Key absences presents opportunity for others to step-up

Vancouver Whitecaps FC are set to play their first MLS match on Saturday since their midweek heartbreak in the second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final, but the lineup to face the New York Red Bulls (4 p.m. PT, FREE stream on MLS Live) will likely comprise a largely different group of players.

The biggest blows are in the middle of the park, as Nigel Reo-Coker, who has regularly worn the armband since Jay DeMerit went down with an Achilles tendon rupture on opening day, misses out through suspension for yellow card accumulation.

His central midfield partner Gershon Koffie is also unavailable after picking up a leg injury in a clash with Felipe during Wednesday’s match with the Montreal Impact.

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Striker Darren Mattocks, who has lost his automatic starting role as he endures a slow sophomore season with just two goals from 10 appearances, is also unavailable as he links up with Jamaica for international duty.

Central defender Brad Rusin, who missed the final with a calf strain, is still listed as injured – and of course the team has been without the likes of DeMerit and attacker Omar Salgado for some time.

“This weekend’s a tough task,” head coach Martin Rennie told reporters on Thursday following a training session at the University of British Columbia. “I think we’re missing probably six or seven guys that would probably start for us, so that’s a lot of players. At the end of the day, that doesn’t get talked about too much, but that’s something that we’re going to have to deal with going into this game.”

Adding to the difficulty of this weekend is the fact Vancouver has been abysmal on the road, posting a 0-4-1 record – although they will take some solace in their last road performance, a battling scoreless draw with the Montreal Impact in the first leg of their ultimately unsuccessful two-leg Canadian Championship final.

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But, as when any team is missing a number of players, opportunity knocks for others in the squad. Forward Corey Hertzog, who has been opportunistic in scoring two goals from six appearances in all competitions, could come into consideration, and he played with the Red Bulls sparingly during his two seasons there, and might just have a point to prove.

“He’s been a little bit unlucky not to play more,” Rennie said of Hertzog. “When he got in the team he scored, then had a concussion, and kind of been in and out a little bit since then. But he’s always a goal threat. Certainly, he played there and would have a lot of enthusiasm for doing well against them if he gets the chance.”