|5:00 PM PDT, National Sports Center, Blaine, MN
Live at whitecaps.com
I can't help but call them the Minnesota Thunder. I'm sorry, but I can't.
The Thunder, for those who don't remember or have blocked it from their minds, were a moderately successful USL-1 team that played in the state of Minnesota until 2009, when they went under. But under the auspices of the National Soccer Center, a new club was dragged up, named the NSC Minnesota Stars, and have begun play this season as a slightly below average team in front of eight or nine fans every night.
The old Thunder were never a great franchise but they had some good attendance marks and occasionally ran a decent team out. The NSC Stars? Forget it. The Thunder combined a good name and a classy logo, the NSC Stars fall so far short of either mark they smack into the cliff face and tumble down into the abyss. Even the best part of the Stars, 900-year-old often-backup usually-terrible sometimes-brilliant goalkeeper Joe Warren, got his start with the Thunder back before the invention of electricity.
The NSC Stars have had a mediocre season, running up a record of 7 wins, 9 losses, and 7 draws. But there are some credible results in there. Minnesota has somehow drawn five games in a row, including a 1-1 draw in Vancouver late in July when goalkeeper Matthew Van Oekel saved the day for Minnesota. Most recently, on Wednesday, they got a very solid 2-2 draw in Portland thanks to goals from Ely Allen and Simone Bracalello. Minnesota isn't a good team, but nor is it a team to be underestimated.
Minnesota also plays one Canadian, former Impact/Lynx/Thunder plug defender Andres Arango, and boasts the greatest name in North American soccer today, midfielder Two-Boys Gumede. Take this team and its awesome names lightly at your peril.
No prizes for guessing at the NSC Stars' most dangerous player. Striker Brian Cvilikas is joint tenth in league goal scoring, with two more than any Vancouver Whitecap. In a team decimated by inconsistency Cvilikas has been a rare, reliable bright point: the big American and second division journeyman has markedly improved on the form he showed last year with the Thunder. The aforementioned Canadian Andres Arango, along with defender Kyle Altman and midfielder Daniel Wasson, are among the USSF D2's minutes leaders and each solid players. Wasson, in particular, has two goals and three assists on the season for Minnesota, although discipline has been a problem for the former Colorado Rapid.
For Vancouver, meanwhile, the spotlight will be on the vast influx of new players it has enjoyed in the last week. Teenager Omar Salgado may not be available if his loan paperwork does not go through in time (the second division has always been slow about these things), but Kyle Porter, Terry Dunfield, and Alexandre Morfaw ought to all be available even if they don't play. There's no need to go over once again what each of them can bring to the team, but it may be wise for Teitur Thordarson to avoid blooding the newbies too much. Minnesota is more than capable of grinding out a draw and Vancouver has a nasty habit of falling into them. If Thordarson gets fancy and runs out a fistful of new players unfamiliar with each other, that could be a two-point swing right there.
According to Whitecaps website writer Simon Fudge, Randy Edwini-Bonsu will make the trip to Blaine after overcoming a calf injury. The Whitecaps have started native midfielder Nizar Khalfan at striker for ten consecutive games while Edwini-Bonsu, Cornelius Stewart, Alex Semenets, and the now-departed Jonny Steele have alternated out of the second spot. With Edwini-Bonsu healthy, it's an open question who will be Vancouver's strike force tonight, although the smart money says that Khalfan will probably make it eleven straight and Thordarson won't risk Edwini-Bonsu's calf on a start so quickly.
Finally, no word on the fate of Vancouver midfielder Ansu Toure. Toure has gone home to Minnesota and was seen shaking hands in street clothes with the Whitecaps brass earlier this week, although it's uncertain whether he's been cut or left for other reasons.
Watch the game live online at whitecaps.com and leave your comments in the thread!