'Caps face pivotal choices for huge match at FC Dallas
BURNABY, B.C. – Big games call for big decisions.
Ahead of what is undoubtedly the Vancouver Whitecaps’ most important match of the season to date, a visit to FC Dallas on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), head coach Martin Rennie has a number of challenging calls to make.
The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been this season. Two months ago, at the start of July, there was a 12-point gap between these clubs. Now, the ‘Caps are clinging on to the fifth and final Western Conference playoff spot with 37 points, with the Texas-based club just four points back.
In goal, Joe Cannon has been the No. 1 all season when fit during Major League Soccer action, only being replaced by Brad Knighton (above) in the case of injury or suspension.
That is, until last weekend, when Knighton was given the nod ahead of Cannon for the first time when both were available for selection.
The 27-year-old got positive reviews for his steady performance against the LA Galaxy on Sept. 1, but it was ultimately two unstoppable blasts from Juninho and David Beckham that made the difference in Vancouver’s 2-0 defeat.
WATCH: Knighton saves Beckham FK
“I was pleased with my overall performance,” Knighton told reporters at Swangard Stadium after a training session this week. “I felt like I controlled the box well. I felt like my distribution was very good. I came for crosses when I needed to and stayed on my line when I needed to.
"Obviously the two goals that we gave up were wonder strikes and they were both up for [MLS] Goal of the Week, so hats off to them. But I thought we did well defensively throughout the game and we’re looking to carry that into Saturday.”
A decision almost as significant will come in central defense, as Rennie must choose two from captain Jay DeMerit, Martin Bonjour and newcomer Andy O’Brien, who signed in August.
There’s no obvious answer on that front, although O’Brien has missed several training sessions over the past couple of weeks, in addition to the match against the Galaxy, due to an adductor issue. So it may be a case of going with the healthier pair of DeMerit and Bonjour, although O’Brien did train on Thursday.
Up top, the club will be hoping Darren Mattocks and Kenny Miller come back from international duty rejuvenated after playing with Jamaica and Scotland, respectively. Rennie said at training on Thursday that he wouldn’t play Miller and Mattocks both up front – but that doesn’t mean they won’t both start. Perhaps one of Miller or Mattocks could play deeper, or even out wide.
The other big question comes on the left, as Camilo was dropped for the match against the Galaxy in favor of Canadian youngster Russell Teibert. The Niagara Falls, Ontario, native was a rare bright spot in the match, making a few promising forays forward, but given the result Rennie might revert to Camilo or try someone else there altogether.
Despite the uncertainty and their poor run of form, however, Saturday represents an opportunity for Vancouver to strike a knockout blow. If the ‘Caps can pull out their first win in five, they’d spring to a seven-point lead over Dallas ahead of four consecutive games at BC Place.
If they lose, it’s a one-point difference – although Vancouver, crucially, does have a game in hand.
“We’re right in a great position,” Knighton said. “We’ve got a four-point lead going into the weekend. That’s a playoff game for them. If we win that, we’re going to knock them out of the playoffs more than likely, and then we’ve got four games at home.
“And what could you want better than to play four games at BC Place in front of our home fans to lock up a playoff spot?”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.