For all of the wretchedness of this season, for all of the hopes and aspirations that have fallen by the wayside, I have to say that I am as excited for tomorrow’s match as I have for any this season. This is a match that really means something. These have been in short supply since the middle of June when it became clear what the shape of this season was going to be. Now we have a chance to take at least something out of this season. There’s a sense in which we have no right to this. We’ve had so many chances to turn things around, so many chances to make a change and to get things done right. In pretty much every case we have failed to do so. This is the last encore. By all rights this should have been long gone, but here we are anyway.
What does this match mean? Once again, the cynic might say: not that much. We’re still limping to the end of the term in the divisional basement. We’re still fighting to avoid joined that unfortunate set of MLS teams that have gone an entire season without a win on the road. Two weeks ago we got our butts handed to us by the lads in slime green up in Sodo. Even if we win this match and end up taking the cup, can this really mean all that much given the undeniable statement of superiority made by Seattle in our last match?
Personally, I think that it would. In the first instance, it would deny Seattle something that they want. That is something that we should value purely in and of itself. They may deny that it means that much to them, but you know that it does. They will be going on into the playoffs and we will not. We need something to keep us warm on those dark autumnal nights when the Sounders are still playing and we are drinking our failure to the bitter dregs. If drink we must, I think I’d like to drink out of the cup. They have been superior to us in so many ways this season, as they have let us know time and again. It would be nice to turn our victory over them at the end of June into something tangible.
There is another important aspect to this match as well. This is the last time that players will have a real opportunity to make a case for a spot in the squad for next season. Yeah, I know that we have another match to play after this, but this is that last really competitive match of the term. It is unlikely that San Jose, playoff bound as they are, will put out a full strength squad for the match. Certainly, that match will be a test of the professionalism of our players, an opportunity to see how they finish things out. But this is the last match in which the current members of the squad will have the opportunity to show that they can get up for something that means something. So far they have signally failed to do so.
This is a team that needs to be rebuilt in the off-season. Started with the final whistle next weekend, there needs to be some cold-eyed assessment of the qualities that each player has brought (or has failed to bring) to the table over the course of the season. We’ll be offering extensive report cards on our squad starting immediately after the end of the season, so I’m not going to get into a lot of the details that we’ll talk about at that point. We all have some idea of what the issues are. What must be worrisome to the fans is that so many deficient decisions have been made over the last 14 months or so. Once again, I don’t think I really need to enumerate these, and will discuss them in detail down the line, but it’s somewhat alarming to think that there is every possibility that if change comes it will actually be for the worse.
So far as the matter as hand goes, I would almost say that there was reason for optimism, if most of our previous reasons for optimism hadn’t been stomped down with a hobnailed boot. We’ve managed a win and a draw against the Caps so far this season, admitted both times at the JW. Unlike some other teams that give us problems from a range of angles, our difficulty with Vancouver is pretty straightforward. It can be summed up in two words: Darren Mattocks. At the end of May, a Kris Boyd opener was cancelled out by a late Mattocks goal which, if memory serves, he scored with just about his first touch after coming on. In our second meeting, he came on about two thirds of the way through and was tormenting our defense before he was (mercifully) sent off for a forearm shiver to the head of David Horst. Mattocks is really the only guy on the Caps who can cut through in attack.
At the other end of the pitch, Jay Demerit is a pretty decent “B” grade center half, but he is a bit long in the tooth, and it’s not as if he had a huge reservoir of inborn talent from which to draw in the first place. This seems like a match where we the movement oriented approach, toward which we have being been making halting steps of late, could actually be effective. In those matches where we have been successful, maintaining possession of the ball has been crucial. This is of course not to say that ball control has always equaled success for us, but the lack of it tends have adverse consequences.
Having tried to stay optimistic for the bulk of this post, I leave you with the following bit of disturbing news drawn from the team’s website. The match preview featured the following quote from Gav:
This is an experiment to look at next year. Steven (Smith) has had tight hamstrings and we're coming into an environment where the pace of the game is such that we're expecting to get a little more out of Rodney. He's also done very, very well for us. He played left back against Seattle at home. Steven has also done well,” said Wilkinson. “It was a tough decision based on the health of the players, the direction of the team. We've got some decisions to make about players so it's important to put Rodney in this environment and see how he did.
I think that the bulk of this quote has to do with the Seattle match, but the prospect that Wallace would see further time at left back in preference to Smith is the kind of thing that would give the Dalai Lama heart palpitations. One can only hope that Smith’s hamstrings are good, because otherwise…bad things, man.