Preview: Whitecaps Need a Win vs. Chivas USA

He's a happy man, that Erick Torres. Will he be as happy against Vancouver as he was against New York? - Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY

Considering how razor-thin the gaps are between teams in the Western Conference, I'm not saying this weekend's tilt against the suddenly resurgent Goats is a do-or-die match. Well, actually, I might be. Sure, positions can and will change from week to week. The problem is that those positions can be changed from "good" to "bad" and "bad" to "worse".

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. CHIVAS USA

VANCOUVER: 36pts (10W-9L-6D); 7th in Western Conference, 11th in MLS
CHIVAS USA: 21pts (5W-14L-6D); 9th in Western Conference, 17th in MLS

Gaze into that maniacal grin above, Vancouver Whitecaps fans. That is the beaming mug of 20-year-old Erick Estéfano Torres Padilla, more commonly known as "El Cubo". Torres is currently on loan with Chivas USA from their parent club in Guadalajara and has apparently decided not to phone in his time in Major League Soccer. He's gone the full ninety minutes in each of Chivas' last six matches with four goals to his credit in three games: one on his debut in a 1-0 win versus Toronto FC, one in his following match in a 2-1 losing effort against the Seattle Sounders, and finally a brace last weekend in Chivas' stunning 3-2 upset of the New York Red Bulls.

Admittedly, if you take at look at them, the goals themselves aren't the prettiest. Of the four, two are directly or indirectly the result of deflections and one is a penalty kick. That leaves his finish against Seattle as the only out-and-out strike and it is certainly a decent one at that. Still, he's a hot young striker with oodles of ability and potential out to prove himself on loan. That's not going to make life easy for Andy O'Brien, Johnny Leverón or whoever steps into the revolving 'Caps backline. Priority number one will be to contain "El Cubo".

Priority number two will be to wake up the somewhat lethargic scoring corps and seriously challenge goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. Carving open Chivas' backline hasn't been an issue for any team this season in MLS, and the addition of former US men's national team captain Carlos Bocanegra won't plug all the holes by itself. Chivas have conceded a whopping 144 shots on target to date (assuming MLSSoccer.com's statistics are correct; doing the math, it would appear the numbers don't quite add up), which works out to a per-90 rate of 5.76. You have to think that, given five to six kicks at the can, at least one of Vancouver's scorers will find a way to beat Kennedy with a quality chance.

Ah yes, those Vancouver scorers. Jon's already gone over their recent woes, so I won't beat the point to death. What I will say is that, considering Vancouver should have a superior defensive corps on paper if not in actual fact, this might be the game to get into a track meet and throw caution to the wind. Whether it's in 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, there's nothing to be gained by a timid approach to attack. Send everyone forward and either pump in crosses from the flanks or race the ball in at the feet of Camilo Sanvezzo, Russell Teibert or Kekuta Manneh. You know that point in a tense, close chess match where you go "screw it" and just start trading piece after piece in a violent simulated bloodbath because you're pretty sure you'll come out ahead? That's what this match should be. Trade pieces - er, goals - with wild, reckless abandon and re-ignite that scoring touch before the matches against serious playoff contenders come up.

Oh, and speaking of playoff contenders, how about that 7th place Vancouver is currently sitting in? Yikes. To be fair, a win would put Vancouver level with the third-place Colorado Rapids and fourth-place Portland Timbers on 39 points. Saying Vancouver is a "seventh-place team" is a touch misleading with the margins between the playoff teams thinner than PLarue's patience for Martin Rennie. On the flip side, a loss or draw and suddenly that gap has the potential to widen dramatically. As I said right off the top, this is a must-win game if the 'Caps want to keep their playoff hopes alive. Treating it like one will hopefully counter Chivas' newfound ability to play spoiler to the playoff contenders.

PREDICTIONS:
Result:
VAN 3 - 2 CUSA
Torres 22', Camilo 40', Torres 71', Manneh 85', Teibert 89'

Starting XI:
Miller - Camilo
Manneh - Koffie - Watson - Teibert
Harvey - Leverón - O'Brien - Lee

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