Toronto FC @ Vancouver Whitecaps PreviewBy: Sairax | March 18th, 2011
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Conference: West Position: (Last Season NASL) 2nd in Conference; Playoff Semifinals
W-L-D: (Last Season NASL) 10-5-15 (45 points, +10 goal differential)
Home Form: (Last Season NASL) 5-2-8
Last Meeting: Toronto FC 0 – Vancouver Whitecaps 0 Nutrilite Canadian Championship (June 2, 2010)
First game of the season, and it’s a big one. Toronto FC hits the road for First Kick to face off with an expansion team who just happens to be our neighbour. Not next-door neighbour. More like the neighbour down the block and around the corner. You don’t really like each other, but it’s ok because you only really bump into each other at the supermarket. Though, come Christmastime, the hell they’ll have the best Christmas lights in town! That’s our thing! We’re the Christmas light kings!
What was I saying? Ah yes, Vancouver! Our very first game will be against Vancouver Whitecaps in their very first MLS game ever. They are coming off of a good 2010 season in the NASL Conference where they finished 2nd and made it to the semifinals of the Playoffs. During the offseason (and even way before) they have been diligently preparing for their arrival into MLS for the 2011 season. They’ve got in place a great Academy system, have been marketing like crazy with video game tie-ins and sexy models, and even signed up a couple of DPs. They’ve been waiting for this and they are as ready as they can be.
Teitur Thordarson is the head coach of the Whitecaps. He does not have the fabled “MLS experience” that so many people go on about, but I don’t think that will be as big of an issue as some think. He has been head coach for three seasons now and not only has he finished strongly each season, but he even led the ‘Caps to a USL-1 title. Even though he has not coached in MLS, he has plenty of people around him who have been involved in MLS. It’s not like the Whitecaps were playing in Siberia either. They played in a North American league where they have faced MLS opposition and Thordarson has most definitely been following MLS during the regular season. The bottom line is that he is well-liked in Vancouver and has the respect of the staff and players. He earned his chance to lead Vancouver into MLS and has the experience and knowledge to do the job.
Of course there are a lot of new faces in their squad as you would expect from an expansion team. Their very first signing was American defender Jay DeMerit. DeMerit was signed from Championship side, Watford, and has been given the Captain’s armband. He will be an important part of their team and give them defensive solidity, which can go a long way in this league. He has been struggling with fitness so it is not certain that he will start on Saturday, but I suspect they will try their best to get him ready and have him in the lineup.
The ‘Caps also made a Designated Player signing in 29 year old French striker, Eric Hassli. He was signed from FC Zurich where he scored 35 goals in 108 games. He may not be a “big star” signing like David Beckham, but if he gets a decent goal return this season, which he looks capable of doing, then it will be well worth the money. Our defenders need to be wary of him as he will be their biggest threat up front. Vancouver have not been prolific during preseason, so if Hassli can be contained it will diminish their goalscoring chances greatly.
Vancouver look solid at the back with Joe Cannon between the sticks and a defense with the aforementioned DeMerit, Greg Janicki, Michael Boxall, and Alain Rochait. Even with TFC playing a more attacking formation this season, it still hasn’t really clicked yet, so to face a solid defense in our first game is going to be tricky. In the midfield, the ‘Caps have Canadian international Terry Dunfield as their playmaker. He joined the ‘Caps after a disappointing time in England’s League Two and it has proven to be a good move for him. He is enjoying his football and has worked his way back into the Canadian Men’s National Team where I saw him play and thought he did really well. He is an important player for Vancouver so we’ll need to keep an eye on him.
Filling out the rest of Vancouver’s midfield and attack are the likes of Nizar Khalfan, Atiba Harris, Russell Teibert, and Omar Salgado who was the number one pick in this year’s SuperDraft. Many of their first team players have limited MLS experience, but have had some success in lower divisions. They also have brought through a few youngsters from their well-run Academy. Overall, they look decent on paper, but as I mentioned earlier, they have been struggling to get goals. Looking at TFC’s defense in preseason, I’d say they would at least get some good chances because we are not looking particularly strong at the back. When we were playing Prekiball it was defense first and some hoofs up the pitch. Not that we didn’t leak goals anyway, but we were stronger at the back than in attack. The situation is reversed now with Aron Winter stressing our attacking play and phasing out the long balls from the back. We still have Stefan Frei in goal who is a huge asset and should be able to keep us in the game if we come under pressure.
So that covers the Whitecaps more or less. Switching over to TFC, we have some new signings that have been recently announced. No new or surprising names, but confirmation on those we’ve seen featured over the last couple of months. Demitrius Omphroy has officially been signed and Mikael Yourassowsky is more or less a done deal. TFC have also promoted four Academy players to the first team: Defender Ashtone Morgan, midfielders Oscar Cordon, Matt Stinson, and forward Keith Makubuya. Cordon seems to be the most exciting prospect. I have heard many good things from different people and Winter seems keen to include him. He probably won’t play tomorrow, but I’m sure he’ll get his chance at some point in the season.
On the injury front, we’ve got a pretty healthy squad at the moment. Notable absences include deGuzman, who will hopefully return in a couple of weeks, and Lindsay who is out for the season. Maicon picked up something during the last preseason match, but it looks like he will be fit for the game Saturday. Omphroy might be a question mark as well. Other than that, we’re good to go. Here’s my best guess at our starting XI:
Frei Gargan-Cann-Attakora-Yourassowsky Sturgis-DeRo-Zavarise Martina-Maicon-Petersen Bench: Kocic, Harden, Omphroy, Cordon, Soolsma, Bouchiba, Gordon
Bench: Kocic, Harden, Omphroy, Cordon, Soolsma, Bouchiba, Gordon
This is probably pretty close to what our strongest XI is. Julian will be a big miss in the midfield with his ability to retain possession. Still, it’s not bad. We’ve seen in our preseason matches that this team is not quite there yet, and it probably won’t be for a while longer. It takes time for a team to come together and have enough of an understanding to make this kind of formation and style work. One positive is that we have some actual wingers this season. Hopefully someone will remember to make runs into the penalty area when a good cross comes in. DeRo will be, as always, our biggest scoring attacking threat. I don’t think he will be used as an out-and-out striker, but if we are still struggling in the second half, Winter might switch it up and put him further up the pitch. We also have our new signing Alan Gordon to come off the bench if we need a bigger presence and a more direct option for our target man. I really don’t know how well we are going to play, but I’ll err on the side of caution and not expect too much. All I ask is that they give everything they have and put in the effort.
I am so excited about tomorrow’s game. It will be the first time in history that two Canadian teams will face off in Major League Soccer. Vancouver may only be playing their first MLS game, but we cannot underestimate them. First of all, we’ve never really done well over at their place. Looking at our results from the Nutrilite Canadian Championship over the past three seasons, we’ve drawn there twice and lost once. Not a great record considering we were considered the “big boys from MLS”. I really do not want to lose, but the stats are against us. Even when you don’t consider our head-to-head with the ‘Caps, our record on the road in MLS is dire. The fans will be out in full force cheering for Vancouver, which will give them a huge home field advantage that will surely lift the team. They will obviously also be revved up to start their first season with a win. If we can go there and nick a draw, I will be most satisfied. Our rivalry with them hasn’t been as big as the ones they have with Portland or even Montreal, but they would love to beat us, and we’d love to beat them too. It’s the “Great Canadian Bagel” Derbyas the Yorkies call it: there’s footy on the outside (BC and Ontario) and a whole lotta nothing in the middle. I can’t wait!
Toronto FC @ Vancouver Whitecaps will be broadcast on TSN Live at 6:30pm ET
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