Time to feast on the bottom feeders - The Province

Soft schedule features clashes against three worst teams in the league

By Marc Weber

All those back-to-back games and three-game weeks, the tough home-to-road turnarounds and vice versa. It all pays off for the Vancouver Whitecaps in a scheduled stretch run that's as soft as a Sleep Country mattress sale.

It starts with today's tilt against a Miami FC squad that was at league-leading Portland last night. And it continues for six more games that feature respectable Rochester, middling Montreal, and the worst three teams in USL-1.

None of the teams battling for spots five through seven has as favourable a remaining schedule as Vancouver (see box), who only have two road games left.

"Since Rochester [a 3-1 win on July 31] I don't think we've had a bad game in that group," Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said of his club's 0-3-3 mark since then, echoing the sentiments of coach Teitur Thordarson and the players. "It's not reflected in the points, but there's not a lot wrong.

"Having said that, playing well and not seeing results, that idea goes out the window after this home stand."

The message is clear for this squad: Dominating the stat sheet -- which they have done almost every game - is no longer a reason for optimism.

Talk of attacking flourishes must be replaced by talk of finish. Goals and penalties that should have been need to be footnotes, not storylines. And costly defensive lapses need to be rooted out.

Vancouver's last five games were against the top three teams in the league, so the results, while not ideal, were palatable to fans. Now it's time to feast on the less fortunate.

"We have to have the same focus as we've had," said Thordarson. "We can't think the games ahead are easier than the games we've just had. If we start doing that, we'll possibly do something wrong along the way."

"You've still got teams wanting to show their pride, show they're professionals," added defender/midfielder Lyle Martin. "We can't consider it an easy run to the end. We have no complaints in how we've been playing, but we need to get on a run right now."

Thordarson is expected to go with the same lineup that tied the Charleston Battery 1-1 on Thursday, with the exception of Takashi Hirano stepping back into his left back spot.

That means Tanzanian international Nizar Khalfan, not Gordon Chin, starting in central midfield along side Martin Nash.

With Nigerian defender Michael Ndubuisi Onwatuegwu also in the 18-man roster, the Whitecaps had to send backup keeper Diego down to the PDL roster. Residency keeper Simon Thomas is backing up Jay Nolly, likely for the remainder of the season.

mweber@theprovince.com
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