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Whitecaps Game Day: Men v. Austin Aztex, 4:00 PM PDT

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC
 
AUSTIN AZTEX
(9-3-12, 1st NASL)
vs.
(13-3-6, 2nd USL)
Leading Scorers: Martin Nash and Blake Wagner (4)
 
Leading Scorer: Edward Johnson (10)
4:00 PM PDT, Swangard Stadium, Burnaby, BC
Live at whitecaps.com and Shaw TV Vancouver

They're second in their division. We're first in ours. We have a player, Terry Dunfield, who played a game in the English Premier League for a team in Manchester. Plus they're from Texas and play in a crappy high school stadium with throwball lines on the field. This should be easy!

Of course it's not going to be easy. It's never easy. To put it bluntly, Austin is the best team in the second division this year. Although three points back of the league-leading Rochester Rhinos, Austin has played four fewer games and might make up the gap by thumping Vancouver at Swangard this afternoon. The Whitecaps themselves have played two more games than the Aztex but have six fewer points despite beating Austin in their only previous meeting 2-1 on goals from Marcus Haber (who?) and Nizar Khalfan.

Just as bad, Austin can counter our seeming advantage in "guys who played professional football with an EPL team in Manchester". Their leading scorer is Chester-born Edward Johnson, a ten-goal striker who capped for the England U-20s once upon a time and played for Manchester United October 28, 2003 in a League Cup game against Leeds United. Granted, Dunfield actually played in the League itself, but on the other hand he did it for City. I think I could have played for City in the early part of the 2000s. United was doing a little better back then.

There's no defending that crappy stadium. I mean, the game's in Burnaby so it doesn't matter much but that's a really crappy stadium. Unfortunately for us the team is far, far better than that.

Let me put the Aztex in perspective. Austin has one more win than the Whitecaps have draws (and as we know the Whitecaps have a lot of draws indeed). The Whitecaps' leading scorers are Martin Nash and Blake Wagner (a senior citizen and a fullback, yeah, yeah) with four each. Edwards leads the Aztex with ten, second in the league. Austin's second-leading scorer, Maxwell Griffin, has seven. Their third-leading scorer, Jamie Watson, has six. You have to get down to their fourth-leading scorer (midfielder Lawrence Olum with three) who wouldn't be the leading striker in Vancouver. The team as a whole has scored forty-one goals to Vancouver's twenty-five, remembering again that Austin has played two fewer games than the Whitecaps. The Aztex only do one thing, score goals in bulk, but they do it very, very well indeed.

The Whitecaps are good defensively, of course: they concede just more than half as many goals per game than the Aztex do. Yawn. Wake me when we start piling up the hat tricks. On a more serious and concerning note, that Whitecaps defense is badly depleted. Nelson Akwari, who had formerly played every minute of every game for Vancouver, is out injured, and fellow central superman Greg Janicki is suspended for accumulation of yellow cards. Teitur Thordarson will be obliged to play natural fullback Zurab Tsiskaridze and Luca Bellisomo, a natural centre back who's been playing a lot of midfield this year, as his centre backs with probably 791-year-old Takashi Hirano and Wes Knight on the flanks.

If the Aztex have a weakness, it is in Canadian content. Oh, they have a Canadian and quite a good one, 25-year-old fullback/midfielder Tyler Hemming. Twice capped by the senior Canadian national team and late of the Montreal Impact, Hemming has had stops with Toronto FC and all over the North American second division. But Hemming has only played twice for Austin so far this season, and as everyone knows it's not how many Canadians you have but how often you play them.

Okay, they have more than one weakness. Goaltender Miguel Gallardo, to put it bluntly, isn't fooling anyone. A former USL PDL star with the Aztex U-23s, Gallardo made the jump to the second division last year and went almost straight into their starting lineup. He's only twenty-five years old and has played a great deal for Austin, but nobody is impressed. The Aztex have a fairly competent defense but Gallardo just doesn't make the big saves and lets in too many soft ones: he is, in short, a workable but mediocre goaltender, a worthy second division backup but not a starter for a team with championship aspirations. If what the Whitecaps ironically call their "attack" can put some shots on goal, a few will find their way through.

Of course, it's perfectly likely Austin will concede two then come back and score three. They're more than capable of it, particularly with the Whitecaps defense not at its best. But at least it would be good for an entertaining firewagon game, and if we're going to lose let's at least lose to a team that outscores us rather than outbunkers us.

News and Notes:

 

  • The Vancouver Southsiders are having a fundraising barbecue in the picnic area off the south-eastern corner of Swangard Stadium starting at 2 PM this afternoon. There'll be fresh-grilled burgers and pop for sale, and that's the best way to start an afternoon match I can think of. Proceeds go to the Southsiders tifo fund, bringing you blow-up dolls desecrated with Toronto FC uniforms since 2009.
  • Terry Dunfield and Ridge Mobulu, at least, will probably make their home Vancouver Whitecaps debuts this afternoon as they're expected to be in the starting lineup. There are seven other players signed since last the Whitecaps graced Swangard, though I'd only expect to see Cody Arnoux among them.
  • Mouloud Alkoul, who played nineteen minutes with the Whitecaps this season and scored one goal while shattering his ankle and going on the injured list seemingly forever, is back in light training. The Frenchman was expected to be omnipresent in the starting lineup this season and compete for an MLS spot. That, er, didn't happen, although if he gets back to health and makes some strong appearances he might at least get himself onto Tom Soehn's radar.
  • We know the Aztex are a success on the field, but how about off? They got some heat for drawing a lacklustre 2,642 fans to their home opener against the defending champion Montreal Impact. But they're actually doing all right, averaging 3,566 fans per game and boasting a season high of 6,051 to watch FC Tampa Bay of all the mediocre organizations. While 3,566 won't exactly start the MLS expansion talk, it's pretty fair for the second division and if the Aztex aren't paying too much for their foreign talent it's probably within hailing distance of their break-even point with a good playoff run.