Something special needs to happen tonight at the Home Depot Center in order for Vancouver to find a way past Los Angeles.
It might be in a herculean effort along the back line (Jay DeMerit, we are looking at you). Or it could be in some crazy-special goal. Or two of them. Which begs the question, who could score such a massive goal?
To explore that, we have to walk back a bit and start with another question: “Which underwhelming choice does Vancouver coach Martin Rennie deploy at striker?” And that’s a loaded question.
These two teams positioned themselves at fairly opposite ends of the quality soccer continuum over the late summer and fall. (L.A.’s Galaxy to the good, the ‘Caps to the not-so-much.)
About the time the Whitecaps were tearing down a pretty good second-year MLS side – Vancouver was an MLS expansion outfit just last year, and was en route to have a surprisingly storng sophomore campaign – the Galaxy was getting its reigning champion act together.
So while Bruce Arena’s side was re-discovering its hunger and competitive drive, the Whitecaps were trading away good MLS men and hitching their wagon to a couple of high-priced Scottish headlines.
One is Kenny Miller. Now, we’ve been warned about the Scottish strikers who come adorned with such splashy numbers. They pad the stats with Celtics or Rangers in one of the least equitable leagues in the world, so the product tends to be something quite different once it flies out of Scottish airspace. But Vancouver didn’t get the notes, apparently.
None of this means Miller is a poor player, it just means that he was never Designated Player material. Or, if he was, he needs to get moving in showing us so.
So there’s one choice. The other is rookie Darren Mattocks, who seems to have tremendous upside – in addition to tremendous “ups,” as we saw in the gravity-defying goal earlier this year against Toronto, an effort best defined by this word: “Whoa!”
But, rookies being rookies, he’s about as consistent as a cell service in an elevator.
Personally I’d go with Mattocks. As I said, it will take something special tonight to manufacture the upset that would turn the playoffs on its head. The young Jamaican is far more likely to deliver. He had a couple of matches this year (although perhaps only a couple) that could be fairly stamped “You have to see this freakin’ guy!”
But since this is serious stuff, not something to be decided by hunches or tarot cards or whatever, we have good solid analysis like the kind provided by here by Benjamin Massey at the Eighty Six Forever blog.
Of course, if you are a Whitecaps fan, or if you are interested in seeing the Galaxy de-coupled from these MLS playoffs, the news is fairly unlovely.
Massey concludes that neither one is “all that.” Through smart statistical analysis of shots on target per game, he assesses that Mattocks owns the better numbers, but not by any significant margin.
But then comes the real gut punch, where he demonstrates some compelling evidence that the best options may have been traded away in the reach for Miller and fellow Scotsman Barry Robson.
By comparison, Eric Hassli averaged 0.70 shots on target per 90 until he was traded for ineffectiveness, offensive disappointment Sebastien Le Toux managed 0.66, and Camilo leads the team with 1.23. Chris Wondolowski, one of MLS’s premier shooters, has 1.75 shots on target per 90 minutes this season, and Thierry Henry has 1.61. Even merely decent forwards, players like Edson Buddle (0.81), David Estrada (0.88), and Andrew Wenger (1.01), leave Mattocks and Miller in the shade.