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Whitecaps Game Day: Men v. Puerto Rico Islanders, 4:00 PM PDT

The Whitecaps latest, but not their only, senior international callup. (Benjamin Massey/Eighty Six Forever)
The Whitecaps latest, but not their only, senior international callup. (Benjamin Massey/Eighty Six Forever)
(9-3-13, 1st NASL)
(8-8-8, 4th USL)
Leading Scorers: Martin Nash and Blake Wagner (4)
Leading Scorer: David Foley (8)
4:00 PM PDT, Swangard Stadium, Burnaby, BC
Live at and Shaw TV Vancouver

This is Terry Dunfield, soon to make his second international cap presuming we get the lineup card right this time. With the Toronto FC troika that (mostly) played against Peru on their way to re-join the team, Canadian coach Stephen Hart has called upon the 28-year-old Dunfield as one of his replacements. No word on who the other two are, but one hopes they're a sniper to take out Rob Friend, and Ali Gerba.

As a consequence of his international duty, Dunfield will miss Vancouver's game tonight (well, really this afternoon) against the Puerto Rico Islanders. I've been led to believe that, as soon as the Whitecaps start missing games because of international callups, I will react to every Whitecap going on international duty with furious wrath and hatred. Well, now it's happening. Hart grabbing Dunfield without so much as a by-your-leave! I really enjoyed watching him last week against Austin, too! I was looking forward to watching Dunfield take a crack at the Islanders. But noooooo, apparently Hart thinks it's important to beat the Hondurans. With midfielder/forward Nizar Khalfan also away at African Cup of Nations qualifying with Tanzania, we've sacrificed two of our better players to the remorseless gods of international soccer.

It's strange, though. The emotion swirling through me isn't so much "rage" as "pride". Good on them! I hope they represent their countries well, even the one that isn't Canada. As for tonight's game? Well, we'll have to get through. That's soccer, you're always going to be missing somebody from your first team lineup. I just hope Dunfield helps us cream those Honduran bastards later in the week.

Really, I don't know what Toronto fans were making all that fuss about. This is fine!

I dunno, call me a bad supporter if you like, but I still think country comes before club. I got more worked up by watching last night's Canada friendly on television than I ever have at a competitive Whitecaps game I've seen in person. If Canada wants Dunfield (or Martin Nash, or... well, I can't imagine which other Canadian Whitecaps might ever attract interest for the senior team but all the same) they're welcome to him! I just hope he does the nats some good!

In truth, I've never really understood any other viewpoint. International soccer is the pinnacle of the sport. It is soccer's highest level, and whatever tangential benefits the success of the Vancouver Whitecaps could have on soccer in Canada that's nothing compared to what would happen if our actual national team started winning games. Of course there are those Whitecaps fans who will disagree with me, but early on the reaction seems to be a mix of pride in Dunfield and perhaps a bit of bewilderment as to why Hart would call Dunfield up - he's probably not quite in game shape yet, if you're going to grab a Canadian Whitecaps midfielder Nash is certainly better - and so on. No hostility. No "where does Hart get off?" and "the club pays his salary, the club comes first!"

Which is good. If Whitecaps fans actually had shit bricks over losing Dunfield and Khalfan, I would have been pretty disappointed.

Oh, right, there's a game tonight. Against the Puerto Rico Islanders, those devils. Constantly fielding competitive teams that have a nasty habit of coming to Swangard and giving us a hard time. A win over Puerto Rico is just a bit sweeter than a win over the likes of Tampa Bay or St. Louis, simply because the Islanders are such a strong organization with such skilled players.

Except for this year. The Islanders are a mere 8-8-8 and a clearly disappointing fourth in the USL conference. While they're certainly not a bad team, there is a chance they'll miss the playoffs altogether. This would be awful for the Islanders, who with the USSF's new requirement that a second-division league be at least 75% American and have an owner worth at least $20 million, may have trouble just staying in the second division in 2011 or 2012. They'd surely need a waiver as to the ownership requirements and might have to fight to get in as one of the few foreign teams allowed (Puerto Rico has its own, independent football federation and national team and no, don't ask me why an American territory can play World Cup qualifying and, say, Guadeloupe can't).

To put it bluntly, any league rule that could eliminate the storied Puerto Rico Islanders is a bad rule. The USL and the USSF D2 haven't exactly been replete with teams as stable, as successful, and as well-supported as the Islanders. They deserve at least second-division soccer, and if the USSF in its perfidy and its hamfisted desire to prevent another AC St. Louis throws the baby out with the bath water, they will get exactly what they deserve when their second division collapses for want of stability and competition.

This year's Islanders team is good enough to give the Whitecaps a challenge but not so good that we shouldn't at least get a draw. Leading scorer David Foley, late of Hartlepool United, is only twenty-three but made nearly a hundred appearances in the lower levels of the English Football League before coming to North America and will surely be a fixture on this scene for years to come if the stays. Big, powerful goalkeeper Bill Gaudette is one of the best in the second division and will be remembered by some of my readers for his days with the Columbus Crew. The Islanders, disappointingly, have no Canadian players whatsoever but oddly enough have five Trinidad and Tobagans. Although they lack depth and their midfield, in particular, is poor, Puerto Rico has front line talent as good as anybody in the league.

They can't be underestimated in spite of their average record. If Vancouver, missing Dunfield and still getting used to each other, comes out flat, they will pay the price. If they keep it simple and exploit their superior talent, the Whitecaps should win. They probably will draw, but that's just life. A draw against Puerto Rico is nothing to be ashamed of.

News and Notes:

  • Mouloud Alkoul's recovery continues to come along: he's still practicing with the club. We almost certainly won't see him tonight, even on the bench, but he may yet get in a second match this season.
  • In a reserves game against the University of British Columbia last week, both Takashi Hirano and Ethan Gage suffered broken noses. Seriously! Apparently the UBC players go for the middle of the face. Anyway, they'll both take no role in tonight's game.
  • Also out injured are Chris Williams and Nelson Akwari. With Dunfield and Khalfan away internationally, the Whitecaps are missing four of their prospective starting eleven and three pretty good bench players. The good news is that Greg Janicki is back from suspension and will almost certainly get the start.
  • Marc Weber thinks that Cornelius Stewart will miss the game with a nagging groin injury. That would be a bit of a surprise, considering how well Stewart ran last week against Austin, but if he does sit out we may be in for a double dose of the Cody Arnoux Experience. Oh, god.
  • Just like last week, the Southsiders will be running a fundraising barbecue in the picnic area off the southeast corner of Swangard Stadium. There will be sausages and meat pies and good soccer food, so come on by and have a good time.