Bad News on the Horizon

Is that just the autumn rain outside, or could it really be small pieces of the sky starting to fall to earth? - Shaun Botterill

Perspective: Ain't it a great thing? While some will look out their window today here on Canada's Wet Coast and see the rain falling as the annual harbinger of the start to the youth soccer season, others - perhaps closer followers of the Vancouver Whitecaps - will see irrefutable evidence that yes indeed the sky IS starting to fall.

I speak, of course, of the Vancouver Whitecaps' recent combination of poor performance and good old fashioned bad luck. But now things have taken a turn for the (even) worse as we head into the critical final push for an MLS playoff spot.

To begin with, Vancouver will be without their engine and gyroscope, Nigel Reo-Coker, when they take on Chivas USA this weekend. Reo-C won't dress on Sunday, as he's suspended due to yellow-card accumulation - his latest infraction occurring in injury time last weekend versus the LA Galaxy, when he appeared to clip goalkeeper Jaime Penedo's left knee in a race to a loose ball.

While Reo-Coker remarkably still hasn't notched up a goal for the Caps this season, there's no denying that he's provided much of the offensive thrust to move the Caps into attacking position. His surging runs and interplay with right side threat Russell Teibert has made him a danger throughout the season. Although there have been exceptions, as NRC goes, so do the Whitecaps generally.

It becomes pretty clear just how valuable Reo-Coker is to this team when you look at the cascade effect his absence will cause, and the plethora of suggested remedies being offered up. Compounding the issue is the fact that Vancouver showed significantly more signs of life last week after switching to a 4-4-2 at the half. Will Martin Rennie continue to ride what appeared to be working, or does he return to a more attack-oriented 4-3-3 because a draw really isn't an option?

I'll assume it's the 4-3-3 look. Does Gershon Koffie continue in the center of the park in a holding role? If so, who's slotting into RM? Eric Hurtado? Or does Teibert drop back into RM, and some combination of Miller/Camillo/Manneh/or Mattocks form the front three? Again, that's assuming that Camilo will even be dressing, as he's still suffering from a groin issue. If there's one thing that's been consistent about the Caps this season, it's that returns from injury have taken much longer than anticipated. And what about LM? The most plausible selection there would be Jordan Harvey - again leading to a cascade effect on the back line. Does Carlyle Mitchell draw in, with Johnny Leveron slide over to fill the vacant LB slot?

All of this is just for this weekend's match. Then, on September 7, the Caps will be on the road in Dallas - sans the aforementioned Teibert, as he'll attending the Canadian Men's National Team training camp in Valencia, Spain, and playing in a friendly against Mauritania on Sept. 9.

Teibert's scored two goals and has a team-leading eight assists for the Caps this season. He's currently tied for fifth overall in MLS with helpers. The national team duty will certainly hurt Vancouver, as Teibert is just beginning to once again round into form after coming down sick during his last national team stint earlier in the summer.

Can the Vancouver Whitecaps afford to go two straight weeks without all hands on deck, especially in the precarious position the Caps currently find themselves in? They're now 7th overall in the Western Conference and two positions adrift from a playoff spot. With a win this weekend, the Caps could conceivably move into as high as 4th place in the table - albeit with some help. On the flip, and exceedingly scary side, a San Jose win over LA and a Caps loss to Chivas drops the Caps further down the order into 8th in the West.

Are those rivulets running down the outside of the window pane sure signs that fall has arrived, or are they darker portents of the tears to be shed by the Whitecaps faithful over the coming weeks? Stay tuned, folks.

Update: Darren Mattocks will also miss the Sept. 7 match in Dallas. He'll be serving national team duty for Jamaica as they face Panama and Costa Rica in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

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