This weekend marks the return of one of the most loathed MLS clubs to Vancouver when the Caps host FC Dallas at BC Place this Sunday (2pm TSN, Team 1410) in the first of two scheduled home matches against the Hoops.
Only two points separate these clubs in the MLS Western Conference standings and at the very least a victory this weekend would see the Vancouver Whitecaps bypass the Hoops in the standings. Where these two teams will end up in the table once all the matches have been played remains to be seen, but in theory (and yes, I do know in theory communism works, but hear me out) a win could see the Whitecaps in third position by the end of the weekend.
After losing only one of their first seven matches, FC Dallas then went on an eight-game winless run. Dallas had to deal with a spate of injury and suspension issues during that stretch, and have emerged on the other side to enjoy a run of good results. In their previous five matches Dallas is W3-L0-D2, which is better than the Whitecaps' record of W1-L2-D2 over the same period.
While many a Vancouver fan has been bemoaning the fact that the Caps have been dropping way too many points against Western conference rivals, it is interesting to note out of the Caps' 15 remaining regular season matches, all but three are against conference foes. The Whitecaps have already dropped points against teams like Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA and the Seattle Sounders, but the inter-conference matches will have added significance and importance starting in a few weeks time. Lose or draw too many matches after the middle of August, and the Caps could start to fade out of the playoff race. The Caps, of course, could get ahead of the game by beating Dallas this weekend.
As I mentioned a little earlier, FC Dallas has been, well maybe not a hot streak, but their recent form has been better than Vancouver's. While it was no real feat that the Hoops beat the hapless New England Revolution last weekend, it was lauded by many in Dallas as not only the best performance of the season, but also the most "complete team performance" of 2014. Andrés Escobar and Tesho Akindele scored for the Hoops and goalkeeper Raul Fernandez posted his first clean sheet of the season. Blas Pérez and Zach Loyd also had solid outings, and Lloyd in particular earned the praise of Dallas head coach, Oscar Pereja, who said that the match was "Zach Loyd at his best." Add all these factors together and it has to be a concern to the Whitecaps.
What do the Whitecaps have to do in order to secure the points? For one thing, they will have to play a complete 90 minutes. How many times have we seen it this season (cough cough LA Galaxy away) when they've played well and held their opponent in check only lose their collective concentration for the briefest of moments and be punished for it.
The defense seems to have adopted a bend-but-don't-break approach in recent weeks, but despite the chaos and fire drill-like start to the game against RSL last week, they did not concede a goal until late in the match when they suddenly lost their shape at the back. Joao Plata was given acres and acres of space by Steven Beitashour and made the Caps pay dearly for their mistake. On the flip side Johnny Leverón, who was named to the MLS Starting XI last week, seems to get better each week and has been playing well alongside Carlyle Mitchell.
Whitecaps coach, Carl Robinson, has shown striker Erik Hurtado a great deal of faith this season, and Robbo had his faith repaid when Hurtado scored five goals in five games in all competitions. Since the World Cup break the goals have dried up, and while it isn't realistic to expect Hurtado to score every match, it's not outrageous to expect him to have scored at least one goal since the season resumed at the end of June. It isn't completely fair to lay all the expectations at Hurtado's feet since several of his team mates have failed to put the ball in the back of the net despite having plenty of opportunities to do so in recent games.
The good news is that this weekend Robbo will have his regulars to call upon to start this match. With three matches in the space of a week, it was no surprise that squad rotation was going to be a factor, but this writer was surprised that the team that took to the field against RSL saw six changes to the squad that faced Toronto FC only a few days earlier. Pedro Morales, Matías Laba and Hurtado all started the match on the bench, so hopefully they have recovered after that long, tough week.
My keys to the match: The Whitecaps have to collectively concentrate and put in a full 90 minutes. Also, they will need good performances at both ends of the pitch because goal scoring has become an issue in recent times and we can no longer expect to try and score our way out of trouble. Keep it tight at the back, and make the most of the opportunities in front of the opponent's goal.
Oh yeah, and let's win this one for Jay. He's given a lot to this club and to this community, so let's go out there and give a performance that he would be proud of.
Predicted score: Vancouver Whitecaps 2 - 1 FC Dallas
Now it's your turn. If you have something you would like to add to the discussion then please leave a comment in the section below.
@86forever – for the latest Whitecaps FC news and updates brought to you from the Heart of Cascadia!