Preview: 'Caps, Crew fight for playoff lives Saturday afternoon in Columbus

COLUMBUS, OH – Two teams fighting to stay alive in their respective playoff races come together on Saturday afternoon when Vancouver Whitecaps FC (8W-13L-7D) pay a visit to Columbus Crew SC (5W-10L-11D) at Mapfre Stadium.

KICKOFF: 3 p.m. PT  |  TV: TSN2  |  RADIO: TSN 1040

Here’s everything you need to know about the match.

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC

It’s not quite do or die for Whitecaps FC, but it’s getting pretty close.

The ‘Caps are four points out of a playoff spot with six games to go. After Saturday’s match, they visit Sporting Kansas City in CONCACAF Champions League play on Tuesday and then Seattle Sounders FC next weekend at CenturyLink Field.

Safe to say it’s a make-or-break road trip.

Aside from the injured Kekuta Manneh (right foot surgery) and Christian Dean (meniscus tear), the ‘Caps will have a full contingent of players available on Saturday, including the six players who missed last weekend’s 1-0 loss to New York due to international duty.

Their coaching staff will be a little shorthanded, however.

Head coach Carl Robinson and assistant Gordon Forrest will be serving their respective one-match suspensions after getting ejected against New York.  

COLUMBUS CREW SC

Just a year ago, Columbus finished third in MLS – tied with Whitecaps FC, coincidentally – before making a run to the MLS Cup Final, where they lost to Portland Timbers.

Things haven’t exactly gone to plan ever since.

They enter the weekend in the Eastern Conference basement with 26 points and a 5W-10L-11D record. Just like Whitecaps FC, they’re fighting desperately to keep themselves in playoff contention. They need three points. Not one. And so do the ‘Caps, which should make for an exciting affair.

KEY MATCHUPS

‘Caps centre backs vs. Ola Kamara (FWD): Though he hasn’t found the back of the net in five games, Kamara (not to be confused with Kei, who was traded to New England Revolution), still leads Columbus with 10 goals and will have to be a player the ‘Caps key in on. Centre backs David Edgar and Kendall Waston could anchor the ‘Caps back line after returning from international duty, or Robinson could call upon Tim Parker once again.

Matias Laba (M) vs. Federico Higuain (M): It’s an-all Argentina matchup in midfield. Higuain hasn’t necessarily had a season to write home about. He only has four goals and three assists thus far and has struggled with injuries, but when he’s on, he’s one of the best attacking midfielders in Major League Soccer. It’s a similar story for Laba, one of the best defensive mids in MLS on his day.

Don’t forget about: The wingers. Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay can do some real damage from wide areas, having accounted for over 40 per cent of the team’s assists this season. The ‘Caps also have some danger men on the wings, including the likes of Fraser Aird, Cristian Techera, Alphonso Davies, and Christian Bolaños, who scored two goals for Costa Rica on Tuesday. 

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Whitecaps FC vs. Columbus (total): 3W-2L-1D
Whitecaps FC vs. Columbus (away): 2W-1L-0D

This will be the seventh all-time meeting between the two clubs, with Vancouver holding a slight advantage. The ‘Caps have also won their last two visits to Columbus.

Most recently, they came away with a 1-0 victory in May 2014 on the strength of Erik Hurtado’s first MLS goal – and what a goal it was.

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