Sporting KC welcomes Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday for an MLS affair, before trading places and playing a CONCACAF Champion's League match in Canada on Tuesday. The 'Caps are in the midst of a three match losing streak and are sitting below the red line at the moment.
I got with Jon Szekeres from over at the Vancouver blog, Eight Six Forever, to assess the situation. Here are your three questions, but really six.
We ask them...
1) The Blue Testament: Uncharacteristically, the Whitecaps are all the way down in 8th place with a goal differential of -7 and just lost the third match in a row. What seems to be the problem? Who are you blaming? Vent, my friend.
Jon Szekeres: I think the biggest change from last year has been the play of Kendall Waston. When he is on his game, he is an absolute match changer. Snarling, intimidating, physical defense has always been the name of his game, but I think some early cards really have gotten into his head. Waston is no longer carrying the same swagger, and I think it's because he's worried he will take a costly penalty or card, and it's making him second guess himself. He's been a shadow of his former self last season, and I think that carries over to the entire backline. The trade of Steven Beitashour also made for some early season struggles, and I think the backline as a unit just hasn't been able to gel. They look very uncomfortable, night in and night out.
2) TBT: With another match on Tuesday against a formidable opponent (cough cough) - and because of the MLS struggles - is it possible Vancouver will shift focus to the CCL and rest players on the weekend?
JS: I would certainly hope not. In my opinion, the goal of this club has to be making the post-season. They sit only two points out and the season is far from a write-off and they desperately need to turn the tide here. I would say the Whitecaps shouldn't be resting any players; This is crunch time, and if you're going to earn a hefty salary playing a game for your career, you should be ready to bust your ass when called upon. The Whitecaps 'best' players this season have been absolutely disappointing, so why not just try and make them play their way out of their slumps? (Looking right at you, Pedro)
3) TBT: I'm sure fans are frustrated with the way the season has gone thus far, but what has been the bright light of this club? Something to hang your hat on or a positive sign for the future?
JS: Nicolas Mezquida is evolving into a very effective player right before our eyes. You see, this is how it's supposed to work. The Whitecaps find younger players, situate them with some older, supposedly better players and have them learn while also playing important minutes. Mezquida's confidence has grown in leaps and bounds, and he has easily been the Whitecaps best attacking player all season long, or at the very least, the most consistent. The other big bright spot for me is David Ousted firmly establishing himself amongst the MLS Goalkeeping Elite. He's my pick for Team MVP.
Lineup: Ousted, Parker, Edgar, Waston, De Jong, Laba, Morales, Bolanos, Mezquida, Barnes, Kudo.
Score: A draw would be nice. Please? 1-1
They ask us...
1) 86Forever: Why are SKC so good at home, (8-4-1) and so poor on the road? ( 2-7-4)
Cody Bradley: You absolutely have to give credit to The Blue Hell and the incredible stadium atmosphere. The guys love playing at home in front of everyone, obviously. The away games have been really tough to swallow. It seems that basically every single one of those seven losses, SKC has been in the game and had a shot to earn a result. And then with the four draws, it feels as though they were in a position to win. The last match away at top-of-the-table Dallas, is a good point and we should be happy right? But Sporting once again had a lead and simple mistakes lead to goals.
Looking at those two records, it is hard to deny something mental at this point. They struggle to close out the result they deserve on the road. Lacking the confidence the home fans supply them, perhaps.
2) 86F: Is SKC better or worse than it's current 5th place standing?
CB: Wow, that is the right question! It is truly difficult to tell with this team. Plenty of the time, they are far better. Plenty of the time they are far worse.
Everyone following the team knows the talent is there. There is really no reason to think they CAN'T win going into any match, against any opponent in MLS. That is evidenced by fans being somewhat sour with a draw in Dallas. When it is working, it really works.
On the other hand everyone is aware of the holes, whether it is due to players not performing or the barrage of injuries. Mind blowing mistakes and poor defending have led to goals that make you wonder how they ever stop anyone!
I personally believe they are better. I have the discussion with other Cauldron-ites about how the results are all that matters. They argue it doesn't matter how they played or that they were close. When it comes down to it, obviously that is correct. But this team can play with anyone. Dom Dwyer can get hot at anytime and earn a result for the team by himself. There is a hot streak for Sporting KC still to come this season.
3) 86F: How do other teams view Vancouver right now? I imagine 'ripe for the picking' is a term you'll want to use..
CB: I can tell you almost certainly there are very few SKC fans who feel that way. We too are juggling another competition obviously, and the form is so up-and-down. On top of all that, so many injuries are plaguing the team at the moment as well. KC is ripe for the picking as well.
I have great respect for the Whitecaps and the talent on the squad. Form is down at the moment and that is relieving to know, but there is plenty of weapons in Vancouver's arsenal. I've always loved watching Pedro Morales and I close my eyes out of fear when he gets on the ball against Sporting. I'm always very worried about what Cristian Techera is capable of doing to the back line.
So no I highly doubt any players, coaches, or fans are expecting an easy match.
Bonus: Expectations for rap show? On a scale of 1 to Snoop, rate Tech N9ne
CB: I am HUGE Tech fan! The dude is as talented as anyone and you have to respect his grind of doing it all independently! There are only a handful of rappers I can put in front of him, for real.
The club puts a lot of time and energy into the game-day product/atmosphere. They have been known to have a band or DJ play a few songs with a light show before the teams come out on the field. Some may roll their eyes a bit, but it is definitely fun and the home record would indicate it works! Tech will get that place all sorts of rowdy...