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Know Your Enemy: Vancouver Whitecaps - Meeting The Third.

Robson and Mattocks. Two players that TFC will have to pay a lot more attention to this time around.
Robson and Mattocks. Two players that TFC will have to pay a lot more attention to this time around.

The lone league match on Wednesday night, running concurrently with the US Open Cup semifinals pits Toronto FC against cross-continental foes Vancouver Whitecaps.

Questions regarding why MLS sees fit to schedule these headline Canadian matches at such difficult times - recall Toronto's final visit to Montreal also fell midweek and this match will air at 4 pm Vancouver time - and the importance of picking up points aside, this will be a contest for pride to both clubs.

Toronto, reeling from a despondent showing in Philadelphia on the weekend, are still searching for the consistency under Paul Mariner that will see them climb out of the league basement and mount those first steps towards respectability.

Vancouver, though currently well-positioned in the league, have begun an important stretch that could determine the success of their season; this will be their third match in a week, and the third in a run of seven matches in twenty-three days, including important matches against Western rivals Los Angeles and San Jose, culminating in a Friday night fixture in Salt Lake at the end of the month. Not to mention how disappointed they were in the lacklustre performances that saw them drop another Voyageur's Cup to Toronto. Revenge is on the mind.

Coach Martin Rennie has kept his side ticking over, and much of what was written in the last two previews still rings true - Meeting the First and Meeting the Second.

That being said, there are enough changes that further investigation is required.

Recent Form

In the six weeks since the two sides last met in the Canadian Championship, Vancouver has played seven league matches, tallying three wins, three draws and a single loss.

A late 1-1 draw in Portland with Darren Mattocks scoring the equalizer, latching onto an Eric Hassli flick, chesting it down, and lashing it past Troy Perkins in the Timbers goal, saw them enter the International break on a high.

They were one of the few clubs to see action over the break, hosting a sluggish, under-strength Houston, shorn of their internationals - Geoff Cameron, Andre Hainault, Jermaine Taylor, and Je-Vaughan Watson - and rolling to a 3-1 victory. Mattocks again proved decisive, scoring four minutes in and again after sixty-six, before Mac Kandji scrapped one back in the final ten. Jordan Harvey reinstated the two-goal lead two minutes from time.

Gershon Koffie proved himself a passing maestro that night, setting up Mattocks with a through-ball and Harvey after stripping Bobby Boswell on the right-touchline and sending a wonderful cross to the back-post.

As the rest of league play resumed Vancouver hosted Colorado running out as 1-0 winners. The two exchanged half-chances, before the match turned with a red card. Mattocks received two bookings in the space of a minute, first for diving and then for coming through on Drew Moor as he cleared his lines deep on the right-side.

A rush of blood from the youngster and Vancouver were down to ten men. Despite the numerical disparity, the match continued evenly for the next twenty minutes, the better of the chances in fact falling to Vancouver.

In the eightieth, Davide Chiumiento turned infield from his position on the left-flank, floated a long ball over the back-line and into the path of Sebastien Le Toux attacking the back-post. The Frenchman stretched to get a boot on the pass, redirecting it pass Matt Pickens in the Colorado goal, giving Vancouver the lead.

Try though they might, Colorado, through a combination of wasted chances, staunch defending and twice striking the woodwork, could not find the back of the net and the score held.

A 1-1 draw with New York four days later was an unadventurous affair, the two sides exchanging headed goals by centre-backs - Martin Bonjour and Heath Pearce - Vancouver from a corner kick and New York from a short corner routine, curled in by Joel Lindpere.

Three days later the Whitecaps put in their worst performance since the 4-1 defeat at New England leading into the Voyageurs Cup final, falling 3-0 at Los Angeles to a resurgent Galaxy side. Virtually played off the pitch in the first half, conceding goals to Mike Magee, Robbie Keane, and Landon Donovan from the spot, Vancouver was lucky to not be trailing by more.

