Atlanta United vs. Vancouver: Five questions

Atlanta United will host Vancouver at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Five Stripes (1-1-0) are coming off a 3-1 win against D.C. United and Vancouver (2-0-0) is coming off a 2-1 win at Houston.

The Whitecaps defeated Atlanta United 3-1 last year at BC Place. Greg Garza’s first goal for Atlanta United was offset by two from centerback Kendall Waston on set pieces and another by Fredy Montero.

J.J. Adams has been a sports reporter with the Vancouver Sun newspaper for 10 years, is the FIFA 17 champion in his household and long-time soccer fan who definitely did NOT get his job because he and his boss are both Liverpool FC fans.

He answered five questions about Vancouver to help preview Saturday’s showdown.

Q. Has Kei Kamara changed the team's offensive approach? If so, how?

A. Kei Kamara hasn't changed the Whitecaps' offensive approach insomuch as he's a player that finally fits their offensive approach. The Caps rely a lot on crossing balls from their speedy wings, and they finally have a target forward of quality for the first time well, ever. Kamara is a big threat in the air, whether it's off crosses or set pieces. Eight of his 12 goals last season came off of crosses. The two seasons before, 20 out of 31 were from crosses, and he has more headed goals (19) than any other MLS player since 2015. He's scored once with his head this season, once off a penalty kick after he was taken down in the box on … yes, a cross.

The Whitecaps have long played this style of offence under Carl Robinson, but the forwards who came before — Octavio Rivero, Fredy Montero — were all goal poachers, where Kamara is a big, imposing target who can hold the ball up well, as well as score through the air.

Q. How has trading Tim Parker changed the defense?

A. So far, it hasn't. Aaron Maund — 6-2 to Tim Parker's 6-3 — has stepped in to fill the role as Kendall Waston's partner on the back line, and has done a solid job with the exception of a three-minute spell late in the game against the Montreal Impact — hasn't given up any chances. Most people forget Maund was a defensive force with Real Salt Lake before being traded to the Whitecaps, being named the team's defensive player of the year in 2015, and after missing much of 2016 sidelined with a fractured foot, he returned to lead the team in clearances and aerials battles won. The Whitecaps got even deeper with the acquisition of Jose Aja from Orlando City. He's a tall, rangy center back as well, but also likes to play the ball at his feet, giving Vancouver the option of starting their offence from deep and building up the play, instead of settling for a counter-punch strategy.

Q. What is the key matchup in the game?

A. A lot has been made of the gaping hole in the Atlanta midfield left by the departure of Carlos Carmona, and the Five Stripes' loss to Houston to open the season did nothing to quell the noise. The switch in formation for their second game paid dividends, but still — it was DC United, a team that finished last in MLS last season. (Even if they did, curiously, beat Atlanta FC three out of three last season). It's going to come down to how Atlanta approaches the game and utilizes Darlington Nagbe. If he's tasked with defensive duties, it could throw him off-stride again. If he's allowed to concentrate on being an attacking-focused player, he can cause a lot of problems for the Whitecaps central defense and holding midfielder.

Q. How much focus does Vancouver put on scoring on set pieces?

A. Set-piece goals have been a key to the Whitecaps success. They led the MLS in goals off of set pieces with 18 last season. Fredy Montero was third in the league with five set piece goals, followed by Kendall Waston in fourth with four. In Vancouver's 3-1 win over Atlanta last year, Waston had two goals; one came off a corner kick, the other after a free kick wasn't cleared and put back into the box for the big Costa Rican to drive home. He nearly had a third goal off a second-half corner kick as well. After the game, FC coach Tata Martino said of Waston: "In the league there's not many guys like Waston. He's a player that's done damage not just to Atlanta, but to other teams in this league."

Q. If Alphonso Davies doesn’t play well, can the Whitecaps win?

A. Much has been made of the 17-year-old, but people seem to forget that he's just that: a 17-year-old. He is fast, skilled and has a seemingly tireless engine, but he's not a player they need to rely on to score. He only had his first career MLS goal against Montreal in the Whitecaps' home opener. He is, however, extremely versatile. When starting left back Marcel De Jong went out with an injury against Houston, Robinson dropped the youngster back into defense, and he used his speed to blanket Alberth Elis, one of the Dynamo's top threats. Elis eventually switched sides to go against the Caps' other wingback, Jake Nerwinski.

They don’t need Davies to play well to win, but when he does play well — as he’s done through preseason and their first two games — he brings an element of danger on the wing that makes it a long night for opposing teams.