VANCOUVER — This Wednesday, the Vancouver Whitecaps face the Montreal Impact in the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final, and they’re up against it big time.
They’re on the road to start things off at Stade Saputo, and it will be very interesting to see how Vancouver coach Martin Rennie decides to line up his side.
As good as the Whitecaps have been at home against Major League Soccer opposition, with three wins and two draws – most recently Saturday’s impressive 3-1 win over the defending MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy – on the road they’ve been nothing short of horrendous, with a record of 0-4-1 this season away from BC Place.
Given the final is a two-leg affair, a pessimist – or some might call a realist given recent events – might label this first leg as a damage control situation.
For whatever reason, the Whitecaps play with little ambition away from home. The fullbacks look as if they’re players on a foosball table, unable to move forward and join the attack. The midfield tends to sit back as well, and the forwards, often starved of quality service, have more often than not failed to feed on the scraps provided on occasion.
A win against a strong Impact side simply isn’t realistic, at least not based on what we’ve seen so far from this group. The Whitecaps’ coaching staff, despite public proclamations to the contrary, likely feels just as bearish about this first leg.
Given the way the Whitecaps have played on the road, even a 1-0 loss in the first leg might be seen as a positive result – such are the low standards set by this group when it comes to performing on tour.
So there are two ways to go about this.
Play an offensive lineup and make some radical changes — some have suggested dropping one or both of Alain Rochat and Lee Young-Pyo for the fresh legs of Jordan Harvey and Greg Klazura.
Or simply park the bus.
There is certainly some merit in the idea of bringing the two backup fullbacks into the starting lineup, but given the win against LA and the importance of this first leg, that change is not likely.
Rennie is in an awkward situation because of Saturday’s win. Does he stick with that group, despite the failings of certain components, based on the weekend’s result? Or does he ignore that positive result and focus on how certain players among that group have failed in away situations this season?
Some have hit out at Rennie for juggling his lineup, so he’s in a bit of a no-win situation here, but regardless of who plays, expect 11 men behind the ball at all times against Montreal.
It’s not necessarily an unwise approach, but if the Impact score one early and smell blood, it could be bad news for a Whitecaps side which has showed little in the way of fight on its travels.
Some reporters and certain players have been happy to label the win over the Galaxy as a “turning point,” but despite the eventual result, large stretches of that game indicated the Whitecaps still have plenty to work on – so there’s every chance that match was a false dawn.
The Whitecaps have, until Saturday, lacked incision in the final third – this team has scored just 12 goals in 10 MLS matches, largely due to attacking players failing to take their chances, and the LA match was the first in which the Whitecaps scored three goals.
Darren Mattocks simply must carry on and score regularly after bagging only his second goal in nine MLS games this season. Russell Teibert has shown what he’s capable of with his brace – now he needs to do it on a regular basis.
From a neutral’s standpoint, it would be nice to see Vancouver play as assertively on the road as they do at home, but there seems to be a mental block from some – certainly in the midfield and in the fullback positions.
Expect a chess match on Wednesday at Stade Saputo, and for the Whitecaps to set out to stifle rather than create. On paper, it’s not a bad approach in a first-leg situation, but those tactics haven’t worked to date.
When a team plays that way, the danger is that if things don’t go to plan there’s no plan ‘B,’ or at least a lot of shuffling required to change the approach to go for a goal.
If the Whitecaps can somehow crawl out of Stade Saputo with a draw, it will set them up excellently for the second leg at BC Place – and then we’d see whether Saturday’s win really was a “turning point,” or just a fluke.