Whitecaps vs. Fire - Week 20 Preview

Rainier Ehrhardt

The hot 'Caps meet the sizzling Fire; who comes out ahead in this fiery clash?

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. CHICAGO FIRE

VANCOUVER: 29pts (8W-5L-5D); 5th in Western Conference, 7th in MLS
CHICAGO: 21pts (6W-8L-3D); 8th in Eastern Conference, 15th in MLS

Since last we previewed a game, Vancouver has notched a respectable draw and a convincing win against tough opposition. Naturally, this means they've dropped from 4th to 5th in the Western Conference and gone up a spot in the Supporters' Shield race. Aren't sports grand?

But enough snarky commentary on the league table; let's get down to business. The upcoming match against the Chicago Fire will be Vancouver's turn to experience the revitalizing powers of Mike Magee in a red jersey, as opposed to the white he usually wore while terrorizing the 'Caps as a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy. "Magic Mike" as everyone is seriously, actually calling this guy now - apparently, if you score at nearly a goal-a-game pace you get the moniker of a male stripper as your reward - went from a midfield linchpin with a supporting cast such as Omar Gonzalez, David Beckham, Juninho, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane to a forward on a floundering Fire side well out of playoff contention and promptly bagged five goals in six league matches. Chicago is now five points back of Houston for 5th place in the East.

So, yeah, Vancouver kinda might wanna sorta contain Magee or something.

While Chicago on paper has the look of a high-to-midtable team in the Eastern Conference, especially when you consider their fourth-place performance last season, they've played like anything but a contender pre-Magee: 2W-7L-2D isn't going to cut it in this or any league. Only with Magee going on a mad scoring clip has Chicago suddenly looked like a dark horse for 5th place; a few more 4W-1L-1D stretches and they may very well be solidly back in the playoffs.

Of course, to do that, Chicago would have to get past a searing-hot Vancouver team who are getting results in an exceptionally competitive conference. Since the last time the Whitecaps saw Mike Magee - a 3-1 win, in case you needed reminding - they have lost exactly once: a 3-2 defeat to the Seattle Sounders is the only blemish on a 5W-1L-2D record. Plus, lest we forget, these results are coming both at home and away; at long last, the spectre of taking points on the road is starting to feel far less daunting than it once was.

(That is, until you see the road schedule goes as follows: LA Galaxy, Portland Timbers, Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, San Jose Earthquakes, Montreal Impact, Seattle Sounders and Colorado again. I'll put a prediction down now that says Vancouver ends the regular season with one more road win and three more road draws if they're lucky. But I digress.)

Vancouver will still be without Russell Teibert as he suffers through proudly represents his country on Gold Cup duty, which will be unfortunate but not the end of the world. Corey Hertzog admirably filled in for Teibert until an injury to Hertzog required Daigo Kobayashi to come in off the bench. Darren Mattocks also got a run out in place of Camilo Sanvezzo, finding the net against Seattle and looking hungry for more - there's a chance he could return and push Camilo outside. Really, Martin Rennie has no shortage of options for that spot, with Kekutah Manneh, Tommy "Caveman" Heinemann and Erik Hurtado also hoping for minutes after strong showings in reserve league play.

The rest of Vancouver's starting lineup had a good run out against Seattle, so I don't expect much to chance in that regard. The back four will likely stay the same, though we could see Andy O'Brien in a substitute role as he returns from injury. A few Eighty Six Forever commenters have suggested that, should O'Brien return as a starter, Johnny Leverón be pushed up to holding midfielder, replacing Jun Marques Davidson as a more offensive-minded option. While that sounds damn sexy on paper, I'll stop short of advocating it for now; I'm far happier seeing Leverón play out of the back than in midfield, where he may not have as much time and space to work his magic.

The wildcard here is the mid-season, mid-week friendly between the Fire and Mexico's Club América. While I'm no bench boss or general manager of note - not in the real world, at least - I have to question the rationale of scheduling a friendly at this point in the season. Chicago has a U.S. Open Cup semi-final in just under a month's time and their MLS schedule leaves little margin for error if they want a playoff spot. Why tire out your players and open them up to potential injury with a midweek friendly? Is there really that much to be gained from being thrashed by Liga MX's reigning Clausura champions (or, let's be honest, their "B" Team and/or U18s)? Even if the Fire trot out their own reserves/kids for a token 90 minutes to save their starters for Saturday, that begs the question of why have a friendly against a dominant Mexican side in the first place?

Not that I mind as a Vancouver fan, though. Heck, if I'm putting my partisan shades on, Chicago can schedule themselves for a tour of the USL-2 every Wednesday from here to December for all I care, especially if it gives the Whitecaps that much more of an edge.

PREDICTIONS:
Result: VAN 3 - 1 CHI
Camilo 26', Rusin 40', Magee 53', Miller 75'

Starting XI:
Miller - Camilo - Manneh
Koffie - Davidson - Reo-Coker
Harvey - Rusin - Leverón - Lee
Knighton

~

Rituro is a freelance nerd, sports fan and avid gamer. Feel free to throw a tweet his way and follow @ThatRituroGuy.

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