By Laszlo Szele for sportsnet.ca
VANCOUVER — The playoff push is on.
No need to check the calendar, it is indeed June. Make no mistake though, as anyone and everyone involved with the Vancouver Whitecaps knows that Saturday’s game at BC place against the Colorado Rapids is a crucial Western Conference encounter.
The big news this week for the club was the unveiling of its third kit. While it may not spark off an “arbutus brown and sky blue” phenomenon in the stands this afternoon, they do rate as perhaps the best third kit in MLS. Often, when a team releases a product like this a third into the season it is often to hide the team deficiencies or distract from the problems that lie within. This certainly isn’t the case for the Whitecaps.
Last week’s win against the Houston Dynamo proved a number of things in the team’s favour as they embark upon their post-season dream. First off, it showed the team’s depth. Just days after the shocking news that striker Omar Salgado will miss a large part of the season with a fracture in his foot, Darren Mattocks, 2012’s second overall draft pick, entered the line-up and stole the show with two spectacular goals in a 3-1 win. Mattocks not only offered fine finishing but gave the team pace up front that did just enough to keep Houston’s back line out of sync for most of the match and allow the Whitecaps to stretch a team that didn’t seem to want to bend at all.
Most important, the match showed off two of the team’s midfield maestros. Gershon Koffie had perhaps his greatest game in Vancouver, carving up a Houston side that has taken much pride over the years as being one of the league’s most organized. Davide Chiumiento also demonstrated some of his flair, making darting runs and sending precision passes, keeping the opponents guessing all night.
Enter Colorado, a team that spoiled last season’s closer with a comeback win; a team that Vancouver has yet to best. They are not side that has not struggled with the injury bug, so much as they have been crippled by it. Mastroeni, Mullan, Casey, Moor and Cummings are all names that would be all but guaranteed a start for any match of the season, but over the last three months, they have all been penciled in at one point or another on the injured list.
While midfielder Brian Mullan looks to make a return against Vancouver, the team will be in tough without the remainder of the regulars. While Omar Cummings is close, the idea of playing of turf might just be enough to keep his sole ankle of the sidelines.
Such is life in the MLS, with various surfaces and field temperatures, travel and fatigue all playing a part over the course of the season. Three months into this campaign, however, it appears that the Whitecaps are poised to become a major player in the league’s toughest conference, and when all is said and done, arbutus brown may be the key colour scheme in the MLS playoff picture come October.
Producer’s pick: Should Martin Rennie start a side similar to last week’s starting 11 against Houston, expect more magic in the midfield from the home side. 2-0 win for the ‘Caps.
Lazlo Szele is a producer on Sportsnet’s soccer broadcasts.