Post-match Rennie accused his side of being star-struck against the celebrity-laden opponents, his frustration brought about an interesting tactical change with Barry Robson eligible for selection following the opening of the summer transfer window, but more on that later.

Eleven days on, a rematch against Colorado against not only the altitude, but also the heat wave that has gripped the continent of late and nearby forest fires further heavying the air with smoke.

Vancouver was thoroughly outplayed - out-possessed, out-shot, out-chanced - but once again they secured a 0-1 win via another Mattocks strike, seizing advantage of a series of mistakes by the Colorado back-line.

A Harvey cross from the right went unpressured; it skipped past Marvell Wynne, and bounced off Moor, falling kindly for Mattocks to react quickest and fire low across the keeper into the right side-netting.

Robson made his debut that night, as did a new formation and once again Vancouver showed the fortitude of winning when they were not at their best that is often the trademark of championship sides.

And finally, their most recent match, a dour 0-0 draw in LA against Chivas on the weekend, devoid of any real chances - aside from a Alain Rochat-through-ball to Chiumiento that the midfielder skied over the bar from inside the box and few moments of pressure applied by the Ameri-Goats attacking assets that came to naught.

Projected Lineup

The previously mentioned formational change, whether precipitated by the dismantling in LA or as a means to work Robson into the eleven, has proven sturdy in light of the recent difficult stretch of matches.

This stretch of the season for all MLS clubs, with heat and travel, can be very difficult. Squad depth, rotation, and the ability to conserve energy by keeping a match tight can be very important.

Eric Hassli will be unavailable having received his fifth yellow card for an innocuous play against Chivas that will see him serve a one-match suspension for caution accumulation.

Vancouver has switched in recent matches from the 4-3-3 that had served them so well since the beginning of the season to a 4-2-3-1.

The projected lineup for Wednesday is as follows: Joe Cannon in goal; from right to left - YP Lee, Bonjour, club Captain Jay DeMerit and Harvey across the back; Koffie and Rochat sitting in the midfield with Robson, Le Toux, and Chiumiento across the top; and Mattocks - fresh off serving a suspension last match - as the lone forward.

football formations

Jun Marques Davidson could take one of the sitting roles in midfield, most likely for Rochat, as a more defensive-minded anchor, and Camilo, relegated to a substitute's role in recent matches, could feature either at the top or left of the formation - especially if Rennie deems Mattocks' pace to be a weapon best held in reserve for later in the match, once tired legs have taken hold - but other options are limited given Hassli's suspension and long-term injuries to Atiba Harris, Omar Salgado and knocks to John Thorrington and Matt Watson.

It is entirely possible that having gone the full ninety last match Robson may be rested; especially given he is still acclimating to the travel and temperature of MLS.

Surprise starter in the first Voyageurs Cup meeting, Etienne Barbara, has been absent from the matchday eighteen for some time now, while youngsters Russell Teibert, Michael Nanchoff, Greg Klazura and Carlyle Mitchell, have only seen limited action all season.

Last Meeting(s)

Vancouver were disappointingly lifeless against a struggling Toronto in the two legs of the Voyageurs Cup final.

But for a stoppage time wonder-strike from Hassli to tie the match 1-1, Toronto would have left the away leg with a one-goal advantage after Ryan Johnson's header from a Julian de Guzman cross nestled satisfyingly in the Vancouver net.

Carrying an away-goal advantage into the second leg, Toronto held firm in a combative match that saw a player from each side - de Guzman and Le Toux - dismissed around the hour mark, following a clash between Le Toux, Morgan, Davidson, and de Guzman.

Even though the tie was delicately balanced and a single goal would have put them in control, Vancouver mounted little attack to threaten the Toronto goal.

Toronto chances began to come with regularity - Nick Soolsma had the ball in the back of the net redirecting a right-sided Richard Eckersley cross past Cannon, but was ruled offside.

Reggie Lambe scored the lone goal in the eighty-third minute, assuring TFC of the result. A left-sided Johnson cross was knocked down to Lambe by Soolsma at the top of the box, who stepped to the right and lashed a low shot across the goal to the bottom corner.

