Last season was certainly a year of highs and lows for the Whitecaps. I’m sure we’ll all point to the Seattle playoff loss as one of the top latter ones, but during the regular season, it was a match against another Cascadian rival that provided a particular low.
When Portland Timbers travelled north to Vancouver for their derby match on July 23rd, they did so a depleted team. International call ups, injuries, and suspensions, left the wood people with just 12 available outfield players, and they had to make emergency call-ups from their USL side to be able to have a travelling squad of just 16 players.
The Whitecaps lost 2-1 in front of over 25,000 fans.
It wasn’t the first time we’ve seen the ‘Caps capitulate like this to a weakened team. Memories of RSL a few seasons before soon came flooding back.
The similarities with today’s game against LA Galaxy are striking. LA will have up to 11 players missing, many of them regular starters. The Whitecaps, as they were in that match against the Timbers, will be at full strength bar the absence of Kendall Waston to international duty. LA may not be able to dress a full bench. And the match will be played in front of a sell-out crowd.
But ‘Caps coach Carl Robinson is determined not to be experiencing déjà vu come full time and will be warning his players of the pitfalls of underestimating a decimated opponent, drawing on those previous examples as a prime case of what not to do.
“I do [use those as an example],” Robinson said at training yesterday. “That game when Martin [Rennie] was here, Salt Lake, I think they were in the Champions League, made 11 different changes. I’m sitting in the locker room as a coach saying to the boys, ‘guys, don’t get fooled by this’.
“It happens and they’ve got a point to prove. I won’t be fooled. What we have to do is to turn up on the day. Every game is close. You have your periods of play with the ball, without the ball, and they’ve got players that want to actually make a statement to their manager.”
It’s the latter point that should certainly be the biggest worry. This is the chance for the Galaxy’s fringe players to make a name for themselves in Sigi Schmid’s mind. We’ve seen it ourselves when a fringe Whitecaps team went to Dallas last year and came away with a 4-0 victory.
A wounded animal can often be more dangerous than when it’s fully healthy.
“[Sigi] won’t get fooled, I won’t get fooled, by the players they have missing,” Robinson mused. “Every team goes through that at certain stages, and the guys that step into the team that usually might be squad players, when the big players, the designated players are back, they’ve got something to prove.
“Whenever we play LA, we know it’s a difficult game. They’re a good team, they’re solid, they’re hard to play against, and they’ve got quality in certain areas. So we have to be very aware of that, but whenever we play, we focus on ourselves.
“We’ve got a good, vibrant mix of experience with the youth we’ve got in our team. We’ve got lots of youth. I want them to go and express themselves… and play with a freedom and enjoyment, and with discipline as well.”
Robinson says his team will be ready for whatever and whoever the Galaxy throw at them, and the message to his players in how they need to approach the match is going to be a simple one.
“It’s a very difficult game,” Robinson concluded. “Probably a little bit harder than if they were playing all their superstars. And that’s the mindset I’ll go into the game with.”