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If I'm getting tired writing about these games, I can't imagine how tired the Whitecaps are getting playing them.
I've always thought of fixture congestion as the lame man's excuse for having a lousy soccer team. Certainly, in spite of facing a fearsome a schedule as any Major League Soccer team has endured, the Whitecaps haven't looked tired or stumbling-over-their-feet weary. Even the injuries have slowed down, with only a few minor incidents (like Russell Teibert hurting his foot) which pale in comparison to the nightmarish horror show at the beginning of the season. The Whitecaps haven't been getting results against pretty mediocre teams, and no doubt certain Vancouver Whitecaps fans are already turning to congestion as an excuse. Unfortunately, the truth seems to be that until they get healthy and the players develop some chemistry, the Whitecaps just won't be that good. We can't blame a bunch of talented pieces for not having formed the whole puzzle yet, can we?
Alas, things are likely to get worse before they get better. Today's game against the San Jose Earthquakes is winnable: the Earthquakes are no better than the Whitecaps though they have played two fewer games. But then it's off to New England, two Voyageurs Cup games, home to New York, away to Chivas USA, Real Salt Lake, and Seattle... we could lose five of those seven games and I wouldn't be astonished. We all know the Whitecaps have talent but we also know they need to put it together. Today would be a good day to start.
I've decided to be bold with my projected starting eleven. Earlier this week Teitur Thordarson figured that Shea Salinas would have a good hour's worth of soccer in him by now, and it doesn't appear that Russell Teibert's foot injury is going to be a serious concern going into this game. Therefore, I'm saying based on nothing at all that this is the day when Teitur Thordarson goes to the 4-4-1-1 we saw him trying out in preseason and at brief intervals during the regular season. When he's had the personnel available, that's been Thordarson's preference, so that's what I think he's going to do. Other than that, I predict no surprises.
Leathers - Janicki - Akloul - Rochat
Salinas - Koffie - Dunfield - Teibert
Obviously, there are going to be a lot of very antsy Whitecaps fans at Empire Field today. Discontent over the team's performances is rising. Not to sound too snobbish about it, but right now the Whitecaps have a lot of very new fans with very short tethers who see a team that's had a tough schedule and more injuries than you can shake a stick at playing in the bottom five of the league and consider this terrible. Vancouver's goal differential isn't bad, their performances are improving, and every indication is that their place in the standings is deceptively low. Doesn't matter. Frustration is building.
Frustration isn't limited to new fans, of course, but there is definitely a perception that we were asked to expect a good team and aren't getting one. I'd argue that right now we're walking the line between "a bad team" and "a team that's playing badly". I'm quite confident that most of the pieces are right, and if I was given charge of this team there's only a few individuals I'd cut. For the most part it's just waiting for this team to come together: just because Wes Knight and Jay Nolly have been playing together for a while doesn't mean they'll have chemistry with Long Tan just yet.
Honestly, I'm too damned tired to get into why pessimism is wrong-headed right now. I'm an Edmonton Oilers fan; I know a thing or two about bad teams and this ain't one of them; not yet. It may conceivably go that way. But there's a lot of fear and a lot of angst out there.
The Whitecaps could put a tonne of that bad feeling to bed with a win on the slick, rainy turf of Empire Field. San Jose is vulnerable and the Whitecaps have the power to get this one. Just win. Just win.