Vancouver - Salt Lake Post-Game: Contenders

Jessica Haydahl/Getty Images

Martin Rennie didn't walk into his post-game press conference, say "Well, that's how you do that," and leave. But he should have.

Things got off so poorly. Joe Cannon was suspended. Marie Hui was out of town and her replacement sent dogs scurrying away throughout Yaletown. Then Jay DeMerit smoked Brad Knighton, and for just a moment Brian Sylvestre's music was ringing through BC Place. Knighton got up. So, later, did DeMerit, before keeling over in the middle of the pitch and heading out with his bell rung. In stepped Andy O'Brien, who had never played so much as a practice with new, non-English-speaking centre back partner Martin Bonjour.

The first half was a snoozefest, but it was a snoozefest the Whitecaps weren't losing which is a kind I can put up with. Then, of course, things turned around: Camilo Sanvezzo set up Darren Mattocks who (as he generally was in the area tonight) was promptly stripped of the ball... the deflection bouncing right to Camilo. A slight hesitation, subtle left-footed shot, and thank you very much it's 1-0. A lucky break, but Dane Richards's ferociously lashed shot from just past the arc without a Salt Lake defender within marking distance was nice enough to count twice. Nat Borchers got a lovely consolation marker but that's all it was.

It's time we stopped talking about the Vancouver Whitecaps as a playoff team. Vancouver now has eleven points on FC Dallas and Chivas USA for the final spot; Chivas has four games in hand but frankly they're smoke and mirrors. Barring what looks like an impossible collapse, making the playoffs has ceased to be a question. What we should ask now is how far the Whitecaps can go.

If games like that will be typical of how the team plays, pretty damned far indeed.

Andy O'Brien deserves ink. He has hardly practiced with this team, isn't used to BC Place's surface, could barely understand his defensive partner, is more-or-less still getting fit, and hadn't even had the chance to watch an MLS match in person before being told to go out and replace the team's captain against a team that had scored 35 goals this season (though, admittedly, not many on the road) including the league's second-leading scorer, Álvaro Saborío. Have fun!

Well, where was Saborío? O'Brien and Bonjour had him utterly under control, with neither of his shots on target being anything to worry about. O'Brien wasn't brilliant and seemed to be self-consciously keeping it simple; he also got more support than usual from Gershon Koffie. But all the same, what a debut under nasty circumstances! Only the continued underuse of Russell Teibert and the fact that Kenny Miller still isn't doing anything keeps me from throwing up my hands and saying "Martin Rennie is always right."

O'Brien wasn't the only newcomer to play well. The Dane Richards trade continues to look like a stupidly brilliant piece of business. What a goal, what a game; the idea that a player like Richards just dropped on our lap as a trade of problems with the New York Red Bulls leaves me agog. They say he might go to Europe after this season. Good luck to him if he does, but my god what a whirlwind month he's given us already.

Since I know one of you will bring it up (and chirped like hell at me on Twitter about it) I was, of course, delighted to see Teibert make his much-belated season debut. I was struck, as was fellow Eighty Six Forever writer Jay Duke, before the match when I saw Teibert's name on the bench ahead of Michael Nanchoff. Nanchoff's last appearance was not a success but Rennie seemed to have much more faith in the 23-year-old, while Teibert generally only made the bench when he might be needed at left back. Then he actually came in for Camilo in a change from Rennie's usual policy of bringing in Jordan Harvey to kill out the clock. I'm not reading anything into that; probably just giving the youngster a run in a 2-0 game that Salt Lake wasn't really threatening to tie up. But Teibert ahead of Nanchoff might hold medium-term interest.

Russell Teibert's entry made for two points of trivia. First, it was the first time the Whitecaps had played a Canadian this season in 2,135 Major League Soccer minutes (Alain Rochat does not count). Second, it meant there were six former USL First Division/USSF D2/North American Soccer League players on the pitch: Teibert, Gershon Koffie, Jun Marques Davidson, and Brad Knighton for Vancouver, Jonny Steele and Paulo Araujo Jr. for Salt Lake. That seems pretty impressive, especially since only Koffie and Teibert weren't regular second division players (Koffie joined the Whitecaps late in 2010 and played regularly while he was there but was clearly brought on for MLS; Teibert played 45 minutes that same season).

On a level, it's almost too bad Russell is off to Fort Lauderdale with the Canadian national team. I mean, obviously not really, but if Martin Rennie is starting to see Teibert as someone he can play then Wednesday would be the day. Koffie's yellow card means he is suspended for our midweek tilt against FC Dallas. It's hard to imagine DeMerit, whose midfield collapse looked spooky, coming back quickly from a probable concussion and frankly I don't want him to. Darren Mattocks, Dane Richards, Carlyle Mitchell, and Etienne Barbara are of course off with their national teams. It's good news for O'Brien, who will probably start, and John Thorrington, who certainly will. There's even just a chance Bryce Alderson will get to the bench (though I'm betting on Matt Watson) and we'll have some Canadian content after all. But that will be a tricky game to manage.

But Dallas is another day. The Whitecaps are coming through an extremely difficult run of four games smelling like roses: two wins, a staggering draw, and a nail-biting loss against four teams which will all be expecting honours this season. I don't want to sound like a homer, but the Whitecaps may be joining that class.

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