FC DALLAS vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
September 13th, 7:30pm at StubHub Centre (TSN2)
Dallas: 42pts (13W-9L-6D, 4th in Western Conference, 5th Overall)
Vancouver: 37pts (8W-6L-13D, 5th in Western Conference, 9th Overall)
Submitted for your consideration: one Carl Robinson. A former soccer player turned coach, he inherited the role of head coach after Martin Rennie was sacked following an inability to return to the playoffs or show signs of developing his youth prospects. Robinson committed to playing an attractive brand of soccer with smartly acquired high-end talent. Initially, things went very well - his young strikers were fast, threatening and scoring goals; his acquisitions proved to be effective without breaking the bank. One might be able to forgive Robinson for puffing his chest out with pride. But, as the saying goes, pride goeth before a fall...
I know, I know - we should all be flipping-out-positive over the 2-0 win from midweek. A win! Three points! A move above the red line! Yay! And sure, that's all well and good but let's be realistic: that was one match at home against weak opposition and - most crucially - neither goal came from the run of play. Pedro Morales bagged another penalty while Kendall Waston opened his account with a diving low header off a corner, which, again, is fantastic in a vacuum. Taken in the context of Darren Mattocks, Erik Hurtado and Sebastien Fernandez again failing to find the back of the net (and in some cases, the front), it is not a good sign before a difficult away match.
That's not a redundant statement, folks. Not only is this an away match, it's Vancouver's third match in eight days against an opponent above them in the Western Conference. Said opponent has talent, depth and recent form (a 10-game unbeaten streak followed by two losses). This kind of challenge is best faced by a team with all hands on deck in peak fitness. This kind of challenge is not best faced by a team with an impotent strike force and the impending loss of their star playmaker. Yes, according to Michael McColl's latest article for MLSSoccer.com, Carl Robinson is considering giving the Chilean maestro a break for the FC Dallas match. Whitecaps supporters may commence the wailing and gnashing of teeth.
...all right, that's annoying. Cease the wailing! De-gnash the teeth! Moving on.
Without Morales, Vancouver's task of breaking down the Dallas midfield and defense becomes immeasurably difficult. Mauro Rosales has proven to be an energetic and serviceable addition to the squad but his link play with the rest of the team hasn't yet arrived. If he does act as Morales Lite™, it's not going be anywhere nearly as effective as the real deal. Option #2 assuming Pedro does not start on Saturday is young Nicolas Mezquida, which is so depressing a thought we're not going to waste any time or space on it. Suffice to say without Morales, the offensive drive from the midfield will be severely hampered. We may be on the verge of a game of "bunkerball" if the alternative is pathetically underpowered attacking generation.
Still, if Robinson does decide to go all-defense, that's not a horrible thing. We've seen what Kendall Waston can do at both ends of the pitch and they're all positive; here's hoping he has the fitness to be an influence on the match for a full 90 minutes. Likewise, Matias Laba has been a solid midfield destroyer either alone or with a partner sitting just in front of the defense. If Laba is good to go, the defense gets another shot in the arm. Then comes the matter of slotting in the rest of the defensive options. Johnny Leveron? Andy O'Brien? Ethen Sampson? Christian Dean? Carlyle Mitchell? It'll all depend on who has the best combination of fitness and chemistry. Thankfully, it's not like there's a horrible pick in the bunch, Mitchell perhaps the only exception to that statement. Bunkerball isn't pretty but it may be the 'Caps best ticket to a point on Saturday.
A team with attacking prowess reduced to a bunkering, cowering shell of its former self. This is a world without Pedro Morales. For Carl Robinson, this is the nightmarish world he finds in... The Twilight Zone.
PREDICTION: 2-1 Dallas and a lawsuit from the Serling estate.