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What the Vancouver Whitecaps need is to suddenly become a properly good soccer team.
Did you see the almighty shit-kicking the Los Angeles Galaxy laid on the Portland Timbers over the weekend? Good Lord almighty; the Timbers were lucky Josh Saunders was drunk or it would have been as bad as the almighty shit-kicking they laid on us back in June. And that was in Portland; the first time the Timbers had allowed a five-spot at PGE Park since June 18, 2005.
I remember at the beginning of the year, everyone noticed that the Galaxy looked fat and lethargic. And we all said "yeah, they're trying to play themselves into shape, but just wait until they do." But it took a while, and Saunders went to rehab, and some of their better players suffered injuries, and I think I'm not the only one who, gradually, forgot that this was still the Los Angeles Galaxy and eventually they were going to become terrifying again.
As I type this, the Galaxy are four points behind Vancouver in the Western Conference standings. Even if the Galaxy win Vancouver will remain a point in front. But Los Angeles has as many wins and a superior goal differential. They lost two games in a row June 30 and July 4 (losing in San Jose 4-3; no shame there and what a game it was, and 2-1 at home to Philadelphia; that was more embarrassing). But they are still winners of four of their last six with a +7 goal differential in that stretch.
The Whitecaps, meanwhile, are coming back home off a demoralizing road trip. Large parts of their team have been completely revamped and it's not clear how the new pieces will work together. They've had a horrible stretch of mid-week road games which may ensure that, even playing on the road, the Galaxy have the fresher legs. The fact that Vancouver has lost all three of their MLS games to the Galaxy by a combined score of 10-0 cannot possibly be helpful.
If the Southsiders chant "I believe that we will win" before this game, they're lying. This is as certain a loss as the Whitecaps have seen since the Bad Old Tom Soehn days.
Therefore, it's the win of Vancouver's season if they get it.
Don't mistake this statement as an outburst of uncharacteristic optimism. I still the Whitecaps are well in tough against the Galaxy, superior record or no. We know Kenny Miller is unlikely to be in the eighteen for today's festivities, Dane Richards is far from on the same page as the rest of his teammates, this is Barry Robson's first home game, and Alain Rochat is suspended: all key or should-be key players for the Whitecaps who'll be battling at well less than their best or not battling at all.
Moreover, I've harped on the difference between Vancouver's recent form and Los Angeles's. Home field advantage is nice, but the Galaxy haven't had much fear of the road on their recent resurgence. We all know what they did to Portland, and while the Timbers are pretty hapless this year that was still something.
But if the Whitecaps win, it puts them seven points up on the Galaxy in the Western Conference; it will sound premature to say it, but we can pretty much start booking days off for playoff road trips. It'll also throw off this horrible slump, which isn't actually that bad in terms of the standings but has sure felt awful in terms of the quality of soccer, in spectacular style. Even a draw would be, in its way, tremendous: turn around a losing streak, get something off arguably the best team in MLS today, and have something to build on for Saturday when Vancouver takes on the only other reasonable contender for "best team in MLS today".
With a good season underway, the Whitecaps should be past these "a home draw would be a good result" moments but they're not. Vancouver's got a lot of work to do; Martin Rennie obviously agreed with me but I don't entirely agree on the way he's going about it. He may be proven right in the end, but even if he is it's unlikely to be this week with the team still sewing itself together.
I hope the biggest Whitecaps home crowd of the season doesn't see a catastrophe.