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As we prepare for the last game of the Vancouver Whitecaps pre-season, I wonder how much the organization has left to learn.
Obviously, we fans can learn quite a bit; this is only the second time we've had the chance to see our heroes in action. But the coaching staff has stuck with them through nine friendlies already. This is the Whitecaps' second game in two afternoons, and while that might be fine at a U-16 tournament it's by no means normal for a professional. There'll doubtless be several changes to Vancouver's lineup and nobody's expecting to see the Whitecaps at their best. It certainly isn't a fair test if you want to determine who'll stand up to a regular season pounding.
So how much will the game matter? If Long Tan scores a hat trick that'll help his odds of getting a contract, obviously, but if he stinks will the Whitecaps write him off? There are a few newer recruits like Kevin Harmse who might still have to prove something but most of the team has had plenty of game action already. And even once they're done this affray, there's almost another two weeks of training before the season kicks off. Even more than most exhibition games, this one doesn't count.
Of course, we'd love to beat the Seattle Sounders. We'd always love to beat the Seattle Sounders, and the urge is just multiplied by the way Portland knocked them off on Friday. If Portland can win in Seattle and we can't... well, friendlies or not, that just won't do. But ultimately, this is the least consequential friendly in the tournament. All three groups of fans have seen their teams, whooped and hollered, seen their new players in action and started to get a feel for how they've changed. This is just a bonus to the fans, and it's hard to see how it can be meaningful to the coaches.
You know what that means? We can sit back and enjoy it. Soccer with no pressure. Beautiful.
With the Whitecaps playing their second game in two days and the Sounders playing their second game in three, this seems like a good opportunity to get a look at the lesser lights of each lineup. Particularly given the Whitecaps' injury situation: with four players officially out injured and a few more nursing knocks of various sorts, one presumes Teitur Thordarson will ride the guys he cares about a bit less.
So let's hope for more Omar Salgado! It's not like we're going to get to see him again for a while if the much-hoped-for but unlikely exemption to FIFA's anti-child labour laws doesn't come through. Long Tan looked good enough yesterday but Atiba Harris had the first touch of a cinder block. Give Atiba some time off and let Salgado go for a run. It won't help us on March 19 but it'll give the fans something to watch, it'll keep Atiba healthy, and maybe it'll help us beat Seattle (which as we all know is the most important thing).
Or how about Russell Teibert? All we saw of Teibert yesterday was about fifteen minutes. In fact, unless you're a fan of the Whitecaps residency games that's all you'll have ever seen of the 18-year-old Teibert apart from forty-five minutes with the senior squad last season. Screw that! Teibert rivals Davide Chiumiento for the biggest breakout star of our friendlies. It's time for the fans to see what he can do.
Nizar Khalfan, Alexandre Morfaw, Gershon Koffie... there are plenty of names in midfield that could get a run-out. I mean, John Thorrington just played 90 minutes and he's an old man who's had injury problems. Let's see Koffie cut loose; he looked pretty good in the playoffs last year.
But let's not get carried away and play the entire second eleven. This is still Seattle. I still want to beat them. Jay DeMerit and Alain Rochat, if they're both feeling fine, should still be core parts of our defense just because there's nobody available to replace them. I could take or leave Jonathan Leathers, but Wes Knight just played an extended game at right midfield and moving him to fullback right after might be hard on him. Similarly, in principle I'm fine with giving Greg Janicki the day off, but in practice who are we going to replace him with? I want to get a look at Michael Boxall or Bilal Duckett, of course, but I'm not sure I want to see them starting.
This tournament actually highlights a bit of a weakness with the Whitecaps. We have a fair bit of depth at forward, even if none of the players are terribly good, and loads of potential midfielders. But as excellent as our starting defense is, there aren't that many players who can take over if someone is injured. Wes Knight can play right back, Shea Salinas has played some fullback in his time... anyone else? Kevin Harmse, if we sign him. That might be it out of the experienced players, and then we're into the inexperienced Boxalls of the world. There's a general expectation that at least one of Boxall or Duckett will get a contract from the team, but all the same we best home that DeMerit and Rochat stay healthy.
Of course, that's life in Major League Soccer. We saw it yesterday from the Timbers, when they ran a number of players out in both matches and had the majority of their lineup go the full ninety minutes. With the salary cap and various roster restrictions you just can't carry that much experienced depth. Still, it's a far cry from the days of being able to throw a former Canadian international like Chris Williams into the lineup whenever you needed him.
Ah, well. What depth we have will get its chance today.
News and Notes:
- No update on the injury status of Alain Rochat, who limped off in the eighty-ninth minute of yesterday's game with what looked like a potential ankle injury. Rochat moved out under his own steam and didn't look too badly hurt, but the Whitecaps may elect to rest him anyway just in case. Kevin Harmse dropped to left back when Rochat left. Terry Dunfield also sustained a knock earlier in the game but played through it for a few minutes. Of course Mouloud Akloul, Davide Chiumiento, and Michael Nanchoff are all still gone, and Shea Salinas has been ruled out with a knee injury in practice.
- In thirty minutes of goalkeeping action last night, Joe Cannon looked excellent. Cannon only seemed to want limited action in this tournament so I'd expect either Jay Nolly or Brian Sylvestre to get the start, but if saves prove anything then Cannon is fine.
- Prior to the game, the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency will play the Seattle Sounders U-18 in a free game at Starfire. I'll be taking it in, of course: the action starts at noon.