Starts tonight at rain-soaked Swangard
City of Burnaby crews made sure Swangard Stadium's battered field withstood this week's rain. Now it's up to the Vancouver Whitecaps to fight off the Thunder.
The seventh-seeded Thunder are in town tonight to open the USL First Division playoffs, looking to cause the second-seeded Whitecaps some seasonal depression as fall sets in. They've been pretty good at it thus far in 2008, playing Vancouver to a 1-1-1 record, including a frustrating scoreless draw two weeks ago at Swangard.
"Minnesota is a tough team to play against; they don't give you much," said Whitecaps defender/midfielder Jeff Clarke, one of nine holdovers from the 2006 championship side.
"They're young, they're honest, they're fit, and we've struggled against them this year."
By choosing to open this home-and-away, aggregate-goals series in Vancouver, the Whitecaps have put instant pressure on themselves to win before heading to St. Paul for the second leg on Sunday.
A two-goal spread would be helpful, too.
"I think we're really due against Minnesota," said Caps goalkeeper Jay Nolly, who has been the least of the problems against the Thunder, Jason Jordan's away goal was the only tally in three games for the Whitecaps.
The state of the pitch isn't going to make generating offence easier for either side, with the middle of the park sustaining the worst damage in
Saturday's university football game. Team officials approved the field Thursday evening.
"I'm not happy about it [the field condition], but it's the same for both teams," said Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson. "I don't think we'll change much [tactically] in the beginning, but possibly we'll have to adjust a little bit during the game."
There won't be many changes from the lineup that beat the Seattle Sounders 3-2 on Saturday, perhaps the most likely being Geordie Lyall -- who missed last game with a groin injury -- or Takashi Hirano at left fullback, though it's hard to see Steve Kindel sitting at this time of year. It also wouldn't be surprising to see 17-year-old Ethan Gage stick in central midfield.
"We are hoping that Geordie will be ready, we'll have to see how he is [this] morning," said Thordarson. "He's an experienced player and he knows what this is about. We have many players who have been in the championship before and it's not unusual that the experienced players play the best game when it's most important."
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WHITECAPS (15-7-8) VS. MINNESOTA THUNDER (10-11-9)
Tonight, 7 p.m., Swangard Stadium
Radio: TEAM 1040
The skinny: The series is a home-and-away, aggregate format (no away-goals rule). If the teams are tied in goals after two games, there will be two 15-minute OTs (no golden goal), followed by a five-shot penalty kick round. ... These teams split playoff meetings in 2000 and '04.
Vancouver: Only one loss in last 10 games (5-1-4). ... D Geordie Lyall (day-to-day), D Omar Jarun (suspended tonight, hip injury will likely keep him out Sunday).
Minnesota: Went unbeaten in last six games (3-0-3) to make playoffs for first time since 2004. ... F Nathan Knox (knee).
© The Vancouver Province 2008