Rennie saw fit to call into question the birthplace of the referee, before admitting that his side was not at their best over the two legs.

A stifling, defensive, and disciplined display from Toronto saw them progress 2-1 on aggregate, to hoist the trophy and earn the right to represent Canada in this year's edition of the CONCACAF Champions League.

Of particular interest will be the meetings - either on or off the pitch - between de Guzman, Le Toux, and Davidson. It does not need recalling, but Davidson's flop after Julian flicked his cheek, was epic and roundly poked fun at by many circles of North American sports media.

Bullet Points

Vancouver will be coming into town looking for revenge - much of the pre-match chatter has revolved around their disappointment at their last visit and how Toronto has been a tough place for them to play.

Good results aside, several concerns have popped up over recent matches - some old and some new.

The normally consistent Cannon has shown some weakness in keeping a hold of low rasping or bouncing shots - in the second match against Colorado, Conor Casey drove a low, speculative shot to the near-post, that Cannon spilled for a corner kick, while against Chivas, a bouncing free kick from Juan Pablo Angel handcuffed him as well, leading to a goal-scoring opportunity and another corner kick.

Bonjour still likes to dive in heavily on occasion - actually, whenever he can - as he did on Paulo Cardozo, bringing about the troublesome free kick described above.

The usually impressive DeMerit can be taken advantage of if he is forced to defend in the wide positions by a team quick in transition, catching the full-backs in advanced positions, as he was in Columbus, Portland, and Colorado. Here Aaron Schoenfeld simply muscles by him near the touchline at Crew Stadium, as Jorge Perlaza and Brian Mullan did in subsequent matches.

Vancouver still tends to allow far too much time for shots in the space above the eighteen yard box. Colorado's Edu was allowed to cut across Bonjour and lash a shot as though the big Argentine defender wasn't even there, while Brian Mullan was granted acres of space for his attempt.

Defensive marking, particularly the tracking of diagonal runs, has been woeful at times - look how open Ben Zemanski gets at the end of the Chivas match attacking the near-post with both Bonjour and Koffie choosing to not track his movement.

Going forward, their left-side is far more complex than the right - Chiumiento, when stationed wide left, tends to tuck in-field and stay deep, necessitating the full-back behind him, Harvey, to constantly get forward to provide width.

In general, the new formation is very narrow through the midfield and in attack. Robson on the right, like Chiumiento, tends to move in-ward, though he is capable of attempts from long-range. There is plenty of space to be exploited by opposition full-backs, who can get up a run of steam before running into any defensive obstacles.

Perhaps the most unexpected consequence of the formation shift was how fine of a passer Rochat can be. Stationed in a more central role, his ability to pick cross-field balls and poke through-balls has been a pleasant surprise for Whitecaps fans.

Toronto, it should go without saying, must show more fight than they did in Philadelphia. Of some comfort to a weary club is that Vancouver is forced to make the mind-bending flight across the continent, after spending a week away from home with draining matches in the heat of Colorado and Los Angeles.

The TFC back-line was absolutely picked to pieces, ripped apart by dashing runs and slicing passes last match. Vancouver is a side equally adept to Philly at such a method of play, but have struggled to show their full potential. Toronto must simply be harder to beat, while finding some way to commit numbers forward when the time comes.

The Paul Mariner Experiment is still in the trialing phase, but beating their disliked countrymen, could rejuvenate the fan base and assist in this rebuilding.

Midweek, night matches at BMO are always the most fun; hopefully this will prove no different.

Rennie made some very disturbing insinuations at the end of the last match, shedding his otherwise calm persona and letting out a bit of the fiery Scot within. Just another layer to tomorrow's match

Vancouver Whitecaps Western Conference 4th Place

Points 30 Games 18 Wins 8, Losses 4, Draws 6

Goals For 19 Against 19 Differential 0

Home 5-1-3 Away 3-3-3 Last Five W-T-L-W-T