Ali Adnan vs. TFC - 2019
© Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

'Caps vs. Toronto FC: A closer look at key matchups & ones to watch

VANCOUVER, BC - As the resumption of the 2020 MLS season begins to ramp up, Vancouver Whitecaps FC look ahead to their matchup with cross-country rivals and reigning Eastern Conference champions Toronto FC. This will be the first time the two sides face off in over a year — not since all the way back on May 31, 2019, which saw the ‘Caps claim a 1-1 draw at BC Place.

While the circumstances surrounding the upcoming matchup may be different, there are many key matchups to get familiar with before Tuesday's fixture. With many of those matchups being novel in nature, this clash will be one to watch.

Ali Adnan vs. Pablo Piatti

Ali Adnan and Pablo Piatti meet for the first time on the pitch. As Adnan continues his second season with the ‘Caps, he has cemented himself as a solid and aggressive force on the backline and along the wing. Piatti resumes his first season with Toronto after a move from La Liga’s RCD Espanyol in February.

Adnan already has a goal and two assists this season for Vancouver, while Piatti is still gradually settling in to his new role at TFC. In his four seasons at Espanyol, he made 95 appearances, scoring 14 goals and adding 19 assists in all competitions

Piatti’s game is predicated on his shiftiness and swinging crosses into the box targeting his taller attacking teammates. His ability to distribute the ball has been increasing as the season progresses as Piatti has converted 87% of his passes and a third of his crosses. For Adnan, his game comes from his ability to disrupt attacking opponents by intervening in runs and using his size to deter. Adnan leads the team in tackle success rate with a mark of 86% in the category through five games. Additionally, Adnan been converting his passes as a rate of 71% to begin the season.

Should the two clash face-to-face, Adnan holds a slight advantage so far in duel success rate with 64% to Piatti’s 45%.

There's no question there's a lot of talent in each player - leaning on experience and familiarity within his squad could be key for Adnan.

Leonard Owusu vs. Alejandro Pozuelo

Another first-time matchup features midfielders Leonard Owusu and Alejandro Pozuelo. After joining Vancouver from the Israeli Premier League’s F.C. Ashdod in January, Owusu has seen action in four matches, including three starts. On the other side, Alejandro Pozuelo has made a name for himself in just one full season in Toronto after a move from Belgian First Division A’s K.R.C. Genk in March of 2019.

Since then, Pozuelo tied for the highest-scoring midfielder in MLS a season ago with 12 goals, and tied for seventh across MLS with 12 assists. He currently leads the league in assists with five in five matches entering the continuation of play.

Owusu's presence in the middle could be key in containing Pozuelo. Owusu is the club leader with 6.8 possessions won/90 minutes, and paces 'Caps midfielders with 6.8 duels won/90 minutes (minimum three games played). 

To claim the upper hand in the match, Owusu will need to maintain his game of steady soccer and focus on disrupting the speed of Pozuelo’s potent play.

Lucas Cavallini vs. Omar González

The third key matchup worth evaluating is one in which the two parties have met up previously in Liga MX. Omar González resumes his second season with Toronto and Lucas Cavallini picks up his first season with Vancouver after joining the club last December from Liga MX’s Club Puebla. After finishing second in scoring on a Puebla team where goals were very distributed, Cavallini looks ahead to the resumption of the regular season in what will be his first real extended time with his new club. For González, a veteran of MLS, he looks to resume his role in a stout Toronto defense.

Cavallini’s game is simple: score goals. Since his senior career began back in 2012, the Canadian striker has averaged roughly one goal for every two starts. On the young season, Cavallini has seen his shot accuracy stand at 60% after two appearances which is tied for second on the team. González currently ranks second on the team with 14 clearances, and tied for second on the team in interceptions with seven.

The key in this matchup could be Cavallini’s skill and maneuverability in beating the bigger González.

Young Players to Watch: Ranko Veselinović and Ayo Akinola

Ranko Veselinović continues his first season with Vancouver after joining from FK Vojvodina of the Serbian SuperLiga on loan in February. Making an instant impact and starting all three games he’s played, Veselinović has the fourth-best duel success rate on the team in 70% and third-best tackle success rate at 67%. He also is tied for the team-lead in blocks with seven and is second on the team with 17 clearances and 10 headed clearances. As the season progresses, look for the 21-year-old to make a solid impact on Vancouver’s defence.

Another young player to watch is 20-year-old Ayo Akinola who has made a name for himself early on in MLS. As a Homegrown product and Ontario-native, Akinola has been a part of the Toronto FC organization for many years. Bursting onto the scene this season, Akinola leads the team in goals with five - thanks to a hat trick and a brace in consecutive matches at the MLS is Back Tournament.

Don't be surprised if it's one of these bright prospects that swings the matchup.

Don't miss the rivalry clash on Tuesday on TSN and TSN Radio. Kickoff is at 5 p.m. PT.