers in the league thanks to his unique physicality, creativity in the final third and his attacking positioning in the box.

Whether it be a strike from distance, a late run into the box to get on the end of a cross or making a run in behind the opposing backline, the man they call 'Taty' has proved he can cause plenty of problems in MLS.

However, an underrated part of Castellanos' play in the final third is his ability to get teammates involved in the attacked.

With his combination of strength and flair, the Argentine can conjure up moments of magic to get his fellow attackers opportunities on goal.

For example, take a look at the play from Castellanos (number 11) in this goal from NYC winger Santiago Rodriguez (number 42) against Toronto FC last season (timestamp 0:07).

Most strikers in Castellanos' situation would try to take the ball under control and find an easier pass to make, but instead Castellanos decides to play through Rodriguez in on goal with a perfectly-timed ball in behind the Toronto defence to get himself an assist and the 1-0 lead for his team.

The 'Caps will need to make sure they keep an eye on Castellanos to prevent him from roaming around the final third to supply his teammates or get an effort on goal himself.


Along with their MLS Cup win in the playoffs, analytically, NYC were one of the best teams during the MLS regular season last year.

A big part of it was their impressive ability to create goalscoring opportunities through smart possession, as they finished first in the league in both progressive passes with 1,462 and completed passes into the box with 385, according to

Creative players such as midfielders Maxi Moralez and Alfredo Morales are able to use their vision to pull off line-breaking passes in the final third instead of making a simple pass in midfield to slow down the build up of their attacks.

Meanwhile, wingers Talles Magno and the aforementioned Rodriguez have plenty of flair on the ball to create moments of space on their own to supply passes into the box for their teammates.

However, for NYC to be successful with their progressive possession, there needs to be lots of movement in the final third to open up the gaps of opposing teams so in turn attackers like Moralez, Magno and Rodriguez can find spaces to operate in.

It's also important the 'Caps prevent Moralez from having a big impact on the game, given how dangerous he is at setting up his teammates with his eye for a pass in the final third.


Another big part of NYC's progressive possession is the importance of committing to wide overloads when building up their attacks.

Once they overload wide areas, it becomes much easier to open up the opposition with their progressive passing and at times forces opposing defenders to move out of position to deal with immediate danger.

Much like Columbus' fullbacks last week, defenders Malte Amundsen and Tayvon Gray have been asked by NYC head coach Ronny Deila to spearhead forward from their fullback positions whenever the opportunity arises to help with wide overloads.

Both will look to combine with their fellow wingers and supply crosses into the area for Castellanos.

In addition, Moralez oftentimes likes to drift into the wide areas to combine with the fullbacks and create three vs. two situations against opposing defences.

One way the 'Caps can look to capitalize on NYC's wide overloads is the counterattack, as the Pigeons could leave plenty of space for the 'Caps to attack on the counter if they win the ball back.

Tickets are still available for the home opener on Saturday, March 5 at BC Place. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. You can catch the match live on TSN1 and AM730, with the pre-game shows starting at 2:30 p.m. (TV) and 2 p.m. (Radio). All times in PT.