VANCOUVER WHITECAPS vs. REAL SALT LAKE
September 27th, 4:00pm at BC Place (TSN2, GOLTV)
Salt Lake: 49pts (13W-6L-10D, 3rd in Western Conference, 3rd Overall)
Vancouver: 37pts (8W-8L-13D, 6th in Western Conference, 13th Overall)
Let's dredge up some unpleasant memories, shall we? Specifically, memories from a very similar match from one year ago. On that disastrous day, a Real Salt Lake reserve squad sauntered into BC Place, punished an over-aggressive 'Caps defensive line with an early goal and rode the rest of the game out on the counter-attack. I said this at the time:
...it was undeniably a "B"-team that took to the field tonight and went home 1-0 winners against what was arguably Vancouver's best available eleven. ProTip™: "B"-teams should not walk into enemy territory on a league match day and casually walk out with a 1-0 victory. Ever.
On the positive side, that match was nearly a lifetime ago In football terms. Nigel Reo-Coker, Jay DeMerit and Jun Marques Davidson are no longer with Vancouver. Carlyle Mitchell is permanently riding the bench, assuming he's fortunate enough to even make the game-day eighteen. More crucially, Martin Rennie is long gone. This should be, by all accounts, a vastly improved Vancouver side that faces off against Jeff Cassar and the Real Salt Lake machine.
Have we seen any sign that the players and/or coaches know how to properly adapt to an opponent that's figured them out? Have we seen any sign that RSL's trademark 4-4-2 narrow diamond is any less deadly despite changing coaches and no small number of players in the off-season? More crucially have we seen any sign that the 'Caps can handle a lesser opponent if, as is being suggested in an MLSSocccer.com article by Scott Pierce, the RSL "B"-team makes another appearance?
Almost exactly a year ago, then-coach Jason Kreis rested most of his starters and took what was essentially a B-team to Vancouver and eked out a 1-0 win. [Current RSL head coach Jeff] Cassar hinted that he might do something similar on Saturday. "We need a result. We're going to put the best team out there that we feel is going to give us a result," he said. "But at the same time, we have to be smart, since we're getting toward the end of the year. But I feel very confident in the team that we're going to be put on the field."
I was already bracing myself for a bad day at the office when I chose a match against RSL in my five-pack of tickets. Now, I'm feeling conflicted. I don't want to feel like this match is in the bag, since losing to RSL's reserves again is just too depressing to even contemplate - assuming Cassar is telling the truth and he is sending less than a full-strength side. At the same time, if Cassar isn't lying and a rotated squad makes the trek past the 49th parallel, I want to have confidence in the Whitecaps' ability to punish an underpowered squad. An RSL side missing any combination of Alvaro Saborio, Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman, Chris Schuler and Nick Rimando should be beatable.
But enough about the opposition - let's look at the home side. Hey, remember how that Portland game was "must-win" on a number of fronts, not the least of which was easing up the pressure to notch a win against RSL? Well, here we are, folks. I'll let Carl Robinson summarize the situation, as he did in a recent Michael McColl article:
"We didn't go down fighting the way I would have liked us to go down fighting," Robinson told reporters. "What I will do is to make sure that this team is ready to go on Saturday [against Real Salt Lake]. We have five games left. We're only two points behind. We've got to turn it into five cup finals.
Nobody tell Robinson the 'Caps have yet to win a cup final in their MLS incarnation. Best case scenario, they'll lose out on a playoff berth on away goals. (Too soon?)
But seriously, it's been an interesting read on the mental state of the 'Caps this past week, both in the admission of a lack of striker depth and the players coming to the defense of their head coach. The former all but assures there will be a search for a quality finisher in the off-season (can Robinson use his Midas touch to find another Morales-calibre No.9?) and at least one MLS-proven forward to come off the bench as needed. The latter tells us there is a combination of frustration and motivation on both sides of the sideline - Robinson has done everything he can, including shoulder the bulk of the blame, and still can't get a result out of his players; the players are defending their coach and (rightly) taking some of the blame back, yet still can't reward him with crucial points. You'd think that would be a perfect storm when it comes to the Whitecaps snapping out of their funk and rampaging over what may be a less-than-perfect RSL side. You'd think this signals the long-awaited awakening of Vancouver's potential to blaze a path to victory.
Damn you, Inigo Montoya.
PREDICTION: 1-0 Real Salt Lake and a bevy of phone calls placed to soccer agents in Europe.
<div class="fb-like-box" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/86forever" data-colorscheme="light" data-show-faces="true" data-header="true" data-stream="false" data-show-border="true"></div>