Whitecaps stick with young squad against Toronto FC

The Vancouver Whitecaps will again field a "younger than young" lineup against Toronto FC in the second leg of their Amway Canadian Championship semifinal on Wednesday.

Toronto up 2-1 in two-game, total-goal Amway Canadian Championship semifinal

Erik Hurtado, left, of the Whitecaps heads the ball away from Doneil Henry in a 2-1 first-leg loss to host Toronto FC on May 7. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The kids did all right, so Carl Robinson is giving them a chance to finish the job.

The Vancouver Whitecaps head coach dressed a "younger than young" lineup for the first leg of Amway Canadian Championship semifinal on the road last week against Toronto FC and, while the hosts walked away with a 2-1 victory, Robinson was buoyed by a strong performance from his baby-faced squad and the valuable away goal scored in stoppage time.

With that in mind, Robinson will again rely on youth in Wednesday's second leg at B.C. Place Stadium, even though Vancouver doesn't have another game on its MLS schedule until May 24.

"It'll be a big test for the young boys, it really will," he said. "But the way you test yourselves is by playing against the best players." 

"I've got faith in these young guys, I really have. The way they learn is by giving them opportunities.

"If it doesn't work out I'll take responsibility for that. I'm big enough and old enough and bold enough to do that.

"Whether it will be the right decision or not, we'll see come Wednesday night. I believe in them and, if I didn't, then I wouldn't be playing them."

Prized off-season acquisitions Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley had the goals for Toronto in the first leg against a Vancouver team that was captained by 21-year-old Russell Teibert and backstopped by 17-year-old goalkeeper Marco Carducci.

Robinson said he believed those players deserved a shot.

"I'm not going to put my neck on the line to put a young group of players out that I think will get turned over badly," said the former Welsh international. "I'd be stupid to do that.

"I believe in them. I want to give them opportunities at the right time and when I feel it's the right time."

'A lot of talent'

Kekuta Manneh, who scored Vancouver's goal in the first leg, said the emergence of the Whitecaps youth system has been a huge plus for the club.

"We're playing together as a team," said the 19-year-old striker.

"We have a lot of talent on the team, a lot of depth on the team. Everybody's been kept on their toes and we know that if you don't perform there's a lot of guys on the bench ... wanting to take your spot."

Needing just a 1-0 victory against Toronto to advance to the national final, the Whitecaps have won two straight games in Major League Soccer — including their first on the road this past weekend.

"I think this team reeks of confidence right now," said Teibert, who will again captain the Whitecaps against Toronto. "We've had a good stretch of games and we feel like we're playing good football right now.

"Everybody's itching to get on the field and we'll be itching to play against Toronto and take that step further in the Canadian championship."

Meanwhile, Toronto FC comes in rested after not playing since Wednesday's first leg and will be looking to build on last week's victory after dropping three straight MLS games.

"I expect a very tough game against a very good team," Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen said. "It doesn't matter who Vancouver puts out there, they're a very good team.

"They're really well coached. It's just a difficult game, so we're really looking forward to it."

'Getting ourselves in gear'

Toronto has a league game at home against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, but Nelsen said that probably won't influence his squad selection for Wednesday.

"None of our guys — even our starting, main guys — have actually properly played continuous 90 minutes," he said. "For us, it's about just getting ourselves in gear, let alone trying to win games or lose games or the Cups or anything like that.

"It's just about playing together and getting everybody used to each other. The guys want to play.

"Obviously, injuries are the main concern, playing on an artificial field and with the travel is not ideal. But all the guys are fit and fresh."

Wednesday's contest will be the first for Defoe since he was omitted from England's 23-man World Cup roster this week. The 31-year-old striker did make his country's seven-man standby list, but will only be included in Brazil if another player suffers an injury.

Despite that snub, the young Whitecaps are well aware of Defoe's ability after seeing it first hand last week.

"All Defoe needs is one or two chances and he can put one in the back of the net," said Teibert. "We need to limit those chances.

"And obviously, Bradley getting forward — he can make those darting runs, even in the 90th minute like he showed last Wednesday. We know they have a lot of quality. 

"But it's just about us doing the right things, sticking to our game plan. If we do that, I think we'll manage to get a result."

'We competed well'

Robinson started a lineup with an average age of 21.7 years in the first leg, but this week's lineup will be a little bit more experienced. Carducci will again start for Vancouver, but 18-year-old midfielders Kianz Froese and Marco Bustos are at a Canadian under-20 camp that runs through the weekend. That could mean the inclusion of Pedro Morales or Matias Laba, who was acquired from Toronto FC in February, in the middle of the Whitecaps' formation.

Erik Hurtado looks set to see action up front for the third straight game, while defender Christian Dean is expected to start at left back, despite struggling in a new position in first leg.

"We can take a lot of confidence from our performance in Toronto," Teibert said. "We played a really young side and we competed well.

"Obviously, they have quality players and they showed that on that day. But we have our 12th man here in Vancouver and we're really excited to play in front of them and I think that will give us the edge."

The winner of the two-game, total goals series will take on either FC Edmonton or the Montreal Impact in the final. Edmonton leads that tie 2-1 heading into Wednesday's game in Montreal. In the event of a tie over the two games, away goals are the first tiebreaker.

"We will be going all in," Robinson said. "We will be.

"We need to win the game. Obviously, we're one goal behind.

"Toronto are probably still favourites. But we'll have a go and we'll see."


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