Wednesday, May 26, 2010

All on the line: Whitecaps - Impact live blog

"We search for the truth/We could die upon the tooth/But the thrill of just the chase/Is worth the pain" - Ronnie James Dio, The Last In Line

Tonight's Voyageurs' Cup game against the Montreal Impact may well be one of the most important matches of the Vancouver Whitecaps' season. Thanks to a pair of lacklustre draws at home, they must win on the road [Marc Weber, The Province] against their bitter rivals to maintain their hopes of claiming the Nutrilite Canadian Championship and its attendant berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. They have two points from two matches, while Toronto FC have seven from three. The teams play each other in the final clash of the competition next Wednesday, though, so the Whitecaps still have a shot at the title. In order to make that game relevant, though, they need to come away with three points tonight.

As I wrote at Fighting For Canadian Supremacy before the season started, this competition may be the crucial one for the Whitecaps. A return to the Division II title game would be nice, but that would likely mean less in the long run than a defeat of their Canadian rivals, the franchise's first Voyageurs' Cup and a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. That would give the Whitecaps a huge boost heading into their first Major League Soccer campaign next season. A Division II title would also help, but I'm not sure it would have as much of an effect. Moreover, the drawn-out regular season and playoffs of Division II make it much more difficult to reach that goal while developing young talent, which is still the club's top priority heading towards MLS. A short tournament like this should be easier to win with a younger side.

This won't be easy for Vancouver, though. They struggled at home against Montreal in recent clashes in both the Voyageurs' Cup (a late 1-1 draw thanks to a Marcus Haber penalty) and the league (a 0-0 draw where they couldn't find a way to beat Impact goalkeeper Matt Jordan). Coming away with three points on the road in front of the Impact fans may be even more difficult. On the other hand, Montreal doesn't have anything to play for (and they famously rolled over against Toronto FC in similar circumstances last season). Vancouver captain Martin Nash told me Saturday that the Impact won't be an easy opponent even if they field a reduced lineup, though.

"Even if they don't play their best lineup, they still have good players," he said.

Don't write the Whitecaps off yet, though. They finally found their scoring touch Saturday against Rochester, notching two goals and breaking a 276-minute scoreless streak in the league and a 296-minute scoreless streak in all competitions. Even more impressively, their defence has been superb. Keeper Jay Nolly recorded his seventh shutout in all competitions Saturday, and the team hasn't allowed a goal in 274 minutes of league play and 419 minutes of all-competitions play. If they can keep that defensive intensity up today and find the net on their scoring opportunities, they might just come away with a win today and send the competition to a crucial final match next week in Toronto. Find out what happens in the live blog below, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern/5 p.m. Pacific!

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