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I love it when the situation is simple. It allows me to make the entire game situation clear in one paragraph and devote the rest of the post to being a smart-aleck.
If the Whitecaps win this afternoon in what may or may not be their last ever match at Swangard Stadium, they advance to the USSF D2 final where they will take on probably the Montreal Impact. Unless it's the Carolina Railhawks, and I really hope it is, because I want no part of the Montreal Impact. Revenge for last year or no, that team scares the hell out of me.
On the other hand, if the Whitecaps lose, then they go home and retire to a winter of staring at the phone with their hearts in their throats and if "T THORDARSON" or "T SOEHN" appears on the call display, picking it up before the end of the first ring. And if they draw, then we go to penalties, where our goalkeeper is fighting off an injury, none of our players are very accurate shooters, and five thousand-odd people at Swangard will be having a series of collective cardiac arrests.
That was actually two paragraphs, but you get my point. The Whitecaps face a very simple challenge this afternoon. It is a surmountable challenge, for the Puerto Rico Islanders are a very poor road team. Then again, the Whitecaps don't exactly win at home either, preferring to draw their way to victory. Then again again, the Whitecaps have at least been scoring at home the last couple of games and Puerto Rico's offense might not be powerful enough to strike back. Then again again again...
I may be overthinking what was meant to be a very simple point. Just win, Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Do it 1-0 or 2-1 or 5-4 for all I care. The details are unimportant. Just win.
Both the Puerto Rico Islanders and the Whitecaps come into Burnaby fresh off what must have been a brutal road trip, flying commercial to Vancouver from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Both clubs made the trip on Friday and, according to Martin Nash's Twitter, were actually on the same flight out of Dallas-Fort Worth. The Whitecaps, of course, have been seeing their friends and family and sleeping in their own beds, but both teams have to be feeling the journey. The best advantage the Whitecaps have is that, in what was probably a cost-cutting measure but now looks like a feat of tactical genius, the players who weren't going to be in the eighteen-man lineup were left behind in Vancouver and and a result are brilliantly fresh.
This is good, as we're going to need them. Blake Wagner and Cody Arnoux are out injured: relics of the game in Puerto Rico. Marc Weber says that Randy Edwini-Bonsu and Alex Elliott will draw into the eighteen in their place, and Marc Weber would know. Edwini-Bonsu hasn't played since sustaining a groin injury at the end of the regular season and Elliott hasn't played since a few unfortunate games where he was trying to become the first man to hit a cross so high and so far it went into orbit, but they're clearly the best options not already on the bench. As I've discussed, I actually think Edwini-Bonsu should start.
These injuries come with a USSF D2 playoff schedule, of course. The old USL-1 and A-League were the same way: two must-win games a week for three weeks against superb teams and huge road trips into the bargain. It's a lot of soccer, and all of it is being played for the highest possible stakes. The sheer volume of soccer would seem to be almost ripe for parody.
Two games a week is a lot, and it must be taking their toll on both the Whitecaps and the Islanders. The difference is that Vancouver barely escaped Bayamon on Thursday with all their teeth intact and at least three players on the limp (goalkeeper Jay Nolly is also fighting a knock), whereas the Islanders got out, if not comfortable, at least healthy. They may be exhausted, but they're also all moving. That's a key, immediate advantage to Puerto Rico.
Moreover, as has been discussed, the Whitecaps just aren't a big goalscoring team. They're probably going to be less of one with Wagner out, as he's been a fine two-way force in the midfield. Wagner's absense will also put more pressure on the left back, presumably Willis Forko, who's been getting a lot of help from Wagner in shutting down attacks on that side and will now be left with one of Elliott, Kyle Porter, or Alexandre Morfaw: decent players all, but defensively none of them are in Wagner's league. The blow our transition game has suffered might just mean that we walk into another 0-0 draw without actually wanting it this time.
And Jay Nolly can stop a penalty, of course. I think he's one of the finest penalty goalkeepers in North America. But he's hurting and even when he's on form penalties are always an absolute crap shoot. If things get that far, the Islanders will have at least a fifty-fifty chance to scuttle us. So it bears emphasis: we must win this in either regular or extra time. Even if we wind up pushing the attack like mad and leaving ourselves horrifyingly open on the counter, the odds will be more in our favour than the penalty shootout. There is, quite literally, no tomorrow. Unless we win. Settle it out on the field, where our odds are best, rather than from the spot regardless of the cost.
News and Notes:
- Another game, another tailgate by the Vancouver Southsiders, the Whitecaps' oldest and largest supporters group. Festivities begin at 1:30 PM and will take place in the southeast parking lot off of Swangard Stadium in Burnaby's Central Park: pick up a barbecued meal and some chips for only $6. Proceeds go to the Southsiders Tifo Fund, which is the best cause I can think of off-hand.
- Wes Knight is back in light training after his shoulder separation. It's encouraging, but I think I'd start Ethan Gage over Knight just to be safe. Gage has played very well in relief and we don't want to push Knight too hard on his first day back. I'd leave Knight on the bench and have him come in as a substitute if we wind up having to push for goal.
- No word yet on Zurab Tsiskaridze, but he's probably still out.