1- The Vancouver Whitecaps won't look that good again all season.
2- Toronto FC won't look that bad again all season.
TFC proved me wrong with their games against DC and Seattle, but although they still haven't really progressed beyond baby steps down the road of Aron Winter's much vaunted new system (and no that's not another short joke about Joao Plata) they have usually been better than they were that day, at least at the defensive end of things. As for the Whitecaps, they've had other good moments, like that comeback from 3-0 down against Kansas City, and their season has been very inury riddled, but looking strictly at results, well they haven't won in MLS since that game, and came within an Ali Gerba header off the post of losing to Montreal in their semi final. So generally speaking, I still firmly stand behind that statement.
The upshot of all this is that what we have are two teams who are struggling with a third of their MLS season done and the playoffs looking harder and harder to reach, so it just makes these games this Wednesday and next all the more important. The winners get a trophy, national bragging rights and at least two more important games to look forward to, the losers get to spend the next 5 months with only the Gold Cup and World Cup Qualifying to distract from what will be in effect, pre-season 2012.
Alright, that last sentence might be a bit harsh, especially where the Whitecaps are concerned, as from what I've seen (about half their games) and read about them, they can genuinely be considered unlucky to have just 1 win and 8 points from their first 11 games. I find Vancouver quite entertaining to watch, they're a very direct side, in the best sense of the word. Whereas TFC often seem ponderous and slow, like a team that's still trying to learn a system it's not comfortable with and for the most part probably isn't skilled enough to play, Vancouver seem more energetic, instinctive and ready to attack.
They've got very good defenders in Jay DeMerit and Alain Rochat, a decent midfielder with less skill but twice the effort and enthusiasm of Julian de Guzman in Terry Dunfield, and a skillful, and very effective when he wants to be playmaker in Davide Chiumiento. If Eric Hassli is fit and has regained his early pre-multiple suspensions confidence and physicality, he's a very dangerous striker, and when you throw in young talent like Omar Salgado and TFC academy graduate Russell Teibert, it seems like they really should be better off than they are.
One of the reasons they've struggled is injuries, and when combined with Hassli's suspensions, their depth has really been tested. Things are improving for them in that regard though as Jay DeMerit has returned to action in the last week which is a huge bonus, and unless Maicon Santos is dramatically improved from his recent form, the US international should easily be able to handle him.
Vancouver also took the chance to rest some players over the weekend, Rochat, Dunfield, Chiumiento all missed the game against New England, as did Eric Hassli who is recovering from a hamstring injury. That's a sign of how seriously their coach Teitur Thordarsen is taking this tournament, and if those players can use that rest to play well against what must be a very fatigued TFC side then we could be in trouble.
Chiumiento in particular could be the crucial factor, he's played on both sides of the midfield for Vancouver this year, and I'm hoping he plays on the left side on Wednesday. Though any of our choices at Left Back, Danleigh Borman Mikael Yourassowsky or Dan Gargan, would be better than Adrian Cann, who Chiumiento had such an easy time against in the season opener, he could still have a field day against any of those players, especially Gargan if Borman and Yourassowsky are still out as I fear they will be.
Chiumiento on the right and Russell Tiebert on the left is one option for Vancouver, but I'm hoping that instead they go with Chiumiento on the left and Shea Salinas on the right. Salinas is still dangerous, but in a much more straight forward way that Gargan would have more of a chance against. What might cause that to happen is one of the few areas on the pitch where the matchup favours TFC, and that's Joao Plata at Left Wing against Jonathan Leathers. I can't imagine there's any way Aron Winter doesn't start Plata after his recent performances, and though in a way I hope the Whitecaps don't focus on him, he has quite obviously been the key to the TFC attack recently, so they may decide to go with a more defensively responsible choice in Left Midfield to help out Leathers, similar to how they did against Columbus and Robbie Rogers.
Whatever lineup Vancouver go with, TFC are going to need to be ready to play the full 90 minutes as many of Vancouver's best moments have come late in games, where they've scored a few memorable goals already this year. This will be TFC's 8th game in 26 days so that won't be easy, especially as most of the starters won't be as rested as the Whitecaps best players are.
The TFC lineup's getting easier to predict as aside from a couple of positions, Winter seems to be settled on what his first XI is, and I fully expect to see him put out his best side this week and next. I'd say barring injuries, 8 positions are certainties, Frei, Eckersley, Williams, Cann, De Guzman, Tchani, Peterson and Plata.
Left Back depends on if Danleigh Borman is back from his return to South Africa for personal reasons, or if Yourassowsky is healthy again, but I've got a feeling we'll be seeing Gargan again, which isn't ideal but I'm ok with, he had a decent game against Chicago. Up front are the other two question marks, I think if Alan Gordon is fit he should get the start, but I doubt he will be so it probably will be Maicon Santos again at Centre Forward. At Right Wing, Javier Martina's obviously more talented than Nick Soolsma, but Soolsma sems to play better with others, and hasn't really done anything to warrant losing his place so I think we'll be unchanged there as well. In fact, I think we'll have a fully unchanged starting lineup for the first time this season, looking like this.
Predition time, I think it'll be a close game, with Vancouver taking the game to Toronto, and TFC defending well, containing them and hitting them on the break. It'll be 1-1 at half time, Santos with the goal for TFC but it will end 2-1, Vancouver with a goal in the last 10 minutes to set up a very nervy game at BMO Field next week.