Whitecaps vow to toughen up as playoff battle begins - The Province


'Want to make sure we're fighting for every inch,' says Gordon Chin

BY MARC WEBER

The Vancouver Whitecaps are a team built around speed and skill. As they open the playoffs Thursday night at home to the Carolina RailHawks, they want to add spunk and spite to their game, too.

"We need to be much more aggressive," said coach Teitur Thordarson, who clinched the seventh and final playoff spot after winning the USL-1 championship last season. "A team that never tackles, never duels, will never win anything."

Disturbed by a lack of tough tackling in the regular-season finale, Thordarson held a video session highlighting soft play. He worked on defensive intensity all week in practice and the veteran players said it was incumbent on them to set the tone tonight.

"The younger players have to understand that it's going to be rough-and-tumble, and they've got to put that physical element in their game because the other teams will be," said captain Martin Nash, who returns to the lineup after missing the last five games with a pulled hamstring.

"It will help if they see the older guys doing it from the start, so we'll get stuck in and get the series going." Added Gordon Chin, who will start along side Nash in central midfield: "Every tackle is going to count, so we just want to make sure we're fighting for every inch." But is this team tough enough to win in the playoffs? A gazelle can't magically turn into a tiger, and a few of the latter have left the zoo.

Steve Kindel, Alfredo Valente, Omar Jarun, Nick Addlery, and -- if you projected his stats over a full season -- Wesley Charles, were five of Vancouver's six leading yellow-card recipients in 2008. Justin Moose was the other, and injuries have limited him to 114 minutes this season.

Four players missed league games due to yellow-card suspensions last season; none have missed time because of that this season.

Of course, cautions are not necessarily an indication of toughness. They can also account for a careless player, or a slow one. And they are a poor predictor of record (see box). But they do reveal a willingness to play on the edge. Those around the club agree that this year's Whitecaps -- so good at baring their attacking teeth -- need to show a stronger desire to take a bite out in tackles, too.

The first test is tonight.

The follow-up goes Sunday as this two-leg quarterfinal series shifts to Cary, N.C.

Everyone needs to ratchet up their physical play, said Chin: "Even if it's not part of your game, we want to make it part of our team's game. We want other teams to know they're not going to have an easy night. You see it in hockey with a big hit or a big fight to get your team going. That's the type of thing we need -- without the fighting part."

THE ROUGH STUFF

The USL-1 standings and caution points (one for a yellow card; two for a red). The least-cautioned, Cleveland, were last in the standings; the second-least, Portland, won the league. Vancouver was seventh in both.

Team: Pts., Caution pts.

Portland: 58, 44

Carolina: 55, 63

Puerto Rico: 53, 47

Charleston: 53, 56

Montreal: 43, 73

Rochester: 43, 80

Vancouver: 42, 56

Minnesota: 31, 61

Miami: 29, 73

Austin: 21, 60

Cleveland: 19, 43

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