As I watched Vancouver Whitecaps FC players put in another intense training session together ahead of a big match in New York against the Red Bulls this weekend, I had this overwhelming feeling there was still a lot to play for. Yes, we would have to win probably all of our remaining eight games to stand any chance of making the MLS Cup Playoffs, but it’s still 24 points to play for and this is a proud bunch playing in front of great fans.
The team will get to close down Empire Field against our arch-rivals Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday, September 24, and then open Bell Pitch downtown at BC Place against our other big rivals in Portland Timbers on Sunday, October 2. Win both games a month from now and the Cascadia Cup is ours.
And we still have to get our first win on the road in Major League Soccer. Wouldn't it be nice to have that come against New York Red Bulls this Saturday night, especially as Whitecaps FC have had tremendous success against New York teams over the years. In fact, this past Thursday marked the day when we won the NASL Soccer Bowl title over Tampa Bay Rowdies at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
When we played New York in Vancouver on May 28, they were without Rafael Marquez and a certain Thierry Henry. We took the game to the Red Bulls for the most part, but had to settle for a 1-1 draw after taking the lead on an Eric Hassli penalty kick. Marquez and Henry should be available for Saturday, which should give our players a lift, as you always want to play against the best players in the world. More often than not, it brings out great team and player performances.
New York are having their own challenges, they are winless in the last seven games. In their last home game, they drew a Chicago Fire side, who were coming off a 4-2 mauling by our own Whitecaps FC. Even though they have an experienced back four led by Marquez, they have struggled defensively by letting in 13 goals in the last five games. The 'Caps must test this Red Bulls backline and second-choice goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul, as there must be a lot of uncertainty with goals being conceded with regularity. To compound the Red Bulls' problems is the suspension of defensive midfielder Teemu Tainio, whose job is to protect New York's back four. There could be goals there for our 'Caps at Red Bull Arena.
Despite their defensive woes, New York is still the second highest scoring team in MLS with 41 goals (Seattle has 42) and is always a threat with Henry in the side. They have a couple of options to who is going to partner Henry in the Red Bulls forward line. Dane Richards and Juan Agudelo are both players with lots of speed and prefer balls over the top than to feet, so it will be very important for the 'Caps defence not to get caught too high up the field, where they can be vulnerable to long balls over the top and then be in a foot race with these speedy forwards. Their other forward Luke Rodgers has not played since July 6, but should be on the substitutes' bench for this game. Hopefully, the Englishman stays on the bench, as he is a handful. We all saw that at Empire Field when Rodgers scored the tying goal in the May 28 fixture. In my mind, Rodgers makes the Red Bulls a better team with his hold-up play and clinical finishing.
That first road win in MLS has eluded our 'Caps so far, but what better place to make it happen than New York. If we can make it happen there, we can make it happen anywhere.
Remember, there's still lots to play for.