While the Montreal Impact were playing Club America in the CONCACAF Champions League final last Wednesday evening, to the largest crowd ever for a soccer game in Canada, FC Edmonton were dispatching Ottawa Fury FC 3-1 to move on to the semi-finals of the Amway Canadian Championship. We take this opportunity to explore what it will take for the Vancouver Whitecaps to see the same success as the Impact in their first experience with Champions League play and the first game of this year’s Voyageurs Cup.
Despite their pitiful showing in MLS play, the Montreal Impact were able to become the most successful MLS team in CONCACAF’s annual Champions League tournament, coming within 45 minutes of hoisting the title. Their success was a combination of luck and timely goals. If not for the controversial awarding of a penalty kick, in extra time, against FC Edmonton, the Impact would have been eliminated in the semi-final of the Canadian Championship. In the CONCACAF quarter-finals, a 94th minute goal by rookie Cameron Porter, allowed Montreal to advance to the semi-finals, while 2 away goals led to a finals berth. The Impact were also aided by scoring the first goal in 5 of their 6 playoff games, allowing for the control of early play. So, what can the Vancouver Whitecaps learn from Montreal’s run?
- To begin Montreal’s improbable run, it is important to note that they lost the first leg of the Voyageurs Cup in Edmonton; Vancouver’s pending opponent. While the Vancouver Whitecaps are expected to easily defeat the lower-tier club, FC Edmonton cannot be taken too lightly.
- The depth of the Whitecaps will be tested this season, and hopefully next, and relying mainly on Rivero to score will not translate to success in Champions League. This first match against FC Edmonton will be a great opportunity for players who do not see as much playing time during MLS play to step-up and show that they will be able to aid in scoring goals.
- No matter how better (or worse) the Whitecaps are than their opponent, several games, and possibly series, will be decided by a lucky bounce or timely play. The Whitecaps will need to be prepared to take advantage of those breaks and show resolve to overcome the breaks for their opponents.
There is little question that the Vancouver Whitecaps have their greatest depth and strongest team since joining MLS, and probably ever. In fact, they are so deep this season that Wednesday night will showcase players who have been instrumental in past seasons’ success but have had few opportunities to show their skills at the MLS level this season (I am looking at you Eric Hurtado). Given the emergence of the ThunderCaps, as an option for young players, expect to see a mixture of youth and experience Wednesday evening at Clarke Stadium. I will direct you to this, for lineup and score predictions, but leave you with this: What are your expectations for these additional games? Is this just an opportunity for players to get experience and playing time and the outcome does not matter (a la ThunderCaps games) or are fans expecting the Whitecaps to be competitive in Voyageurs Cup and Champions League play? More to the point, what are you willing to risk/sacrifice? The Whitecaps could put their best XI on the field but that means risking injury to key players and exhaustion for stretches with many games (e.g., August).