COLORADO RAPIDS vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
COLORADO: 48pts (13W-10L-9D); 5th in Western Conference, 7th in MLS
VANCOUVER: 45pts (12W-11L-9D); 7th in Western Conference, 13th in MLS
This is it, folks. This is the series that will determine whether or not Vancouver gets to play an actual playoff series in 2013. It doesn't get any more exciting, tense, stressful, nerve-wracking or heart-failure-inducing than this. Well, all right, maybe in the actual playoffs. Sure. But for now, this is it.
Taking a quick look at recent history, the last visit to Colorado on August 18th was not a good one for the Whitecaps. The Rapids, sporting their new signings of Gabriel Torres and Vicente Sánchez, ran out 2-0 winners on goals from Deshorn Brown and Edson Buddle. Brown's goal was the result of an excellent cross by Sánchez and not-so-excellent marking by Young-Pyo Lee, leaving the Rapids rookie with an easy header over David Ousted. Buddle's goal was much more fortuitous, taking a deflection off Johnny Leverón and catching Ousted going the wrong way. At the other end of the park, Colorado goalkeeper Clint Irwin made excellent saves on Russell Teibert, Kenny Miller and Darren Mattocks to preserve the clean sheet.
So, what needs to change in order to keep the playoff dream alive? You could argue the change has already happened. The August 18th game featured the 4-3-3 that had brought Martin Rennie so much success up until that point, with the three-headed monster of Miller, Camilo Sanvezzo and Teibert driving the attack. After the success of the 4-4-2 diamond in the famous, Cascadia Cup-winning victory in Seattle, it's hard to see Rennie not going to that well again with Camilo and Kekuta Manneh up front and Daigo Kobayashi playing underneath them. The other big change to watch for is a stronger presence out wide. Both of Colorado's goals in the last game came from wide play and lapses by the fullbacks: Sánchez was allowed time to float a cross to a poorly-marked Brown, while Jordan Harvey was nowhere to be seen when Buddle ricocheted his shot off the inside of Leverón's leg.
It would be tempting to say that Vancouver should go for a counter-attacking game, preserving their strength for a grueling game at altitude that they need to win. The problem with that mentality is that the Rapids have upped their technical game considerably with the acquisitions of Torres and Sánchez. Allowing them time to unlock a defense is not an ideal situation, especially with breakout players like Brown and Dillon Powers waiting to pounce. As I see it, the key to this game will be denying Colorado the chance to play that technical possession style, harassing and closing down the Rapids before letting Manneh and Camilo go to work with their pace. Having Mattocks and Erik Hurtado on the bench for more speed later in the game will be crucial as well. So long as the midfield of Nigel Reo-Coker, Jun Marques Davidson and (insert rotating midfielder here) hold up their end of the bargain, it is not impossible for the Whitecaps to get a win. It'll still be bloody difficult, but it's possible.
Some stats, since numbers are fun:
- Colorado has only allowed 33 goals (1.03 GAA), tied with the Portland Timbers for second-fewest in MLS. If you only look at home matches, that number plummets to 14 (0.88 GAA).
- Colorado's home record: 9W-3L-4T. Vancouver's away record: 4W-8L-4T.
- Camilo's 18 goals is one behind scoring co-leaders Marco Di Vaio and Mike Magee. Di Vaio has played one more game than both Magee and Camilo.
- Kenny Miller is in a seven-way tie for 2nd place in game-winning goals (5). Chris Wondolowski leads with 7.
- Camilo's 108 shots leads MLS; Colorado's Deshorn Brown is in 5th with 90. Camilo's shots on goal sits tied for 2nd with 48; Brown is 7th with 29. Simple math leaves us with SoG% of 0.444 for Camilo and .322 for Brown.
- Brown is third league-wide in offsides with 28. He trails Seattle's Eddie Johnson (37) and Montreal's Di Vaio (76).
- Numerical proof Clint Irwin is pretty good: 85 saves (.708 Sv%), 30 goals allowed (1.00 GAA).
One final note about playoff implications: even if the Whitecaps draw, they could still conceivably qualify for 5th place. Even if they win, they could still miss the playoffs. Sit down, take a deep breath and follow along:
- The second tiebreaker in Major League Soccer is goals scored. Should Vancouver take four points from the next two games, they would be even with Colorado on wins (13) but leading in goals (as of writing this, 48 to 42).
- The San Jose Earthquakes currently sit between Colorado and Vancouver on 47 points. If San Jose matches Vancouver with six or four points of their own, they take the 5th place spot. The Earthquakes' final matches are: away to LA Galaxy, home midweek to Heredia in the CCL group stage finale, and home to FC Dallas.
- Of course, if Colorado wins even once, Vancouver is eliminated and only San Jose has a chance at the final playoff spot. Two wins for Colorado secures the Rapids a playoff berth.
Incidentally, should the Rapids hold onto 5th place, Oscar Pareja is my pick for coach of the year.
Colorado 1 - 1 Vancouver
Brown 37', Camilo 70'
Ousted; Harvey, DeMerit, Mitchell, Lee; Davidson, Koffie, Reo-Coker, Kobayashi; Camilo, Manneh