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Whitecaps: To Boldly Go...

With apologies to the very late Gene Roddenberry, the Vancouver Whitecaps - with Scotty at midfield, coach, and super-sub striker - just didn't have enough dilithium crystals on board to warp past a Real Salt Lake team that they could have, and frankly should have dispatched Friday night.

The match stats will show a 2-1 RSL victory, but anyone who watched the skirmish will agree that had the Caps not set their phasers on stun, the score could easily have been 4-2 Vancouver.

Ensign Mattocks missed multiple opportunities at short range to put the ball into RSL's Tholian Web (though he eventually did manage to put one past a very suspect Nick Rimando in the 52nd minute). Meanwhile, rear admiral Lee unleashed one almighty photon torpedo from range on the starboard, but it just missed its mark. Scotty #7, seemed sure to knot the score with a glorious header opportunity, but failed to plot the right coordinates - vectoring the ball just wide of its intended target.

Vancouver gave up a penalty on a debatable hand ball called against security team leader and Captain Jay DeMerit when he got tangled in the dreadlocks of RSL's Klingon warror Kyle Beckerman 33 minutes in. RSL's Alvaro Saborio fired his second marker of the match just before the hour mark when he outclimbed Martin Bonjour to get his head to a tantalizing lob from Javier Morales. Earlier, Jun Marques Davidson missed a glorious chance to put the Caps up a goal, when he hammered a nice cutback ball from Mattocks off the post. Davidson had time, space, and acres to shoot at on the play.

Now with a not-so-stellar 9-7-7 record, the Caps are winless in their last four campaigns away from Starbase B.C. Place - picking up only a single point out of a possible dozen. If that's not enough cause for concern, there are a couple more factors to consider.

The remainder of the season (11 matches) will be contested against Western Conference foes, so each match has the potential to effectively be a six-pointer. Two of those will be against RSL, who are now eight points clear of the Caps and occupying second place in the Western Conference - and threatening to move beyond tractor range.

The Caps are home for their next two matches, but then leave port to seek out new life on a four-game road trip. The blue-and-white will need to rediscover their road form, beginning in the not-so-friendly confines of CenturyLink Field. And for the overly confident, consider this: The Caps' last MLS road win came on July 4, but you'd have to go back to April 28 (Columbus) to find the road win previous to that. The good news, however, is that the first two of the upcoming four matches on the road (Seattle and Portland) will be in tilts against Cascadia rivals, and thus require only impulse power to arrive at.

Vancouver currently sits fourth in the West with 34 points, along with the Seattle Sounders, who have a pair of matches in hand. A resurgent LA Galaxy squad occupies the last playoff spot, siting just aft at 33 points. Sixth-place Chivas, have done reasonably well in July, but they'll be facing Seattle and San Jose twice each within the next six weeks.

The good news for Caps fans is the fact that RSL, Seattle, and LA are competing in the CONCACAF Champions League, and will be adding four additional matches to their schedules between July 31 and the end of October -- at least in Jay DeMerit's case last Friday, we saw the effects of too many minutes within a short time frame.

Ultimately, if the Whitecaps are to fulfil the prime directive, and qualify for the playoffs this year they will need to figure out three things: how to win on the road, how to avoid those 10-minute lapses that have killed us at times this season, and how to improve their marking on corners and free kicks. Poor awareness on set pieces has been a thorn in the Vancouver side on many occasions throughout 2012, costing the team dearly at times. If they can succeed on those frontiers, the Caps have every reason to think they can live long and prosper in the MLS playoffs.

*No tribbles were injured in the writing of this piece.