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04 October 2:12 pm

Across Canada this weekend, family and friends will be digging into feasts of turkey or ham and giving thanks for the bounty that is served and the time shared with those they care about.

Wednesday night on Bell Pitch at BC Place, Whitecaps FC supporters were offered a bounty that satisfied their soccer palate, let alone their hunger for ‘The Beautiful Game’.

Facing an out-of-form Chivas USA side, the ‘Caps put together a performance that saw them turn the corner and provide plenty of optimism for the remaining couple of games in the 2012 regular season.

A first-ever 4-0 win in MLS was just the tonic that Martin Rennie’s side needed to put a difficult seven-match winless streak behind them and build on a three-game unbeaten run.

It was a midweek goal feast, and ‘Caps fans were served up different types of goals to enjoy. Like a recipe, the common theme in all four goals was good passing and movement, all of which are ingredients of good team understanding on the pitch.

It was pleasing to see the way Whitecaps FC worked to create the openings for their goals, as the build-up had as much quality as the finish on all four occasions.

This was down to some key goalscoring ingredients. Before coming off early with a hamstring strain, Kenny Miller offered vision in setting up Gershon Koffie’s match winner, as did all-around action man Camilo Sanvezzo with his two assists.

There was also speed - much of it used to devastating effect by Dane Richards. A winger by trade, the Jamaican international showed his striking abilities as a substitute on Wednesday.

The way Richards tormented Chivas USA centre back John Valencia was almost criminal to watch, but equally decisive in the thumping Vancouver gave The Goats.

There was also hunger and quickness, with Camilo offering those ingredients in the second half. Like a mountain lion, the Brazilian pounced to score the game’s third goal before intelligently running on to his own through ball to set up the fourth goal.

Wednesday’s soccer feast also served plenty of work rate and commitment on the defensive side of the ball by the Blue and White.

The way Rennie’s side closed down the Rojiblancos resulted in turnovers and loss of possession from the visitors. Barry Robson led by example with his applied pressure on Chivas USA opponents, and that defensive work was infectious amongst his teammates.

It resulted in one of the most comprehensive performances from the ‘Caps in MLS - a match that left everyone in good spirits going into the Thanksgiving Day long weekend.

With a five-point lead on sixth-place FC Dallas, the onus is now on the Texas club to match Vancouver’s midweek effort and beat Chivas USA on Thanksgiving Sunday (4 p.m. PT kickoff from The Home Depot Center in Carson, California. Live stream on MLS LIVE!)

Of course, the ‘Caps faithful will hope Robin Fraser’s side can shake off Wednesday’s defeat and do Vancouver a huge favour by earning a win or a draw versus The Hoops. Should that occur, Rennie’s side will head into their final regular season home match with Portland Timbers on Sunday, October 21, knowing a win will secure them a spot in this year’s MLS Cup Playoffs.

Then all in Whitecaps FC nation would be truly thankful!

01 October 4:18 pm

There are some weekends in the year that prove to be sporting blockbusters, with many major events happening around the world. This weekend might have been one of them.

There was an historical Ryder Cup golf victory by Europe in the United States and the first Canadian to play in and win Australian rules football’s AFL Grand Final as a member of Sydney Swans (Victoria, BC, native Mike Pyke).

There were also events closer to home, with celebrations for one of our local senior soccer clubs, as Vancouver’s Westside FC completed a quartet of Over-35 titles by claiming their first Western Canadian Masters championship crown in Edmonton, Alberta.

Among the smorgasbord of sporting events was an equally exciting Pacific Northwest derby between Whitecaps FC and Seattle Sounders FC - much in thanks to a passionate sold-out crowd at BC Place.

Saturday’s clash was the 116 th edition of this Interstate 5 rivalry, and while there were no goals to speak of, the match had all the ingredients of a fierce derby battle.

Beyond the bragging rights and Cascadia Cup points that were on offer, Saturday’s match had a major bearing on the playoff hopes of both clubs. The result locked in Seattle’s place for the postseason, while the point was another step towards Whitecaps FC’s aspirations of reaching the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time.

With some help from MLS Supporters’ Shield candidates San Jose Earthquakes (thank you, Steven Lenhart!), the ‘Caps came out of the weekend with the same two-point margin between themselves and sixth-place FC Dallas for the fifth and final playoff spot in the MLS Western Conference.

Of course, the gap could have been more, and Martin Rennie’s squad are fully aware of that. As evenly-fought as the game was on Saturday, a single goal would have likely been enough to take all three points for either side.

But at the very least, it was encouraging to see Whitecaps FC put a highly-rated Sounders FC under real amount of pressure in the second half, and that tends to be a rare experience for the Rave Green. It showed again that Whitecaps FC can battle with the league’s best and that would have restored some much-needed confidence in the squad.

Another positive was Vancouver earning their 10th clean sheet of the season (the first ‘Caps shutout for goalkeeper Brad Knighton) with a defensive display reminiscent of games earlier this season.

With three games to go in the regular season, the draw with Seattle was a further indication that Whitecaps FC may be set to put their lean run of results behind them.

It will require confidence and belief from Rennie’s squad, and an understanding that all will need to step up for the cause. After John Thorrington and Darren Mattocks went down with unfortunate hamstring injuries, Matt Watson and Camilo Sanvezzo answered the call and gave Seattle all they could handle.

Watson, in particular, performed admirably in midfield. He linked up well with his teammates, while arguably looking at his best in possession of the ball than at any point this season.

Those performances will inspire Camilo and Watson’s teammates to be of similar service themselves. After all, it is that time of the year when character is a big requirement for Whitecaps FC and their quest to reach the playoffs.

