As we enter the last half dozen matches in the 2013 season the Whitecaps find themselves in "must win" territory as they are now sitting five points adrift of the Portland Timbers, who currently occupy the fifth and final Western Conference playoff berth. Although the Whitecaps have suffered a poor run of results this past month, the season - and their playoff hopes - are still very much alive.
While many were disappointed that the Whitecaps only brought a single point back from the match against the San Jose Earthquakes last weekend, it was a promising road performance from a team that has often found ways not to win away from home. The Whitecaps will look to build on last week's performance and take advantage of the Montreal Impact, who themselves just returned home from a dire midweek loss to the 'Quakes in the CONCACAF Champions League.
So what will it take for the Whitecaps to bring home all three points from Montreal? First of all, the Caps will have to find a way to start scoring. After the shaky start to the season, the Whitecaps rolled into summer and went on a run where strikers Camilo Sanvezzo and Kenny Miller could almost score at will. Recently the goals have been harder to come by, and as a team the Whitecaps have only scored three goals in their last five matches. Whitecaps manager Martin Rennie will also have to try to find a way for Russell Teibert to contribute to the attack this weekend. Teibert was a last-minute scratch in San Jose due to illness, and Rennie will hope that Teibert can recapture his pre-Gold Cup form and contribute to the Whitecaps attack as he did so effectively earlier this season.
Another issue is who we will see on Saturday starting in defense for the Caps. Last week Andy O'Brien and Johnny Leverón picked up injuries in training and did not even travel to California for the San Jose game. Come game time, the only defensive substitute on the bench for Rennie was Jay DeMerit, who has been out for the majority of the season after he tore his Achilles tendon in the first few minutes of the season opener. As it turned out, Rennie was forced to throw DeMerit into the match when Brad Rusin, who was playing his first game since Portland on August 3rd, re-injured his ankle in the 30th minute. DeMerit came into the game and was a key figure for the Whitecaps in helping goalkeeper David Ousted keep a clean sheet. With goals in short supply these days, the defense will have to do their part to keep Montreal off the scoreboard tomorrow.
We are all, by now, well used to the fact that the venerable Young-Pyo Lee has not played or started many road games in what will most likely his last season as a professional footballer. If Lee is able to start on Saturday, then Rennie will be able to keep Nigel Reo-Coker in his most effective position in the heart of the Whitecaps midfield. Jun Marques Davidson returned to the starting XI last week for the first time since July 27th when he was sent off for head butting Keon Daniel in the 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union. Davidson had one of his better outings of the season last weekend, and could well make a return to the starting line up this weekend as well. Who will Rennie play in the midfield? Will it be Watson, Koffie or Kobayashi? Rennie's lineups are often hard to predict, but his midfield will largely be influenced by his philosophy for the match. Kobayashi was in the starting XI two weeks ago and scored the lone goal in the 3-1 loss to FC Dallas, but was on the substitutes bench last week. Watson has played well when Rennie has played him this season. The Caps will have to score goals this weekend, and the midfield will play a crucial role in providing the forwards with quality service.
Finally, many questions were asked this week about Rennie's substitutions (or lack thereof) in recent weeks. Rennie's recent decisions to make substitutions so close to full time have led many to question why substitutions have been made when there is not much time for them to make an impact on the game. The one exception is the late introduction of Tommy Heinemann in the Chivas match when he scored in injury time to salvage an important point for the Caps.
Much has been said over the past few weeks about the Whitecaps playoff aspirations. While there are still 18 points up for grabs, the Caps will have to take them away from teams that all sit higher in the standings than they are. The Caps may still mathematically be in the playoff hunt, but with each loss and draw they slowly are losing ground on the leading pack, and a loss this weekend would be devastating for their playoff dream. It all boils down to this - just win, baby.
Predicted starting XI: Ousted * Harvey * Mitchell * DeMerit * Lee * Davidson * Koffie * Reo-Coker * Teibert * Manneh * Miller
Predicted score: Montreal 1 - 1 Vancouver
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