Caps gear up for gruelling schedule - The Province

After a pair of two-week breaks, Vancouver plays eight games this month

Marc Weber
The Province

The Vancouver Whitecaps are going from famine to feast.

Thirsting for game action after a pair of two-week breaks early in the season, the club is set to be served up the equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner in the same sitting.

Saturday's 7 p.m. contest against the Rochester Rhinos at Swangard Stadium kicks off a string of eight games in the final 22 days of May that should leave the Whitecaps stuffed.

Coming into the contest, they've played just twice in 28 days.

"It's not the ideal situation, but this is how it is," head coach Teitur Thordarson said of the quirky start to the schedule.

Teams in the USL's First Division manage their own schedules, working around the league's broadcast agreement with Fox Soccer Channel. With clubs needing to schedule multiple games on road trips to reduce costs, and with several teams not owning their own facility, it's a challenge. Fitting in the new Canada Cup tournament (which determines the qualifier for the CONCACAF Champions League) has only made it tougher.

"When you start to look at all those factors, you can see why the schedule may appear to be unbalanced," said Rachel Lewis, the Whitecaps' chief operating officer.

Thordarson has expressed some concern about the potential for injury with so many games in a short timeframe, but for now the players are just happy to have a meaningful day on the horizon.

"It's been kind of boring," forward Eddy Sebrango said about all the preparation time afforded Vancouver. "At the end of the week, you want to have a game. We've had to wait and wait and wait.

"You have to do lots of running and that's not good."

For a team that's half made up of newcomers and is learning a new system, all the front-loaded turf time at Simon Fraser University is important for gelling. But that hasn't made it any more palatable, especially for the veterans.

"Preseason and practice is just something, at our age, that's just in the way of playing games," says longtime midfielder Steve Kindel.

Kindel and his Whitecaps teammates will certainly be granted that wish in May.

Vancouver plays a friendly against David Beckham and the L.A. Galaxy next Tuesday in Edmonton, then faces Miami on May 16 and Montreal on May 19. They have a back-to-back home to Seattle and away at Portland the following weekend.

Long-toothed defender Jeff Clarke acknowledges that it has been a challenge to build momentum with all the down time, but cautions that guys will be begging for a practice day in the coming weeks.

"We'll just take it for what it is right now and make sure we're ready to go Saturday night," he said. "Being in this league long enough, there'll come a time where you'll need some of the young guys to buy some of the old guys like Kindel some time."

mweber@png.canwest.com

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NEXT UP

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Rochester Rhinos

When: Saturday, 7 p.m. kickoff

Where: Swangard Stadium

Radio: Team 1040 AM

TV: None

Web: www.usllive.com

Whitecaps to watch: With midfielder Vicente Arze back in Georgia finishing up his exams at Mercer University, there will be at least one change in the starting 11. Expect former D.C. United product Justin Moose or Tony Donatelli to draw in. Moose is short on size (5-foot-7, 150 pounds), but the Wake Forest standout is known to be a very quick, shifty player.

Rhinos to watch: Brazilian midfielder Ze Roberto played with Vancouver last season after coming over from the Montreal Impact in a trade. Rochester also has former England international Steve Guppy in their lineup, serving as a player-assistant coach, and ex-Simon Fraser University defender Leigh Sembaluk.

Need to know: Vancouver is 6-4-2 all-time against Rochester and 4-1-1 at Swangard Stadium, where the Rhinos last won in 1996 . . . In Rochester in 2006, the Whitecaps defeated the Rhinos 3-0 to claim the USL-1 championship . . . Rochester is starting the season with five games on the road, including Thursday night in Portland.

Records: Vancouver (1-1-0); Rochester (0-2-0 prior to Thursday).

© The Vancouver Province 2008