Nearly at the midway point of their season, Vancouver Whitecaps FC have only a single win to show for their efforts. Their record is not exactly a fair reflection of the way they’ve played, as the 'Caps have only twice lost by more than one goal, yet they remain stuck in a trying 14-game winless streak.
This weekend, they can take a big step towards redemption when they play the re-match of the game in which their frustration began.
On March 26, 2011, Vancouver played their first match away from home in Major League Soccer, as they travelled to Philadelphia to take on the Union at PPL Park.
Whitecaps FC were coming off of the euphoria of an opening day win where everything went perfectly. Eric Hassli looked like a force in that first game as he scored two goals, hometown boy Terry Dunfield was a revelation in midfield, and Davide Chiumiento showed off his world-class playmaking abilities. Against Philadelphia, however, things went quite differently.
The match was a microcosm of the first half of the season for each team. A red card to Hassli led to a 1-0 loss to the Union. The ‘Caps attack was stymied, and in the so-called 'City of Brotherly Love', no love was shown as the Union delivered crunching tackle after crunching tackle. Philly found a way to get a win, which they’ve continued to do throughout the season, as they sit tied atop the MLS Eastern Conference standings. The ‘Caps, meanwhile, felt that they deserved better, but the result eluded them.
That’s been the case for much of the season in Vancouver, and if anyone understands the struggles of a first-year team, it’s Philly. Peter Nowak’s side also had a tough time in their inaugural MLS season last year, finishing third from bottom.
This season, however, has been an entirely different story. The Union had eight wins all of last season, but already have six wins through 13 games in 2011.
“They’re on a bit of a hot streak right now,” said Vancouver defender Wes Knight. “They’re a great, defensively solid team. They don’t allow many goals, so we’ve got to catch them on the counter and push numbers forward. We’ve got to stay tight and when we get the ball, we’ve got to spring together as a unit and score that way. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.
Philly’s turnaround proves that there is certainly hope for the same in Vancouver. The ‘Caps, though, are still focused on making the most of this campaign.
They enter their re-match with Philadelphia (Saturday, 7 p.m. PT, Rogers Sportsnet Pacific, listen live on TEAM 1410 radio or teamradio.ca) in a similar situation to their first encounter after another euphoric moment, an exciting 2-2 draw with Cascadia rivals Seattle Sounders FC on an amazing goal from Hassli. The big striker appears to have found his form again just, as Dunfield returns to the line-up from CONCACAF Gold Cup duty with Canada and Chiumiento looks to be settling into his natural position as a withdrawn forward.
Momentum could be slowly swinging back their way, and now they look to come full circle and end their winless streak against the team in which it began.