Never do any enemy a small injury for they are like a snake which is half beaten and it will strike back the first chance it gets. -Machiavelli
Today the Whitecaps play Toronto FC in the first leg of the Voyageur's Cup final. This year, more than any before, provides Vancouver with it's greatest opportunity to claim Canada's championship for the first time and earn a spot in the CONCACAF Champion's League.
Squeezed into an already full month, on the heels of a long road trip to New England, and leading into two critical Cascadia derbies, Martin Rennie has shown that today, at least, the first leg of the Voyageur's Cup is the only match on the minds of the club.
Last Saturday the Whitecaps gambled on sending a vastly altered lineup to New England and paid the ultimate price of not only dropping all three points, but being soundly defeated by an average Revolution team. It was a hint of what was to come, though, that Rennie wanted his best 11 fresh and hungry for a midweek cup tie back home.
Now that the day has arrived in what must be considered the most important match of the young season, Martin Rennie has all of his weapons available. Jay DeMerit and Martin Bonjour will be rested. Alain Rochat will return to his usual left back role. Eric Hassli and Davide Chiumiento are both in form, and the bench can be filled with potent options with fit attackers in Etienne Barbara and Darren Mattocks.
This is an important match. There is no surprise for anyone about that. What is extra intriguing is that now that a full bench is available, and in such an important game, how will Martin Rennie come out of the blocks?
Machiavelli was likely talking about politics, but the message is one about human psyche.
Today, the Whitecaps have a chance to finish off the wounded snake that is Toronto FC. Will Martin Rennie go for the final blow?
The Whitecaps have shown this season as a team which focuses on defending first. With Jun Marques Davdison soaking up the most minutes in the midfield, he often acts as a third central defender, playing barely higher than the centrebacks and at times drifting below them. Rennie has also shown a favourtism towards Gershon Koffie and Matt Watson over Davide Chiumiento or John Thorrington.
Rennie's hand has been forced at times due to injuries to Thorrington and a out of form Chiumiento to start the campaign, but he addressed the biggest concern from last season and has allowed the attack to feel it's way out.
Toronto FC, on the other hand, come into today's match as a dangerous animal.
They are 0-8 in league play. They've played well, at times, but have shown a distinct lack of depth in the first two thirds of the park and have a back line that many U12 teams could slice apart.
However, in the first leg of the semi-finals, they did their job and parked the bus in Montreal, walking away with a 0-0 draw in a match that they never looked the slightest bit interested in winning.
Then the Toronto FC we all know and hate turned on again. They have this witchcraft like control of the Voyageur's Cup at the moment. They stink out the joint in league play, finding new and exciting ways to lose matches that they deserve a point in, and have all but disenfranchised their significant season ticket base.
Then comes Champion's League play and they manage to beat FC Dallas away, eke out a win against a struggling LA Galaxy side, and at one point, looked to give Santos Laguna a run for it's money until the popsicle stick castle that is the backline crumbled.
Again this year, when TFC looked to have hit rock bottom and set a new record for a losing streak to start a season, they manage to defeat a Montreal Impact side which, while are not world beaters by any definition, have had some very positive results of late.
Toronto will no doubt field their strongest team available, as their season hinges on another CCL run, since a playoff position is surely out of the picture already.
In a matter of hours, we will see how Martin Rennie handles this exciting proposition. Does he go for the jugular, and throw everything at TFC, pushing for a big lead going into the second leg in Toronto, or does he play the conservative lineup and ensure no away goals are given up?
Either way, the Whitecaps will be favoured to win the Voyageur's Cup. I'd be confident in a 0-0 or 1-1 result that the Whitecaps could go into Toronto and earn a result, but should you leave it to chance?
We already know DeMerit and Bonjour will start, and it'd shock me if YP Lee and Rochat weren't the fullbacks. And of course, Jun Marques Davidson will be in his usual defensive midfield role.
But the rest is up for debate.
Rennie could field a team today consisting of Eric Hassli up top, with Camilo and Sebastien LeToux out wide, and Davide Chiumiento in the middle. While Koffie has appeared to take another step forward this season and has been the best midfielder of late, he still lacks the ability to really create opportunities, and other than his lovely header against San Jose, rarely is in a position to get a quality attempt at goal. Thorrington could slot in and provides a veteran leadership in the middle of the park, and has more attacking ability and will be seen in the opponents box.
Or, alternatively, if Rennie wants to play it safe and not concede, we will likely see Koffie and Watson in the middle. It's possible that Omar Salgado starts in place of Camilo on the left, as he's shown glimpses of brilliance despite being invisible in New England. Omar has also shown he is willing to track back and will no doubt contribute more defensively than Camilo.
Either way Rennie goes, the Whitecaps should win tonight. More exciting to me is to see what type of team Rennie will put on the pitch and how they will play with all options available in the most important match of the season.
However, should the TFC bunkerball played in Montreal succeed, and the match stays scoreless for the first 90 minutes and they`re able to return to BMO Field next week with a slight sniff of confidence and a returning Torsten Frings, this wounded snake might just have the poison left to paralyze Whitecaps supporters and keep the Cup in Toronto.
So, Martin, lets see your best. Put the cold blooded reds out of their misery.