So last night, knowing I needed to get up early the next day to meet the deadline for Sunday Morning Scribe, I made an error in judgement in cracking open a bottle of trusty old NyQuil (original "Green Death" flavour according to Dennis Leary), and what do I find on the label just below the dosage information and usage warning? None other than a Vancouver Whitecaps logo, followed by the ubiquitous "May cause drowsiness" advisory.
For as much as the 2012 Vancouver Whitecaps have exceeded expectations based on what we witnessed in 2011, they've more often than not fallen far short of reaching anywhere near their potential -- particularly since July, when roster renovations got underway in earnest, and the ongoing slumber is getting....well, tiresome.
At least Major League Soccer is trying to make a game of it, so to speak, with the quality of its refereeing across the league.
In re-watching the Whitecaps - Sounders match tonight, I noticed the defining moment in the 88th minute, directly off the kickoff following Seattle's 2-0 marker. Gershon Koffie has possession in central midfield, sprays it wide right... directly into the gaping hole between Dane Richards and Y.P. Lee. At the end of the rainbow, the ball takes a one-hopper and goes out of bounds.
For the second time in three days the Caps have played like a slow-speed train wreck: showing about the same degree of organization, but with none of the artistry. The result? A pair of losses, and a combined score of 0-4, all while sixth-place Dallas has quietly collected six points and closed the gap to the Whitecaps to a mere five points.
It remains to be seen whether or not all the retooling the Caps have undergone this season really represents an improvement. On paper, I'd likely have to offer a qualified "yes". Yet on the pitch, where the game actually gets played, it's somewhat debatable.
Sebastien Le Toux for Dane Richards? This is looking like a steal for the Whitecaps. Acquiring a natural right winger with far more speed than his predecessor has been a big upgrade. Eric Hassli being shipped out, and Kenny Miller coming in? Well... yeah, it's very early days, but so far it's looking like $300,000 more in salary for an equally ineffective DP. Barry Robson coming in, and Davide Chiumiento returning to Switzerland? Have to give the edge to Robson, who's more consistent, has a higher work rate and a much stronger peg, but prone to yapping at ref just about as much as Dede. Andy O'Brien? He looks to be a depth guy at best -- certainly not a challenge to either DeMerit or Bonjour.
No doubt the roster-rama will need some time before things can begin to gel a little better, but with FC Dallas breathing down the Caps' necks for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and the remainder of the Whitecaps' season featuring matches only against conference rivals, time is not a luxury that Martin Rennie's side has in abundance.
If Vancouver is to creep into the playoffs this season, it will likely not be purely on account of their own play, but also because of all the CCL matches that Seattle and the LA Galaxy will have to contest late in the season. The Galaxy will be facing soccer's version of hell later this month, with four matches in a span of nine days : August 23rd, 26th, 29th, and again on September 1 (versus Vancouver), in a match which could well be a difference maker.
Before the Caps can look that far into the future, they need to accomplish two things:
1) Get their act together on FK's and corners -- one aspect of their play that has been woeful at times throughout the season. Just why Kenny Miller is supposed to be marking Fredy Montero on a FK in scoring range remains a mystery, as does the team's tendency to nap on short corners, allowing uncontested balls into the box.
2) Beat the horrendously deplorable Portland Timbers on their own turf on Saturday. Portland's last victory came six weeks ago, on July 3. Since then, they've gone a dismal 0-2-6. If ever there was a psychological "must win" match, this is it. Portland has yielded 42 goals against so far this season (only TFC is worse), and have league-worst goal differential of -18.
Nobody's coming back from international duty in Timbuktu. Nobody's on suspension (but check the MLS website in three days, as that seems to be how long it takes head office to decide these things), and Jay DeMerit looks like he'll be back in the lineup. The Whitecaps can't afford to waste this opportunity for three badly-needed points.