The short turnaround to hosting Chivas USA will also provide the ‘Caps immediate motivation that the next step to fully restoring their form can be achieved this week.

As always, our supporters will have their role to play on Wednesday night. Let’s all get out to BC Place and send our Blue and White into the Thanksgiving weekend and international break in the best of spirits!

Until Wednesday everyone!

18 August 4:00 pm

As weeks go for Whitecaps FC, this middle week of August 2012 will likely be forgotten in a hurry.

Despite the challenge that it posed (three Western Conference rivals in a week), the opportunity to make ground and further solidify a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs was abruptly halted by two sobering defeats – the latest leaving a particular regional sting.

It felt like the soccer omens were against Vancouver heading into Seattle on Saturday. Though there were welcome faces back from international duty, the absence of injured captain Jay DeMerit and suspended centre-back partner Martin Bonjour caused speculation as to who would play in Martin Rennie’s backline.

Then came word on Saturday morning that influential midfielder Barry Robson was also forced to sit out this latest Cascadia derby after MLS deemed his booking late on in the home defeat to Dallas was aggravated dissent against an assistant referee.

While there was debate over the timing of Robson’s suspension announcement by MLS, Rennie gave some players a chance to stake their claim for a regular starting role.

Top of that list was Carlyle Mitchell, who was slotted into the starting XI alongside Andy O’Brien in the centre of Vancouver’s defence. After appearing for his native Trinidad & Tobago in midweek, the young defender earned himself a measure of redemption with his performance on Saturday.

His last MLS start at New England Revolution back on May 12 was a tough outing for the Caribbean import, and though Whitecaps FC conceded twice in the second half in Seattle, Mitchell can take encouragement from his efforts in Washington State.

Next to him, the experience of O’Brien was tested again, as the former Republic of Ireland international made his second start for the club. Though still short of full match fitness, O’Brien looks a real find, as he showed defensive expertise in nullifying a couple of Sounders FC attacks, especially in the first half.

Rennie and his staff will know that, despite the bitterness of a derby defeat, players like Mitchell and O’Brien will feel they are stronger and can make a more telling contribution to the club after their building-block efforts on Saturday.

This can also be said for striker Kenny Miller, who was asked to fill the role usually occupied by suspended Robson in central midfield. His work rate at CenturyLink Field was also an encouraging sign. The way he made himself busy against Sounders FC was a strong suggestion that the Scotland international made an important step forward with his match fitness.

With a full week to focus on another derby trip to Portland Timbers, the time may prove beneficial after the hectic schedule of this past week. With injuries clearing up and suspensions served, these next few days should help to galvanize Rennie’s squad physically and mentally for the end-of-season run-in.

Time to move forward to the next chapter: Saturday in Portland

11 August 7:30 pm

As summer sunshine basked BC Place on Saturday afternoon, Whitecaps FC may have achieved more than a crucial home win over a top MLS club.

Earning three points over an accomplished side like Real Salt Lake is always something to celebrate, but supporters may have had some questions answered following the weekend’s events.

Last month saw a transformation to the look of Martin Rennie’s squad, and while new faces were added, the Scottish coach’s roster movement also addressed the need for depth in key areas.

Facing an intriguing run-in, Vancouver’s new additions will have a role to play in the remaining 10 matches of the regular season campaign.

What was a bit of a surprise was seeing Whitecaps FC’s depth tested as early as the weekend battle with Salt Lake. Yet, soccer does have a way of creating unforeseen situations.

As part of the 18-man roster, Andy O’Brien might have expected to see Saturday’s events unfold from the ‘Caps substitutes’ bench. By the half-hour mark, he was in the thick of a key MLS contest.

While the situation would have been new to him, O’Brien’s experience as a top-level centre back erased any initial concerns when captain Jay DeMerit was forced out of the game after feeling the effects of a collision with teammate Brad Knighton.

The former Republic of Ireland international faced a baptism of fire that was Salt Lake’s potent attack, and yet, his efforts contributed to nullifying the Utah club’s forward ventures for much of the contest.

RSL offered little threat, which in itself was a surprise to see when you consider their attacking pedigree. Whitecaps FC, meanwhile, won the match with two goals in six second-half minutes.

The game’s other storylines included a resurgent Camilo Sanvezzo, whose goal and an assist restored memories of the Brazilian’s influence in previous matches for the Blue and White. At his best, Camilo is very difficult player to contain for any MLS club.

As for Dane Richards, his efforts in Vancouver’s last two games at BC Place are quickly making him a fan favourite. It would be nice to think he will be nominated for ‘MLS Goal of the Week’ after his sublime winner.

Richards and teammate Darren Mattocks will not be seen Wednesday night against FC Dallas, as international duty calls with Jamaica. They are just two of several players that will not seen against FC Dallas at BC Place because national team call-ups, injuries, and suspensions.

That will put the depth of Rennie’s squad to a stiffer test, with concerns over the fitness of DeMerit and the absence of Gershon Koffie through suspension for caution accumulation likely to command the media’s talking points early next week.

And what would a discussion on team depth be without mentioning Knighton, who was unfortunate not to earn a clean sheet in the RSL win. When called upon this season, Knighton has been very dependable in place of Joe Cannon.

That might make for a goalkeeping selection decision for Wednesday’s game, but Rennie will relish the idea of making such a choice, as with his entire squad.

Having the knowledge that any player can perform when called upon usually results in a passing grade with a test of depth. Saturday’s test went well, but Wednesday’s test will be more challenging.

Till we convene again on Wednesday!