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Early on, FC Dallas and the Vancouver Whitecaps are very close. They have the same goal differential and only two points between them in the standings. FC Dallas has been doing more scoring but they've also been conceding more. Both teams have had the advantage of playing the Montreal Impact at home, or as I prefer to call it "three guaranteed points": they've also both lost to Sporting Kansas City. Dallas has been goddamned roadkill away from home, with two losses in two games and a -4 goal differential, but on the other hand the Whitecaps are playing two games in one week for the first time this season. Neither team is entirely healthy, with veteran midfielders Ricardo Villar and Andrew Jacobson both missing out tonight.
And that's the limit of my intelligent analysis.
Dallas has seemed to be a good-but-not-great team forever. They made the MLS Cup final in 2010 but that was an upset; they were out of the playoffs in 2008 and 2009 but by no means a bad team even then. They've got decent results so far this year but they've spent four of six games at home and haven't faced world-beating opposition. Brek Shea is on a cold streak, and when he comes out of it Dallas will presumably be dangerous, but then again he was cold at the Olympics too and maybe he's just missing having some quality little men behind him to take the pressure off (bring back Jeff Cunningham!). They can get some results against good teams, throw some games away against bad ones, and since we don't even know which of those the Whitecaps are yet how can I make a prediction? The highlight of our matchups last season was when Jonathan Leathers accidentally murdered David Ferreira in two otherwise dull games.
Even the infamous mid-week match isn't necessarily a bogeyman. It's hard to gauge where the Whitecaps are at athletically but so far, so good. They've been playing stronger soccer at the end of their games than the beginning and it's rare for a player to really look bagged this season. Even traditional athletic question marks like Davide Chiumiento have looked fit for 90 minutes. They may have something in the tank for tonight, but then again they may not.
So what the hell's going to happen? I don't know. Dallas is a quick, strong team; they should be able to pound the tired Whitecaps with speed and strength. But they're also missing some of their better players and will struggle to move the ball without Villar, potentially allowing the Whitecaps to play more compactly and conserve their energy. I have no prognostication today.
The Whitecaps' injury report remains infuriating, no players save Camilo Sanvezzo seem close to getting back into this lineup. Michael Nanchoff, Etienne Barbara, Alain Rochat, Brian Sylvestre (if you're the sort of guy who worries about third-string goalkeepers). They should all miss yet another game today, and if you've read this site before you'll take my "aagh Nanchoff and Barbara could spread the field so well" rant as read and get on with your life.
Anyway, unless you count Camilo it looks like there are no reinforcements on the way of course. I'm certain there'll be some squad rotation: I'm virtually ready to put money on Jun Marques Davidson getting back in, for example, and perhaps yet another crappy Atiba Harris game will finally convince Martin Rennie to make a change (just kidding, this is the second year in a row Harris has had the bejeezus played out of him despite being crap and he obviously has pictures of Bob Lenarduzzi doing illegal things with a goat). In an ideal world, Russell Teibert would play in behind Sebastien Le Toux with Davide Chiumiento and Eric Hassli in the usual Rennie-style four-man attacking front; I'd love to see that and am therefore certain it will never, ever happen.
If that's not an option, I'd also like to see Canadian Soccer Jesus at left back, on the basis of Jordan Harvey's continued mediocrity at that position and the fact that he's always been among the least fit Whitecaps. (Greg Klazura could do it too, I guess, but only if Teibert is an attacking midfielder. I am leaving you no other options, Martin, although I am a bit curious to see what Klazura can do.) My opinion on Teibert as a left back is well-known, but he's had a good MLS Reserves run this year at the position, was among Canada's best players in Olympic qualifying, and while it would still be like bringing in Leonardo da Vinci to paint your basement, at least the basement would get painted.
And yes, I would continue to give Eric Hassli a chance in behind Le Toux. I insist he is playing well, even if the shots aren't going in. Let Hassli have 45 minutes and, if he tires, bring on Long Tan or Omar Salgado. I feel far more confident in Salgado as a playmaker than I did this time last week but that doesn't mean I'm planning to start him in important games.
Bear in mind that FC Dallas's weakness is defense. They're not Sporting Kansas City, which had that tight citadel in the middle of the park but was vulnerable down the wings. There are no glaring weaknesses on Dallas's defense but few real strengths. Goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, long a lynchpin of successful teams, is 37 years old and was already starting to look washed-up late last season. Ugo Ihemelu is the team's captain and key defensive stopper but he should be no match for a full-speed Le Toux. Add in the damage to Dallas's midfield and this is just the sort of slump-busting chance Hassli needs to get his confidence back, while his physical presence and ability to move the ball quickly should serve us well against them.
Just don't get into a track meet with Dallas. They're quick. They could bury us if we make it a pure athletic match. Keep the skill on the field and let the ball do the work.