The Vancouver Whitecaps will attempt to end their season the same way they began it with a win at home in front of their supporters. They take on the 2010 defending champion in the Colorado Rapids who earlier in the season defeated the Caps at home by a score of 2-1.
The only player, other than the third string goalie, on the MLS roster to not see a minute Phil Davies has been part of a twitter campaign by the Southsiders to see him get playing time. His strengths are his passing in an attacking role in the middle of the pitch and his inclusion in the line-up could have an intangible impact on this match.
With a down year from Cummings and a season ending injury to Casey, the Rapids have been helped by an increase in offensive output by midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. He has played in all but 9 minutes of the regular season for the Rapids and the Caps will have to be weary of his shots from long range.
With Mitchell potentially available to return to the line-up, Alain Rochat will line up at left back which help with the Caps offensively and defensively. The Swiss international is more important to the Caps when he has the freedom to move forward in the attack.
With their offensive struggles the Rapids have used defender Drew Moor in an attacking role in order to find goals. The left back, who can also play centrally on the backline, is in the club’s top five for goals and attempted shots.
WHO’S ON FORM
After finally getting an opportunity to see more playing time Long Tan has made an impact by bringing needed energy to the club’s attack. He will make his ninth straight appearance against the Rapids, whether he starts or subs off the bench, as he looks to secure a more prominent role for next season.
When Casey was declared out for the season Sanna Nyassi was moved up front and had an instant impact for the Rapids. In his ten starts since taking over as striker the Gambian international and former Cap, picked and traded at expansion draft, has five goals and three assists.
9th in Western Conference
Last Game: 2-0 Loss vs FC Dallas
5th in Western Conference
Last Game: 0-0 Draw vs Real Salt Lake
OUT: FW Atiba Harris (knee), GK Brian Sylvestre (knee), MF Russell Teibert (toe), DF Jonathan Leathers (hamstring)
PROBABLE: MF John Thorrington (groin)
QUESTIONABLE: MF Pablo Mastroeni (concussion), MF Jamie Smith (hamstring/calf)
PROBABLE: GK Matt Pickens (groin)
It has been a tough season for the Whitecaps as what started with so much promise, a 4-2 home win over TFC, ends with no playoffs and no trophies. A small consolation that can be accomplished with a win is going over the thirty point barrier which seemed unlikely at the beginning of October. The club is looking to end strong as they could win three of their last four since their low point of losing the home opener to the Timbers.
The Rapids come into this game trying to lock up a home match in the wildcard round of the playoffs as they are tied with two other teams. It’s a quick turnaround for them as they played and lost a CONCACAF champions league match in Mexico eliminating them from further competition. They rested several starters for the match especially their striking pair of Nyassi and Cummings who most likely start against Vancouver.
While Cummings has struggled to score this season, going from 14 goals last year to 3 goals, he still should be considered a danger to score. Both starting strikers have incredible pace and are capable of beating offside traps as they are serviced by a strong midfield. Led by their MVP Jeff Larentowicz, Colorado’s midfield is capable of scoring from anywhere in the final third and can’t be given space. Their backline are led by Marvell Wynne and Drew Moor as they play in front of underrated goalkeeper Matt Pickens.
The Whitecaps will most likely go with a similar line-up that won them matches against Real Salt Lake and DC United. Joe Cannon will get another start in goal playing in front of Demerit and Mitchell, who returns from a minor injury, while Rochat and Brovsky start at full back. The chemistry between Camilo and Long Tan should be on display once again at BC place allowing Hassli to come off the bench. The only assured starter in the midfield is Gershon Koffie as his partner could be Thorrington, Vagenas or fan favourite Phil Davies. One of the wingers should be Nizar Khalfan while the left side could be patrolled by Shea Salinas, Michael Nanchoff or converted fullback Jordan Harvey.
When this line-up played in their two wins, the attack came from balls being crossed into the box by the wingers and fullbacks. Colorado’s main strength defensively is down the middle so attacking their width would be ideal to start with. Similar to their two recent wins the Caps would be able to stretch the backline allowing more space in the middle for Camilo and Tan to make their runs at defenders. The backline must respect the speed of Cummings and Nyassi as well as long distance shooting of the midfielders which means that the midfielders will have to track back regularly to clog up the middle of the pitch.
There will be plenty of time in the offseason to question the decisions made by the organization and contemplate what went wrong. The Whitecaps have an opportunity to send their supporters into the offseason with three points in the final match. It won’t make people forget how disappointing the 2011 season was but it could mask the problems of their expansion season as they transition to a new coach and a new direction.