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Whitecaps Game Day: Men @ Toronto, 5 PM PDT

(Craig Carlyle)
(Craig Carlyle)
(1W-2D-0L, +2 GD)
(2W-1D-0L, +4 GD)
Leading Scorers: Reggie Lambe and

Ryan Johnson (3)
Leading Scorer: Sebastien Le Toux (5)
Opponents' Blog: Waking the Red
5:00 PM PDT, BMO Field, Toronto, ON
Live on Sportsnet One

Winning the Voyageurs Cup is the only thing that matters.

It matters because the Voyageurs Cup is the Vancouver Whitecaps' only ticket to the CONCACAF Champions League. Remember when Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact both had runs to the knockout stages and their fans got to smirk and say "are we Canada's team yet?" like arrogant bastards? I want to be that arrogant bastard. I want to cross off days on the calendar until we're playing Barcelona in Morocco. I want to see Vancouver become the first Canadian team to not choke away to Santos Laguna. I want to write a post discussing how Jun Marques Davidson can cope with Lionel Messi.

It matters because Toronto is a rival. This would have been unthinkable three years ago, but swing by the message boards or the Facebook groups today and you'll see Whitecaps fans who hate Toronto every bit as much as they hate Seattle or Portland. Beating them would be a brilliant chance to taste the tears of the Toronto-loving media who pretend to be "national" and fans genuinely convinced they invented Canadian soccer (the Toronto Lynx? Aren't they a women's team?).

It matters because the Whitecaps are just so cursed in this competition. The Montreal Impact throwing their final game in 2009, lightning in 2011, seven years where the Whitecaps might have been the best Canadian team anywhere but would still somehow get fewer points in Voyageurs Cup matches than the Impact every time. At some point the trophy matters even more when it works so hard to escape your grasp.

It matters because it's silverware, and unless you count the Disney Pro Soccer Classic (and you better not) the Whitecaps haven't won any silverware since 2008. To some fans that might not be a long time; to the Whitecaps it's a drought. Particularly when your national cup has three to four teams in it.

Some people will say that the Whitecaps need to rest some players and go for it Saturday against Portland. That will be a big game, no doubt, but those people are wrong. This game is the climax of the spring, and if the Whitecaps lose at Jeld-Wen in exchange for a win at BMO that's fine by me.

They might lose but Toronto FC has some punch. Most worryingly, they have some punch in areas the Whitecaps are least able to counter. Diminuitive wingers Joao Plata and Reggie Lambe are both young, athletic talents who are probably Toronto's most capable attacking players. They whip in crosses and corners, an old bugbear of Vancouver's, and against our oh-so-narrow midfield will have plenty of room to rampage. As the last line of defense Alain Rochat and Young-Pyo Lee should be adequate, but that's just to keep them from cutting in and scoring themselves, not to save us from crosses to Ryan Johnson or Danny Koevermans. When he's playing wide right Sebastien Le Toux is a capable defender; that's Plata potentially covered but I can't imagine what we'll do about Lambe.

This is all assuming that Le Toux, Lee, and Rochat play their usual positions tonight. Lee and Le Toux are athletically superhuman, but Lee made the occasional little mistake against the Sounders and Le Toux hasn't been at his best for a couple weeks now. As for Rochat, he is not nearly on their level athletically and might even be called into the centre to rest Jay DeMerit or Martin Bonjour. That would bring Jordan Harvey into the lineup and set me screaming in agony for ninety straight minutes.

Not that giving Bonjour a night off is a bad idea. I speak often of "mental fatigue" and I think Bonjour is getting there: the mental mistakes are becoming more prominent every game and he just needs some time to relax and see the game from another perspective. Who knows where Carlyle Mitchell is at after the New England Revolution match, but if Mitchell is out I'd be fine giving Michael Boxall the start in Mitchell's place. I don't pretend Boxall is the best defender in the world but he's big, tough, and has played well against Toronto in the past. On the other hand, he obviously doesn't have Martin Rennie's short-term confidence and the one time I saw him in USL PDL this year he looked almost unbelievably poor.

This lineup might have too many cementheads without my tactical tinkering. I'm willing to bet that Etienne Barbara will continue his recovery with an appearance today. Who knows which combination of shouldn't-be-starting midfielders will make it (John Thorrington, come on down)? I say this not because I think Martin Rennie will take Toronto for granted, but because I think he'll prefer to load up for the weekend game.

Even with a few backups in, Vancouver ought to be able to beat Toronto barring the usual catastrophic officiating or Canadian Soccer Association interference. But every bench player increases the risk, particularly when real liabilities like Harvey start showing up. Such "safe" moves do nothing but cost Rennie and the Whitecaps their first piece of MLS silverware.

Take Toronto seriously. Their defense is mistake-prone, but to break them you need to be able to effectively move the ball and challenge their lack of speed and intelligence. Their offense is a bit one-dimensional, but even one dimension is enough if your defense gives them space. Milos Kocic can be counted on to stop the easy shots, the referees can't be counted on for anything, and the stink of another potential scandal will hang over BMO Field like a cloud.

Play your best, beat the hell out of them, and let's go to Portland with a damned trophy.