Whitecaps in dogfight for wild card | Soccer | CBC Sports

MLSWhitecaps in dogfight for wild card

Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012 | 12:39 PM

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Whitecaps midfielder Matt Watson, left, fends off Sounders midfielder Christian Tiffert during a scoreless draw on Saturday. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press) Whitecaps midfielder Matt Watson, left, fends off Sounders midfielder Christian Tiffert during a scoreless draw on Saturday. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

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The Vancouver Whitecaps find themselves in a dogfight with Dallas FC as they inch slowly and unsteadily towards a potentially historic berth in the MLS playoffs.

If patience is a virtue, there must many righteous fans among the Southsiders. Progress is agonizingly slow. But point by precious point, they are waiting for their heroes to make history.
 
The Vancouver Whitecaps are inching towards the MLS playoffs at a snail's pace. Not the playoffs proper you understand, but at least a shot at the post-season by claiming the newly instigated wild-card berth in the Western Conference.
 
It is a dogfight with Dallas. It will continue for some weeks before the matter is settled one way or the other. The cards are presently stacked in Vancouver's favour. The Whitecaps are two points ahead of the Texan franchise with three games to go, two of them at home against
Chivas USA and Portland -- the worst two teams in the West.
 
The wild card is Vancouver's to lose. The Whitecaps' destiny remains in their own hands. But after seven games without a win, they must find an extra gear over the final three weeks of the regular season. A meagre return of just two points from the last 21 on offer has opened a door which, by now, should have been slammed shut.
 
Martin Rennie's team has forgotten how to win. After a strong start to the campaign under new management, plus the addition of experienced reinforcements in the summer transfer window, the Whitecaps have lost their way. It is now seven weeks and counting since they last tasted victory.

TRYING TOO HARD
 
Vancouver needs a spark to re-ignite the engine. It almost came on the weekend, when Camilo's angled shot flashed inches wide of the post with the last kick of the game against Seattle. Whitecaps players, desperate for a change in fortune, slumped to the turf in frustration knowing another opportunity had passed them by.
 
Maybe they're trying too hard. When free expression gives way to anxiety, hurried decisions lead to poor execution. It's been a long time since the Whitecaps were fully in control of a game and, in that situation, the natural tendency is to fall deeper on defence in an effort to protect what you've got. It is understandable yet, ultimately, only invites pressure from the opponent.
 
Rennie has made some bold choices in a bid to halt the slump. Joe Cannon's mistake in Portland cost him his job as starting goalkeeper and handed an opportunity to Brad Knighton. The journeyman, who played under Rennie with the Carolina Railhawks, was assured his chance would come. He hasn't disappointed and his first clean sheet against the Sounders in the midst of a raucous atmosphere will help his confidence no end.
 
Knighton will have to remain on his toes. At the other end of the park, the goals have slowed to a trickle. The Whitecaps have scored only three in their last seven outings and have been shut out on five occasions -- hardly the form of a team looking to make a significant impression in the post-season. Vancouver has plenty of options in the attacking third. But the chances are being spurned.

MILLER TIME

Nobody will be more disappointed than Kenny Miller. The recently arrived Scottish striker has taken his time to settle and adjust and Whitecaps fans won't see the best of him until next season. Deprived of a natural summer break, Miller must be feeling the effects of a long season in Europe followed by the rapid transition to the rigours of MLS.
 
In the meantime, Miller's new teammates must step up. Darren Mattocks, Camilo and Dane Richards are all speedy, skillful operators who can pose real problems for defenders. And yet, this is a team which has scored a measly 31 goals in as many games. Only Chivas USA is worse at scoring this season.
 
The Whitecaps have a chance to write their names into the history books. If they can hold their nerve, they will become the first Canadian (or non-American, whichever you prefer) franchise to qualify for the MLS playoffs.

For a second-year team with a first-year coach, it will be an achievement worth shouting about.

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