VANCOUVER, CANADA - APRIL 6: Atiba Harris #9 of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Pat Phelan #28 of the New England Revolution race after the ball during their MLS game April 6, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver and New England tied 1-1. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
The New England Revolution are hoping they can get among the goals again after last week's scoreless performance when they host the Vancouver Whitecaps for the first time at Gillette Stadium tonight. MLS's newest Canadian franchise is playing its third match in seven days as the boys from British Columbia struggle to find the winning touch.
Vancouver's threat comes from the creativity and unpredictability of their best players: Davide Chiumiento, Eric Hassli and Camilo Sanvezzo. Hassli was the scorer during the teams' last meeting at Empire Field earlier this season, and he is as lethal as he is eccentric; Hassli's other distinction from that match was the dismissal he received for his celebration after scoring. Camilo is one of the brightest young stars in MLS, and though he's already garnering a reputation for diving he has undeniable talent and can do things with a ball that few in the league can accomplish.
Chiumiento, though, appears to be the greatest threat. He's second on the league scoring charts with five assists - despite struggling with injury early in the season - and has also put up a goal for the Whitecaps. He is their driving force on offense and has the ability to find a player in space from anywhere on the pitch.
TBM: After some encouraging signs like the 4-2 win over Toronto and the historic 3-3 comeback against Sporting KC, it seems like the Whitecaps have fallen into a bit of a rut. It's hard to pick a particular area of concern; only four goals scored in seven other matches as opposed to nine goals conceded in the same amount of time. What do you think has held back the Whitecaps most in the last few weeks?
BM: Injuries and fatigue have piled up to put the Whitecaps into a real hole. The team is still waiting to get a healthy midfield together, with left winger Russell Teibert going out of the lineup with a foot injury just as right winger Shea Salinas recovered. Designated player Eric Hassli is the latest player to go down, suffering from a hamstring pull which will rule him out of today's game. Players have begun to return from injury such as Mouloud Akloul and Greg Janicki, but even these guys are trying to play their way into shape as well as get used to the rest of their teammates.
Meanwhile, because of an intense schedule that's seen the Whitecaps play midweek games every week for the past month, the team is getting fatigued. Left back Alain Rochat, a consensus pick for team MVP, is so tired he's actually been left in Vancouver. Other key players such as Jonathan Leathers and Gershon Koffie have been rotated out in recent weeks and it's shown on the field. The team is too banged up, too tired, and the top players have seen too little time together to develop any chemistry.
TBM: Eric Hassli was a major player in the last meeting between the Whitecaps and the Revolution, scoring the first goal and finding himself at the center of controversy when he earned his marching orders for his celebration. What sort of a role do you predict he will play in this weekend's bout against the Revs, and will he continue to be as unpredictable and entertaining for the rest of the season?
BM: Unfortunately for Whitecaps fans (and for Revolution fans wanting a show), Eric Hassli will miss the Saturday game with a hamstring pull he suffered on Wednesday against the San Jose Earthquakes. In recent weeks Hassli had toned down his act, picking up fewer cards but also showing less aggression and willingness to engage physically. This has arguably hurt him more than it's helped him, but Revolution fans will just have to worry about Camilo Sanvezzo and Omar Salgado today.
TBM: Last time we did this, you told Revolution fans to watch out for Terry Dunfield. Will he be the hidden threat again this week, or should fans be looking for another under-the-radar guy on Saturday?
BM: Dunfield has been one of the Whitecaps hardest hit by the tough schedule and he played a truly awful game on Wednesday against San Jose. The player which might catch New England fans by surprise is that of centre back Mouloud Akloul. The French native Akloul isn't a familiar name in North America, but he joined the Whitecaps division two team at the beginning of last year and scored a beautiful goal in his debut; a goal on which he broke his ankle. He wound up missing the rest of last season and the beginning of this one recovering from that injury, but in his return Akloul has looked excellent so far.
He's a chaos defender and will sometimes let himself get caught out of position. But he's an enthusiastic, accurate tackler as well as a surprisingly adept man on the ball for a central defender. He's already got one goal this season (against Montreal in the Voyageurs Cup) and has been known to go hunting for some more. When he's on his game, he's a leading figure in the Whitecaps counter attack with good runs and accurate passes from the back.
TBM: Last time these two teams met, you said Shalrie Joseph was the Revolution player you think the Whitecaps fear most on the pitch. Do you still feel that way, or do you think there is a greater threat on the New England roster?
BM: Not to pick the boring answer, but Joseph is still clearly a cut above the rest of the Revolution danger men. The Whitecaps have been known to have some trouble with good attacking midfielders in the past (Dwayne De Rosario gave them some trouble in the season opener and Robbie Rogers nearly dug Vancouver a grave when they met); the Whitecaps were lucky enough to mostly hold Joseph in check when last they met but that's nothing that can be relied upon.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a score prediction.
Leathers - DeMerit - Akloul - Wagner
Salinas - Koffie - Dunfield - Chiumiento
Salgado - Camilo
As for a score prediction, the Whitecaps have looked good defensively lately but I'm not sure their forwards will put up too much of a fight. I predict a 0-0 draw.