Today, the Vancouver Whitecaps finally return home to take on the Philadelphia Union. It's not that big a game, really. With Vancouver's mediocre record in the West, odds are that this team's playoff hopes are already dead and buried. I don't want to say the team is playing for pride and 2012, but in a very real sense they are. Nobody likes to hear that but it's true. Even if they weren't, Philadelphia is other-conference opposition that's not so good that a result will be a huge moral victory but also not so bad that a loss will be really gutting. They have no players I have any reason to hate (damn you, Sebastien le Toux, for leaving Seattle for nothing and making the Sounders look like an idiot? No.) and the team itself is a quite nice, respectable bunch of guys. I'm a little bugged that they cut Cristian Arrieta loose but, well, that's picking nits.
What will interest me most... what has to interest me most... will be the Whitecaps' performance. There's still some hope in this season, with the Voyageurs Cup third leg still to be played and the opportunity to do enough damage in the league that people get fired up. The Whitecaps are in a competitive position in the Cascadia Cup and might well get out of this season with two pieces of silverware. This game is meaningful because there are some really important games coming.
So, as I examine the team leading up to tonight's game, I find my questions are all about the Whitecaps. And since I have no better article ideas, here they are.
- Will the Whitecaps finally get 50% of the possession? Say what you will about the Philadelphia Union, and most of it is positive, but they're not exactly the mother of all possession teams. Vancouver is at home for the first time in the Tom Soehn era, giving them some advantage (particularly on Empire Field's increasingly, erm, idiosyncratic turf). "Howitzer" Terry Dunfield is back from international duty. If this team is ever going to hold onto the soccer ball, now's the time.
- Will we see more of the horrifying Camilo Sanvezzo on the left wing experiment? Camilo on the wing is like one of those '60s B-movies where they save Hitler's brain: obviously a horrible idea that's somehow even more catastrophic in execution. Russell Teibert seems to be out of contention: Teitur Thordarson's young prodigy is being kicked to the Whitecaps Residency squad by Soehn. On the other hand, Soehn drafted Michael Nanchoff and he seems to be coming into fitness. Even I like Nanchoff (although, obviously, not nearly as much as I like Teibert) and would certainly rather see the young Generation Adidas member go on the left than seeing Camilo wander around everywhere but his position.
- Will Eric Hassli have a problem? The Union defense, as we saw last time we played them, can be a bit physical. That's no problem for Hassli in of itself: he could run through a brick wall if he had to, never mind an MLS defender. The problem is that, in running through said defender, Hassli might get suspended for a million years. He needs to play on the edge a bit or he isn't effective but, then again, it only takes the slightest incident for him to see a red card.
- Which Davide Chiumiento will we get? Dede seems to be more motivated, as a rule, in home games. On the other hand, as discussed, the Philadelphia defense is tough. Chiumiento doesn't like tough defenses. Good Chiumiento will help our possession and make our 4-4-1-1 a bit less of a laughingstock. Bad Chiumiento will be a real pain.
- Can the Vancouver Whitecaps improve? The playoffs are more-or-less out of the picture so I'm staking a lot of hope on improvement: preferably quickly enough that we beat the Toronto FCs by a dozen in July. So far the Tom Soehn era has featured games in Los Angeles against Chivas USA (really ugly), at Real Salt Lake (freak show ugly), and at the Seattle Sounders (moderately ugly except for one big French guy). Those are road games against two pretty good teams plus Chivas; a bit of ugliness is acceptable in hindsight. Having said that, this team better start hauling ass pretty soon or we might have a real problem. With a home game against average opposition coming off a long rest, today is the day the Whitecaps have to start making stride.