LA GALAXY vs. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC
June 6th, 7:30pm at StubHub Centre (TSN2, MLS Live)
Vancouver: 23pts (7W-6L-2D, 2nd in Western Conference, 3rd Overall)
Los Angeles: 21pts (5W-4L-6D, 5th in Western Conference, 7th Overall)
Hi, my name is Rituro.
Yeah, so, I saw this Vancouver Whitecaps-Montreal Impact match three days before the 'Caps play against the reigning MLS Cup champs, the LA Galaxy, this Saturday night at the StubHub Centre. I'm sure we've all got some questions that need answers, namely "what is Carl Robinson's master plan". A commenter suggested it was some form of squad rotation designed to get three points from a superior opponent. We'll see about that; conventional wisdom suggests you min-max to take three points from the weaker opponent and bunker in against the stronger opponent for a draw... eh, whatever, it's a beautiful day! Let's speculate.
I woke up Thursday morning, put the Vancouver Sun's sports page in front of my eyes and saw Russell Berrisford lay into the 'Caps; in short, he was not feeling nice. His review of the players gave the knife a twist: Tim Parker, Diego Rodriguez, Russell Teibert, Kekuta Manneh, Darren Mattocks, Nicolas Mezquida... all six of the changes from the Real Salt Lake match were held up as being anonymous, ineffective or - at worst - incompetent. It's hard not to agree with Mr. Soccer Shorts on those points; of those six players, did anyone stand out for the right reasons (Teibert's hair notwithstanding)? Certainly not on the backline, where a sluggish response to a set piece caused the first goal and a galling brain cramp by the defenders gave the Impact their game-winner only moments after Pedro Morales scored(!) from the penalty spot(!!). I've been increasingly unhappy with the way the once-mighty depth (or so they were proclaimed at the outset of the season) of this team has been slowly revealed to be anything but. This was a side that needed to be layers-deep to handle three concurrent competitions: Major League Soccer, the Voyageurs Cup and CONCACAF Champions League. Instead, we're seeing poor team chemistry resulting in players being dragged onto the pitch and having the gameplan explained to them on the way. As a result, they did practically nothing that day in Quebec.
So I say: what the hell are we thinking, winning in LA for point 26? Look, I've got the fever for the flavour - the payback will be later when the Whitecaps and Impact meet in the final legs of the Voyageurs Cup - but this team needs a fix.
For starters, pick some starters and stick with them. Depth means nothing if the so-called "A-Team" can't consistently be counted on to get the job done. Look at the teams surrounding Vancouver in the logjam that is the Western Conference: Seattle Sounders FC (26pts) have Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins up front, Marco Pappa, Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda in the midfield, and Brad Evans, Tyrone Mears and Chad Marshall at the back. Add in a rotating cast in the remaining spots and you still have eight of ten field players consistently playing with each other in league matches. Go down the table and the story is similar:
- FC Dallas (21pts): Fabian Castillo and Blas Perez; Victor Ulloa, Ryan Hollingshead, Mauro Diaz and Je-Vaughn Watson; Matt Hedges, Moises Hernandez and Zach Loyd.
- Sporting Kansas City (21pts): Dom Dwyer and Krisztian Nemeth; Benny Feilhaber, Roger Espinoza and Graham Zusi; Matt Besler and Jalil Anibaba.
- LA Galaxy (21pts): Gyasi Zardes; Baggio Husidic, Juninho, Stefan Ishizaki and Robbie Rogers; Omar Gonzalez, Dan Gargan and Leonardo.
All of these players, barring injuries, are regular or near-regular starters for their respective teams and have a healthy number of minutes spent with each other to build that strong chemistry. Meanwhile, the Vancouver lineup is chopped and changed with enough frequency to limit any strong teambuilding that can occur. Yes, Kendall Waston and David Ousted have played every minute of every league match this season so far, with Octavio Rivero, Pedro Morales, Matias Laba, Steven Beitashour and Pa-Modou Kah a little behind them. After that, the drop-off is shocking: more than 250 minutes separate Kekuta Manneh and Russell Teibert from Beitashour, more than 350 for Jordan Harvey, more than 450 for Gershon Koffie and Darren Mattocks... and on it goes. Spreading minutes around is great for development, yes. For getting results against teams you should really be getting results against (i.e., Montreal)? Not so much. Now, having squandered even a single point, the wags at MLSSoccer.com are laughing at our 'Caps as they ride down the power rankings and the league table again, flaring out their early promise as they slip further down and down. It would be kinda groovy if Robbo played Carducci, Hurtado, Earnshaw and friends and build two different starting elevens for situations like this... (yeah, right...)
...but that ain't happening. Those players could see absolutely bupkis this year for league minutes, so I say: what the hell are we thinking, winning in LA for point 26?
Well, with the right kind of planning, this match can be Vancouver's for the taking. Do they wise up and take it quick? They won one time at BC Place; now, they're at a place where people want to hurt their playoff chances while others are already looking past this match, saying Vancouver's not worth the fuss. Considering Vancouver's form and their third-game-in-eight-days level of fatigue, there's a sad amount of truth to that; however, there's also a fine line between the winners and losers and this league (parity!). A good team can turn in a stinker of a performance. A bad team can put on a clinic against all odds. I know what you're thinking: "Can that get done, son?"
Two things: first, international call-ups have hindered LA far worse than Vancouver. Losing Gyasi Zardes and Jamie Penedo isn't nothing for the Galaxy; it's not the end of the world either, but that's two key players gone. Sure, that means the Galaxy's attacking duo is "only" Alan Gordon and Robbie Keane (oh dear) but it also means you have a goalkeeper in Brian Rowe who has all of 900 minutes of first-team experience spanning his four-year MLS career, in which he's posted a 74.36% save percentage with a 1.00 GAA. Thus, it may be a better play to fight the temptation to bunker in hard and go for a more aggressive counter-attacking formation. Again - this is an LA team whose starters you can all-but-guarantee from week to week. They will find a way to pass the ball around and break down a static defense.
Second, Ricardo Salazar is the referee. Fans of horrible refereeing and the unpredictability that comes with it, hold on to your hats!
Well, we've found a conclusion. And I guess that's something. So I ask you: what the hell are we thinking, winning in LA for point 26? I've got the fever for a winner, but that match will be later. Still, we need a fix - ask me Monday and maybe we'll think one up.
PREDICTION: 2-0, L-A; 2-0, L-A. And I ask you - what the hell are we thinking, winning in LA?
(Incidentally, if you can think of a more Canadian way to write a soccer article than to the tune of a Bran Van 3000 song, I'd like to know about it.)