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Whitecaps Game Day: Men @ Crystal Palace Baltimore, 2:00 PM PDT

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CRYSTAL PALACE BALTIMORE
 
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC
(6-14-6, 5th NASL)
vs.
(9-3-14, 1st NASL)
Leading Scorer: Gary Brooks (3)
 
Leading Scorers: Martin Nash and Blake Wagner (4)
2:00 PM PDT, Paul Angelo Russo Stadium, Towson, MD
Live at whitecaps.com

Crystal Palace Baltimore has no money, is bad at soccer, plays at a high school, and likely isn't going to survive beyond this season. Other than that, though, their first year in the second division is going pretty well.

Founded in 2006, Crystal Palace Baltimore got their start in the soon-to-be-defunct USL Second Division, playing against the likes of the Bermuda Hogges and the Charlotte Eagles. Simon Jordan, then chairman of the more famous Football League Crystal Palace, founded a club in Baltimore called Crystal Palace F.C. USA with the intent of playing in the USL PDL for reasons that I've never managed to figure out. However, Palace USA wound up in the third division and, at the start of this year, moved up to the second, originally slated to join the USL First Division but defecting and winding up in the NASL Conference of USSF Division Two.

Unfortunately, Palace's well-documented financial woes have hit their American affiliate as well. Crystal Palace UK entered administration in January of 2010 and since then Crystal Palace USA, or Crystal Palace Baltimore as it's now known, has been floating adrift, solvent but without any sort of momentum to carry into the future. With the USSF's new rules requiring second division clubs to have an owner worth at least $20 million, the letter of the law says that Crystal Palace Baltimore will be unable to carry on next season even if they want to. Chairman Randall Medd and president Peter Medd made their bones in real estate and while information is hard to come by, $20 million seems like a lot (certainly nobody on the Internet seems to expect the Medds to clear the bar). This is without counting the other factors against them like, for example, requiring a 5,000-seat soccer-specific stadium within five years.

So Crystal Palace USA is probably doomed, perhaps to fall back into the third-division USL PRO or perhaps to fade away all together. With the move to MLS Vancouver's first regular season trip to Baltimore was always going to be their last, but with us moving up a division as they move down it lends a sad air of finality to it. Two clubs on very different paths, colliding for the final time, unless they meet each other in the playoffs.

Doesn't mean I don't want us to thrash the suckers, though.

On paper, this shouldn't be a difficult one. Baltimore is four points back of the NSC Minnesota Stars for the final playoff spot in the USSF Second Division and would have to climb past Tampa Bay and AC St. Louis to do it. You could get long odds on Baltimore making the post-season. Their goal differential is a grisly -11 and their leading scorer, 30-year-old indoor journeyman and one-time Whitecap Gary Brooks, has bulged the ol' onion bag precisely three times. In spite of running out the relatively talented young Evan Bush in goal, Baltimore has also conceded 39 goals, second-worst in the league ahead of only woeful Miami.

Of course, with an average attendance of 1,042 fans per game, Baltimore is getting exactly the team they deserve. Baltimore has had a total of 12,509 fans in all their home games this season; Montreal drew 13,034 fans for their home game against Baltimore on July 18. There really is no upside for Crystal Palace Baltimore. They're a losing team in a losing market that would probably be doomed even if they weren't so awful. One almost wants Baltimore to make the playoffs just to provide some reward for its players, many of whom are talented enough journeyman that have plied their trade around North America for years. Captain Adauto Neto spent four games in MLS with what was then the Dallas Burn and since then has played for four indoor and three outdoor clubs in eight years. Defender Shaun Pejic was a fairly well-reviewed Vancouver Whitecap last season after almost a decade playing in Wales and England. A collection of pretty good players without any stars to lead them; guys who'd do just fine as pieces of a puzzle but not as the entire thing. Give Baltimore a Ryan Pore and they're fighting for the conference title.

Vancouver ought to win, will likely draw, and certainly shouldn't lose. With Cornelius Stewart done for the year it's questionable how incisive our strikers can be, even if Ridge Mobulu has teased our hopes the last two games. Terry Dunfield is back in action fresh off international duty, and between him, Nash, and Wagner Vancouver ought to be able to move the ball at will. The anaemic attack of Baltimore will probably lead to a quiet night for our back four and Jay Nolly. If we can get one goal out of whatever combination of Mobulu, Cody Arnoux, Jonathan McDonald and Randy Edwini-Bonsu we're cursed with, things look very good.

That's a big "if", I realize, particularly after last week against Puerto Rico. But call me loudly, brashly optimistic.

News and Notes:

  • Mouloud Alkoul (ankle) and Ethan Gage (nose) are both still out from last week. Nelson Akwari also joins the injured list with a strained quadriceps muscle and hasn't made the trip to Baltimore. With Dunfield returning to midfield the smart money says Luca Bellisomo draws in at centre back alongside Greg Janicki. Alkoul is said to be training well: given that he's on Teitur Thordarson's thirty-man roster, I'm predicting a return for September 24 against Montreal based on nothing at all.
  • Davide Chiumiento still hasn't made his Whitecaps debut and won't be making it this afternoon, as he's staying in Vancouver. Gershon Koffie is also stuck in Vancouver, apparently with visa issues.
  • This isn't actually relevant to the game, but the front page of Crystal Palace Baltimore's web site advertises the Whitecaps game as a "9/11 Special Event" along with "Silly Bandz Night" and "Guns vs. Hoses". You know, when everybody said "never forget" nine years back, I'm not sure that's quite what we had in mind.

    What I'm saying is that I really hope there are families in Baltimore having this conversation. "What do we want to do for 9/11?" "We could watch CNN all night, but I hear the soccer team is having Guns vs. Hoses at the game tonight." "Guns vs. Hoses? That sounds pretty awesome, but if there was some sort of whimsically-spelled band thing I'd be a lot more interested..."

    What do you suppose they do for Pearl Harbour Day?