Wileman: Whitecaps remain focused on playoff race

Luke Wileman
9/3/2012 6:46:22 PM
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So is it time to panic yet? Not really. The Vancouver Whitecaps fell to a fourth straight defeat on Saturday when they were beaten by the L.A. Galaxy in California, but they are still positioned well to achieve their goal. After the weekend's action, the ‘Caps remain in the fifth and final Western Conference Playoff place and are four points above sixth place FC Dallas.

The Whitecaps are on a bad run, but the sky isn't falling in just yet. They can't however, allow any more repeats of their last couple of losses in Portland and L.A. Their overall play against the Galaxy wasn't as worrying as in the defeat against the Timbers a week earlier, but a lack of cohesion going forward remains a big concern.

The Whitecaps kept things fairly tight during the first half until they were undone by a wonder-strike from one of the league's most in-form players, Brazilian Juninho. The main problem with their performance was an inability to trouble the Galaxy defence. The ‘Caps created very little. Dane Richards was unable to use his pace to influence the match, and when Barry Robson was looking for options of where to pass the ball, too often Kenny Miller was the only man available.

Whitecaps Head Coach Martin Rennie hinted after the match that his team might try a different formation as they look to find a way out of their current slump. Talking to Rennie a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned he would like to see Kenny Miller and Darren Mattocks play together in attack as a strike pairing at some stage. Maybe that time has come.

Which formation to use isn't the only question Rennie will need to answer ahead of their next match against the side chasing them FC Dallas – he also has personnel decisions. Who will play in goal? Brad Knighton came in against the Galaxy for just his second start of the season as veteran Joe Cannon was rested. Knighton was beaten by two world class strikes and dealt pretty well with everything else he had to do. I don't think there is any guarantee that Cannon will be brought straight back in for the match in Texas.

Russell Teibert's performance was one of the bright spots for Vancouver on a disappointing night in California. Handed his first start of the season, the Canadian teenager looked lively and determined to impress. I think he earned another shot, and if Rennie switches to a 4-4-2 formation for the ‘Caps next match, Teibert would be the ideal candidate to play on the left side of midfield.

The last couple of matches have also shown just how important Gershon Koffie is to the Vancouver midfield. The young Ghanaian missed the defeat at Portland through suspension and was sidelined with injury for the trip to LA. The ‘Caps certainly missed the energy the 21-year-old brings.

With full backs YP Lee and Alain Rochat rested at LA, they will hopefully return refreshed for the run-in. Rennie will also hope he can see stability return to the defence. Keeping a mainly settled back four was a key reason for the Whitecaps success earlier in the season, but injuries and suspensions have meant a rotating central defensive pairing in recent matches. It's no coincidence that the last four matches have seen four different pairings at the back. O'Brien and Bonjour played together in the loss to Dallas. It was O'Brien and Mitchell in Seattle, DeMerit and O'Brien in Portland and DeMerit alongside Bonjour in LA.

With FC Dallas picking up a point at home to Seattle on Sunday, the Whitecaps cushion above the chasing teams has slightly diminished, but they still have a great opportunity to secure a first playoff berth for a Canadian club in Major League Soccer.

The Whitecaps are a very different team at BC Place. They showed that with wins over Real Salt Lake and San Jose recently. Their place in the playoffs will be secured by their home form this season, and with four in a row at BC Place set to follow their next match at Dallas, a postseason place is still very much theirs to lose.

Martin Rennie (Photo: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)


(Photo: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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