Carl Robinson was toying Thursday about whether replacing Matias Laba in the Vancouver Whitecaps’ lineup on Saturday is going to be more about a who or a how.
Laba, the Whitecaps’ steady holding midfielder in the 4-1-4-1 formation that’s brought them success of late in Major League Soccer play, has to sit out the match against D.C. United at B.C. Place because of a yellow cards accumulation.
Robinson, Vancouver’s head coach, could opt to keep the configuration and merely replace Laba with a player of similar skill and defensive conscious.
Midfielder Russell Teibert comes to mind. He’s played just 14 minutes off the bench in Vancouver’s past five MLS matches, but he went the distance in Tuesday’s 2-1 Canadian Championship semifinal series win over the Montreal Impact and was effective.
Or Robinson could opt for a schematic change. He could switch the formation and find a way to bring in someone like Alphonso Davies, who’s more of a speedy winger type.
Davies, the 16-year-old sensation from Edmonton, scored Tuesday in the 13th minute and then helped set up the winner by fellow midfielder Nicolas Mezquida in the 33rd minute by powering the ball into the box.
Robinson could also turn to Mezquida, who he has lauded of late for his practice habits, or maybe Brek Shea, a forward/midfielder who had goals coming off the bench in back-to-back road games earlier this month.
Mezquida and Shea both started on Tuesday in a new 3-4-2-1 formation from Robinson that featured several youngsters, as Vancouver was resting players for Saturday’s MLS meeting against Washington.
“I’ve got a couple of options,” said Robinson. “I’ll sleep on it and see how I feel.”
Regardless of what Robinson does, it will be interesting to see the Whitecaps without Laba. He’s been crucial in Vancouver winning three of their past four league games, a run that has the Whitecaps (5-5-1) back above the playoff bar in the Western Conference.
The success has been in conjunction with the change to the 4-1-4-1 formation, and that does seem to put pressure on Laba, too. Three of his five yellow cards on the season have come in the past four games.
“You have to deal with it,” Robinson said of missing Laba. “Other players have to step up.”
D.C. United (3-6-2) is at the bottom of Eastern Conference and they’ve lost three straight. They’ve been blanked all three times. In fact, they haven’t scored a goal in 305 minutes, dating back to a 3-1 win on April 30 in Atlanta.
Robinson, as you’d expect, talked up D.C. United, saying they’re better than their record indicates and reminded reporters the Caps have lost the past two head-to-head meetings.
The last one was April 9, 2016, at RFK Stadium, when Vancouver was on the wrong end of a 4-0 decision. The Whitecaps were missing several starters than game, including Laba, who was out because of yellow card accumulations.
D.C. United at Vancouver Whitecaps
4 p.m., B.C. Place Stadium
TSN, TSN 1040 AM
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