In a season filled with must-win matches, it seems almost redundant to mention the phrase again. However, with the Whitecaps currently in another late season tailspin, a loss to the San Jose Earthquake this weekend would all but put the final nail in the 'Caps coffin for the 2013 season.
If there was good news, its that the 'Caps generally play San Jose pretty well, and the Earthquakes are not the same team from last year. As we highlighted this week, the 'Quakes are having a miserable year by their standards, and currently sit just one spot ahead of the 'Caps in the Western Conference.
We here at eightysixforever are used to the Whitecaps blowing big matches, but we thought we'd at least discuss how the team plans to blow it this weekend.
Playoffs? Are we talking about playoffs? PLAYOFFS?
There has been a lot of negative talk this week, after the Whitecaps showed how creatively they can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Say one thing about our boys; they may lose, but they manage to surprise you while doing it. While the club has not yet been eliminated from the playoffs, it would be a very great accomplishment if they managed to sneak in to one of the lower seeds. Given that the club was flying high earlier this season, and at one point was second in the west, that's a pretty brutal realization for most Whitecaps fans. Can they make the playoffs? They have the talent and should, but time is not on their side. I'm going to say no.
Where did they go wrong?
While a large share of the blame has been placed on Martin Rennie, the players have to feel the heat as well. Camilo, Kenny Miller, Russell Teibert, Daigo Kobayashi, and Nigel Reo-Coker have all been subpar in terms of offense, especially in recent matches. Camilo and Miller are the most glaring because they had such great starts to the season, but sports is a 'what have you done for me lately' business, and they haven't done much. In addition, the goalkeeping of David Ousted has been good, not great, which is an issue. The one aspect of this team worth writing home about is their backline, but they also let FC Dallas score three last weekend. So, what is wrong with this team? A shit ton.
I'm going with the lineup I want Martin Rennie to use, not what I think he will use, if that makes sense. Basically, I want to see the 'Caps employ their strongest offensive attack and relentlessly pressure San Jose into making mistakes. I want them to work harder than they ever have before, although I doubt it's likely. With that being said, I want a 4-2-4, with all of our scorers out to start the match. (This lineup may suit EA's FIFA franchise rather than real life, but what the hell)
Lineup: Knighton, Lee, O'Brien, Leveron, Harvey, Koffie, Reo-Coker, Manneh, Camilo, Miller, Teibert
Prediction: The Whitecaps stay alive in the playoff race for another week or so, besting a flawed Earthquakes team 1-0.
Are the playoffs just a reach too far?
Last year at this time, I was busy going toe-to-toe with some fat bastard, and absolutely certain the Caps were not going to make the playoffs. Well, I got proven wrong. Here we are in 2013, and it's déjà-vu all over again – although I can't honestly say Jon's fat. Maybe I'm a slow learner, but I'll go with the timeline continuum parallax and say once again there's no chance the Vancouver Whitecaps will make the playoffs. The 2012 Caps made the postseason thanks to a huge dollop of good fortune that I didn't see coming. If nothing else, this year's incarnation has exhibited a massive deficit in the luck dept. The Caps have lost five of their last eight, and have only one win in that span. Aside from an atrocious DC United, it's the worst record in the league over that time. Of course the Caps have to at least try to make the playoffs, but I fear that the time and energy spent on erasing the flatline might be better spent on focusing on next year.
So what happened to the Caps and Quakes this year?
In the case of the Whitecaps, diagnosing their lack of success is a fair bit harder than last year. There's been no major mid-season tinkering, aside from the Rochat jettison. The Ousted acquisition didn't really upset the team… at least until he made the starting XI. Much electronic ink has been devoted to the glaring weaknesses the Caps have at midfield, particularly in their ability to support the attackers up front, and their ability to get and maintain possession. The Caps have been far too dependent on two key cogs for their offense: Camilo Sanvezzo and Kenny Miller, who have jointly potted 54% of the team's goals. For their part, San Jose have plummeted from first in 2012 to a sub .500 also-ran. Last year's Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowsi (27 G) is currently struggling to stay among the top-20 goal scorers this year. Fellow forwards Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart are also well off last year's pace. The 'Quakes divested themselves of long-serving coach Frank Yallop after 15 matches, following a brutal stretch that saw them win once in eleven tries. SJE have been better since then, but the damage had already been done.
What lineup should Rennie use?
