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