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  • Whitecaps' Depth Crunch Becomes a Crisis in Philadelphia


    After something like Saturday's victory against Toronto FC, it's difficult for even the most rational of Whitecaps fan to be level-headed. Sure, Vancouver was at home and Toronto's not exactly MLS Cup material (even their most boisterous supporters will concede that). But to win by a convincing score and with some style against a team which, whatever Aron Winter says, has plenty of solid MLS veterans is understandably exciting. Next stop, MLS Cup!

    Of course, we all realize there's a lot of work left to do. Recent developments are making the team's issues all the more clear, as with just one game under our belts the starting eleven is already being torn apart. The Whitecaps were already rather under strength last week against Toronto; on Saturday in Philadelphia the situation will be just that much worse. Worse yet, it's hard to see what a depth-starved team might be able to do about it. The Whitecaps just weren't prepared for a roster crunch we all saw coming, and against the lowly Philadelphia Union, it might cost them three points.


    For some of the players, it's all good news. Jay DeMerit, for example, will miss the Philadelphia match for the best of reasons: he's been called into the American national team for the first time since the 2010 World Cup. DeMerit lived up to the hype against Toronto and was an assassin in central defense, helping protect rookie Michael Boxall from the worst of Toronto's attack (apart, of course, for one goal where Dwayne De Rosario blew past Boxall like he was a concrete block). Aforementioned concrete block is also off on international duty, joining the New Zealand senior squad for the first time in his career.

    Then, of course, there are the injuries. Greg Janicki missed the Toronto game and will presumably be back in Philadelphia, but still. This is a guy who played a quarter of last season with a bandage around his head, so any injury serious enough to knock him out of the season opener is very possibly serious enough to still be hampering him in Philly. That leaves Vancouver's centre back duties down to Alain Rochat and a set of crossed fingers. Maybe Mouloud Akloul will be healed by Soccer Jesus and get a contract in time to make a triumphant return, but more likely the position will fall to Jeb Brovsky. Or maybe even Residency defender La'Vere Corbin-Ong, who was on the bench a bit last season and will be in Vancouver's reserve division game against San Jose today. That means that Bilal "Speedbag" Duckett has to come in at left back and reduces Vancouver's defensive bench to Wes Knight and asking Colin Miller to put his spikes back on.

    Up in midfield, Shea Salinas is hoping to be back from injury, which makes sense since he spent last season in Philadelphia and is presumably hoping for a triumphant homecoming. It's also a good thing since the guy who played his position last week, Davide Chiumiento, tweaked his hamstring late in the first half and is probably out. You might not be able to slide over left midfielder Russell Teibert either, partially because he's a native left-footer but mostly because he's also suffering from a leg injury, albeit a less serious one. Besides, Teibert is also in international demand, having been called to the most recent Canadian U-20 team. Perhaps central midfielder John Thorrington can fill in, if he isn't still hurt, which he probably is. Luckily Philippe Davies is still healthy for the moment, but after signing as the Whitecaps' first home-grown player he seems to have fallen off the face of the earth and wasn't even on the bench against Toronto.

    At forward, I am pleased to report Eric Hassli and Atiba Harris are both completely healthy. This is great in Hassli's case but kinda sucks in Harris's, since I wouldn't mind getting a longer look at Camilo da Silva Sanvezzo. Figures. The one guy I'd like to see out of the lineup is one of the guys almost certain to be in it.

    So what the hell can the Whitecaps do about all of this? Part of it is just "life in MLS": with roster limits and salary caps you can't afford to sign that many reserve players. But the Whitecaps still have a few roster spots left and they only have one guy, defender/midfielder Kevin Harmse, kicking around on trial trying to claim one (Harmse is also in reserve action today). Vancouver is fortunate in that they can draw strength from their Residency team. They've got promising defenders like Corbin-Ong and Derrick Bassi, midfielders like Kevin Cobby and Bryce Alderson, and forwards such as Doudou Toure and Coulton Jackson who could play in a pinch. But where are the professional journeymen who can play multiple positions? Where's Vancouver's Nathan Sturgis or its Jeremy Hall? Not the sorts of players who win games on their own, but guys who can, for the cost of one roster spot and around the league's minimum salary, play a bunch of different positions without embarrassing themselves. You wouldn't want him to start every game, but he'll do during a crisis.

    The Whitecaps just haven't got that player. They have an awkward combination of solid veterans backed up with inexperienced draftees and not much in-between to bolster the squad. Their depth has been an old problem that I've been harping on all spring, Against Philadelphia, it might be enough to do early damage to a promising season.

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