PREVIEW – The Vancouver Whitecaps will embark on their first Concacaf Champions League journey since 2015 this season, starting on Wednesday against Honduran side Real Club Deportivo Espana at home. With two losses under the Whitecaps’ belt, their tumultuous start to the season might be cause for concern. However, this game might be the opportunity for the Whitecaps to get some form, get the win, and take that momentum back into their MLS season.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs Real CD Espana: The Start of Something Special
How The Whitecaps Qualified
The Whitecaps qualified for the CCL for the first time in over eight years thanks to their Voyageurs Cup conquest last season. After a humiliating defeat to Pacific FC in the preliminary round of 2021, the Whitecaps set out to avenge their past failures in last season’s competition. The draw allowed them to face only CPL competition all the way until the final, and made swift work of Valour FC in the preliminary round, beating them 2-0 at home. They were then held to a one-all draw in Alberta, with Cavalry FC taking them to penalties before losing on spot-kicks to the ‘Caps. In the semis, the Whitecaps dispatched a strong York United side 2-1, setting up a stellar final against Toronto FC.
In the Canadian Championship Final, the Whitecaps got out to an early start, scoring through Brian White in the first 20 minutes. They held out for three-quarters of the game, before Federico Bernaderschi’s trivella cross was met by Lukas MacNaughton, who equalized in the 75-minute. Once again, the Whitecaps had to settle the tie on spot-kicks, and once again they came out victorious. Jonathan Osorio missed the crucial penalty, hammering his effort off the post, giving the Voyageurs Cup to the Whitecaps.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC win the Canadian Championship!
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) July 27, 2022
How Real CD Espana Qualified
Real CD Espana qualified for the Concacaf Champions League last season thanks to their efforts in Concacaf’s secondary continental competition, the Concacaf League. With the top six of 22 teams qualifying for this year’s competition, Real CD Espana had a tough task but was determined in their pursuits. They began their journey by dispatching Nicaraguan side Real Estili 3-1 on aggregate in the preliminary round, before making light work of Costa Rican side Cartagines in the round of 16, beating them 4-0 overall. They then eliminated Costa Rican side Herediano 4-2 across two legs in the quarters, setting up a semi-final fixture against Costa Rican powerhouse Alajuelense.
In the first round of the semi-final, the Honduran side catastrophically fell to a 3-0 deficit at home. They then bravely tried to redeem themselves away to Costa Rica but were unable to turn it around, drawing two-all. While their conquest was cut short, they did manage to finish within the top six teams, thus giving them the qualification to this year’s Concacaf Champions League. It also should be noted that Real CD Espana’s star forward, Ramiro Rocca, was the tournament’s outright top goalscorer with six goals. He is a figure that the Whitecaps will have to handle on Wednesday’s game as well.
@rcdespana will play its 16th Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League!
Everything you need to know about La Máquina pic.twitter.com/fQ2Jbguh63
— Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (@TheChampions) March 4, 2023
The Whitecaps have been on a poor run of form in MLS lately, going 0-2 in their first two games of the 2023 MLS season. While the soccer that they have been playing has been some of the best many fans have perhaps ever seen at times, it has not produced results. The team suffered from the same mistakes and the same score-line in both games, losing 2-1 after leading 1-0 before the second half. Both games showed defensive frailties, with players being out of position on short set pieces, and over-committing on challenges in defensive situations. The Whitecaps will hope to hone some of their good football and find a way to sustain it for the full 90 minutes in this game against Real CD Espana.
Real CD Espana, meanwhile, is in mixed form. They are 11 games into their season and sit fifth with a record of 4W-3D-4L. They were recently on a four-game unbeaten streak, before losing horrendously to Honduran powerhouse Motagua 3-0 at home.
The side seems to be once again led by Ramiro Rocca, who has three goals so far this season. He is helped on by midfield maestro Jhow Benavidez, who also has three goals, and is one of the league’s top playmakers. Their weakness to aerial threats against Motagua last weekend might be a flaw that the Whitecaps will want to exploit, especially with a target-man number nine in new-signing Sergio Cordova. But Real CD Espana will likely sit deep and try to play on the counterattack, with the hopes of bringing an away goal back to San Pedro Sula.
— Real Club Deportivo España Oficial (@rcdespana) March 5, 2023
Vancouver Whitecaps vs Real CD Espana Predictions
Given that Real CD Espana is in some mixed form, and also that the level of competition in Honduras has historically not been at the same level as that of MLS, it would be simple to call it an easy win for the Whitecaps. But considering the kind of gritty, physical, and even psychological game that Central American teams like to play when they recognize that they are outmatched on paper, the game might prove harder for the Whitecaps.
Add to that, that only three Whitecaps players have ever played in the Concacaf Champions League, and many of those players might find themselves surprised by the kind of game that Real CD Espana will bring to BC Place.
Nevertheless, the Whitecaps do have enough quality and hopefully enough savvy about the way these Central American teams like to play to see out this first home leg with a tightly-contested 2-0 win. With the prospect of going to a noisy and rambunctious San Pedro Sula, the Whitecaps will definitely be hoping to virtually end the tie in this first home leg.
Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports on October 9, 2022, of Brian White’s Headshot.
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