FOX Soccer Exclusive
Vancouver's gamble worth learning from
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER RESULTS
|Friday, September 28|
|Saturday, September 29|
|San Jose||3-3||FC Dallas|
|Chivas USA||0-4||Salt Lake|
|Sunday, September 30|
|More: Scores | Stats | MLS|
Vancouver Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie dared to do what few of his coaching compatriots would ever attempt: he ripped apart a likely playoff team in the middle of the season.
Established and occasionally inconsistent performers Davide Chiumiento, Eric Hassli and Sébastien Le Toux were shipped elsewhere in July to make way for a new and presumably more potent side fueled by Jamaican speedsters and Scottish veterans.
Since the previous group looked like a one-and-done playoff outfit even with a Jay Demerit-led defense and that postseason berth seemed all but assured with the other playoff contenders sputtering through the early summer, the wager appeared sound, if somewhat unorthodox.
And then the Whitecaps stopped winning.
From August 15 to September 15, the Whitecaps lost all five of their games. Heralded acquisitions Kenny Miller, Dane Richards and Barry Robson contributed to a revamped attack that produced just one goal during that stretch. Miller registered the lone tally, but he also came under severe criticism for reproducing his spotty Cardiff City form in his new surroundings and stopping electric rookie striker Darren Mattocks from starting every week. Rennie tinkered and tweaked his lineup to elicit a response that never arrived.
Instead of gearing up for a lengthy playoff run as Rennie expected, the Whitecaps are now fighting for their postseason lives with FC Dallas just two points behind heading into this weekend. A 2-2 home draw with Colorado partially stopped the rot last Sunday, but even that modest bit of progress involved conceding a late equalizer and exposing the Whitecaps' recurring inability to close out matches.
Fending off FCD's David Ferreira-inspired advances over the next few weeks will require all of the nous Miller, Robson and a host of other seasoned campaigners can supply. A favorable slate that includes three of the final four matches at B.C. Place should help matters, but another Cascadia derby stumble against Seattle in front of the nervous Whitecaps supporters on Saturday would make the subsequent home games against Chivas USA and Portland more tense than required.
No matter the final outcome, this poor stretch may dissuade any ambitious coaches from following Rennie's lead any time soon. The prospect of winning a championship always looms large for a coach, but the inherent risks of dissolving a fairly successful status quo may prove too great to bear in light of the Whitecaps' struggles.
CLEAR THE CALENDAR
Sporting Kansas City must find the right balance in this game in order to protect its tenuous perch atop the Eastern Conference. Opposing teams have succeeded at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park this season by soaking up pressure from the aggressive home side and striking on the counter when too many players push into the attacking half. Few, if any, teams in the league practice those two disciplines better than the Chicago Fire. Sporting must measure its attacking forays carefully or score early to draw the Fire out in order to increase its two-point lead at the top of the table.
Meanwhile, is FC Dallas’ best bet to wrest away the fifth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference at San Jose? Applying pressure to a Whitecaps side low on confidence, it will take a significant effort at Buck Shaw Stadium to secure the three points required to meet that goal this weekend. San Jose is just about locked into the top seed out West, but the Earthquakes still need points to claim the Supporters' Shield and they tend to show up regardless of the circumstances anyways. FCD must try to keep this game on the ground and use its numerical superiority in midfield to dictate the terms of the affair.
SET THE DVR
The glow from DC United's season-altering three-game winning streak may dissipate by the time Saturday night concludes. Ben Olsen's side remains comfortably mediocre on the road against the Portland Timbers and this task could flummox them. United's recent trend toward grinding out games instead of trying to play teams off the park may help, but the Timbers remain a frisky opponent in front of the Timbers Army and present a hurdle that might force an unexpected stumble.
PONDER ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS
Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear will expect his players to atone for an uncharacteristically flat 3-1 defeat at Philadelphia on Sunday against New England and maintain their unbeaten record at BBVA Compass Stadium. Expect them to produce the response necessary to fulfill that demand. New England has accumulated a rather peculiar record of success in this away fixture (4-1-1 at Houston all-time), but the Revs will struggle to continue that trend with a spate of injuries decimating the preferred starting XI.
Kyle McCarthy writes about the beautiful game for FOX Soccer, the Boston Herald and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @kylejmccarthy.