Martin Rennie's a conservative through and through. Whether it's his dark three-piece ensemble on match day, his proclivity for late subs, or his frustrating insistence on playing for the draw. He's broken away from that mould only rarely, and with little success. With everything and more riding on the next match, we'll see the return to staid prudence. My guess is a 4-4-2 that looks like this: Ousted, Lee, O'Brien, Leveron, Harvey; Teibert, Reo-Coker, Koffie, Manneh; Miller, Camilo.
I'd prefer to see a return to the 4-3-3 that got the Caps decent success earlier. If they're going to go down, I'd rather see them do so swinging than going out with a whimper.
Prediction: 2:1 San Jose
Are the playoffs even possible?
Well there's no point trying to hide the truth any more is there? Win this weekend and maybe, just maybe the Whitecaps' playoff hopes will live on for another week. Lose and that will pretty much seal the deal and there won't be any MLS playoffs for the Whitecaps this season. Let's face it though; to make the playoffs now not only will the Caps have to go on a run of almost epic proportions, but they'll also have to reverse the woes that have bewitched the Whitecaps since they entered MLS. To make the playoffs now they will have to accomplish the following: win a MLS match in September (which will be tough because after the Quakes they face the Impact and then RSL), they'll have to win two Cascadia matches and they've only managed once since entering MLS and finally apart from San Jose they will have to beat teams that sit higher up the table. Impossible? No. Probable? Not likely considering this is a team that has failed to deliver so many times this season when they needed to come up big.
Where did both teams go wrong this season?
Both the Caps and the Quakes were expected to achieve much more this season than they have and Frank Yallop paid the price by losing his job as San Jose's coach. The Quakes who could score at will last season when they won the Supporter's Shield now have trouble scoring. Chris Wondolowski lead the league with 27 goals last season, but this year has only 8 goals to his credit. Alan Gordon and the pesky Steven Lenhart also have not produced as much as last year and that is one of the problems.
Vancouver's problems are, for me at any rate, tough to pin down. Here we are heading into the last half dozen games of the season and it seems that the starting XI is still a work in progress. it seems that we've evolved into a team that concedes the Goal of the Week (or season) on a weekly basis and our own goal scoring has dried up. Not only that, but they don't all quite seem to be on the same page as one another. We're going to have to turn this around this weekend to save our season.
What lineup should Rennie use?
The starting XI nowadays is anyone's guess, but I'll give it a shot:
Ousted * Harvey * Leveron * O'Brien * Lee * Koffie * Reo Coker * Watson * Teibert * Camilo * Miller
Prediction: I'd love to be positive and predict a resounding win for Vancouver, but I don't see it. I'm going to go with San Jose 2 - 1 Vancouver, but I really hope the ‘Caps prove me wrong.
Are the playoffs a realistic goal for the 'Caps?.
For the players and staff, yes. For us, the slightly more dispassionate observers, fans and supporters, no. I have to hope that, as members of a professional sports team, the players and staff will not stop fighting until they are mathematically eliminated. That's what they earn the big bucks - well, all right, just "bucks" I suppose in MLS. That said, I'm already looking back on my pre-season predictions and preparing to label the 2013 season a failure once - not if - the Whitecaps finish below the red line.
Where did San Jose go wrong this season?
Two words: Simon Dawkins. The Tottenham Hotspur attacking midfielder was the engine that drove Chris Wondolowski, Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart on to such dizzying performances. Without Dawkins on loan, San Jose has been completely toothless. For all their potential, Wondo and the "Bash Brothers" simply haven't been able to make things happen on their own. Goodness knows they're not holding their breath waiting for Marvin Chavez and/or Sam Cronin to miraculously dominate the midfield.
What should Rennie do this week?
There are two trains of thought on this one. You could either send out our "A"-squad in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-4 (since, let's face it, Rennie clearly has a copy of "Lump-It Longball" set as required reading for all players during training sessions) and go full track meet. After all, the season's pretty much done, right? What has he got to lose? On the other hand, if the season really is done and dusted, why not play the kids? Seriously, why not play Aminu Abdallah, Caleb Clarke, Bryce Alderson, Ben Fisk, Sam Adekugbe and Simon Thomas? It's the whole "first team minutes" tirade all over again; we didn't know Greg Klazura was unfit to wash Young-Pyo Lee's shoelaces until we actually played him a few times. Russell Teibert wasn't Davide Chiumiento incarnate until he was allowed meaningful first-team minutes to strut his stuff. Call me crazy (or worse; you probably have, haven't you), but I actually like option two: play the kids.
Lineup: (4-4-2) Thomas; Adekugbe, Leveron, Mitchell, Lee; Manneh, Alderson, Abdallah, Teibert; Clarke, Fisk.
Prediction: 2 - 2