It turns out that I hate Marc Dos Santos more than I hate cancer.
Gutted. Horrified. Infuriated. A whole bevy of emotions, each of them negative.
Someday I’m going to snap, leap on the field after one of these Gantarized shit shows, and start fighting him.
I remember that last game like I was still there, half-collapsed in the south stands of Empire Field, soaked through with sweat and fear and the pouring rain which lent apocalyptic majesty to the most terrifying victory in Whitecaps’ MLS history. Even when they beat the Montreal Impact in this competition the Whitecaps tear my heart out. Sometimes when I close my eyes I still see Ali Gerba, abandoned by an exhausted Greg Janicki, lashing a wide-open header off the bottom of the goalpost in extra time. We all remember how that tournament ended, of course, with the Rain Game robbing Vancouver of the Voyageurs Cup for the second time, but it’s the second leg at Empire Field against Montreal that still makes spots dance in front of my eyes.
I’ve been writing about how sick the Montreal Impact make me in the Voyageurs Cup for almost four years. I didn’t even know I had been writing about soccer for four years. Time flies when you’re having the exact opposite of fun.
There was a time, a couple years ago, when I was tired of the to-the-death Whitecaps and Impact rivalry. There had been all these games, each of them a little Somme in the Western Front that was the Voyageurs Cup, as well as the 2008 and 2009 USL First Division finals. The 2008 edition was before my time; in 2009 I took the ferry from Victoria to Vancouver just so I could see the away leg at the Lions Pub with the Southsiders instead of on my computer at home, and we lost, and I could quote bitter tears from that article too if it were germane.
But after a 2012 where we played the Impact in one regular season game, well, what’s the opposite of “absence makes the heart grow fonder”? I’m trying to combine that with “from hell’s heart, I stab at thee.” It’s how I feel about this game tonight. Whenever Vancouver and Montreal collide in the Voyageurs Cup, even indirectly (see 2009), the result is enough stress to fill an ordinary season, condensed into ninety minutes and slammed right into every fan’s mind like a brand steaming in the rain.
So much has changed in two years. In 2011 the Impact finished out of the North American Soccer League playoffs. This year they are certainly favourites to qualify in the East; they may not be as good as their early record suggested but they’re certainly fine when healthy. In early 2011 the Whitecaps, expansion team though they were, were buoyed with optimism until the premature sacking of Teitur Thordarson led to the Tommy Soehn Death March. This year the Whitecaps are still optimistic, particularly after that Galaxy game, but on the other hand are a semi-strong team in a year when semi-strong teams may miss the Western playoffs and may be the worst performers away from home since Napoleon’s army in Russia.
With both teams having played 10 MLS games, five home and five away, the Impact have a +0.200 SoG/90 differential, as compared to +0.700 for the Whitecaps. Wow! Go ‘Caps! But it’s so early in the season. The Whitecaps are flattered by their latest game when they smacked the life out of the Los Angeles Galaxy; the Impact are hurt by their latest game, where they had a lucky win at home to Salt Lake. This time last week the Whitecaps were on +0.111 and the Impact were on +0.444.
The Whitecaps and Impact have faced many of the same opponents and Vancouver comes off looking worse. Both teams have played at San Jose, where Montreal was better, at home to Toronto, where Montreal was better, and at home to Columbus, where it was close but if anyone was better Montreal was. The Whitecaps probably looked better than the Impact in their home game against Salt Lake, but then again the Whitecaps drew and the Impact won (I call it luck). That’s a 3-1 Montreal advantage in my books.
The Whitecaps are a terrific road team as you know. So far this year on the road they average -1.400 SoG/90 in MLS. That’s not good. The Impact, by way of comparison, average -0.800 SoG/90 on the road and that’s with three of their five road games being trips to the west coast.
In short, the Impact are likely to win this game. They are a good team and they have home field advantage. Away goals count, so better to go down 2-1 than 1-0. But we’re likely to go down by something, barring either the second elevens of both teams turning the odds around completely, good luck, or the Whitecaps playing their road game of the season before what is not expected to be the mother of all Stade Saputo crowds.
If I were to, reluctantly, offer two thin reeds of hope, they would be as follows. First, I suspect the West is stronger than the East. I can’t yet prove it; it’s way too early. It’s just what I feel right now. Second, Marco di Vaio single-handedly accounts for 38% of Montreal’s shots on target (19 of their 50) and, having just gone 90 minutes on Saturday, seems unlikely to start again. Both the Whitecaps and the Impact will play a few depth players, but none of them will have as dramatic an impact as replacing di Vaio with any other Montreal attacker except maybe losing Reo-Coker. (If Felipe, who is generally half-fit at best and played 88 minutes on Saturday, also sits then that’s half Montreal’s offense down the tubes.) The Whitecaps will miss Camilo a fair bit, they’ll miss Kobayashi a little, but nothing like di Vaio or Felipe.
I’ll tell you what, though. This is going to be another one of those stressful damned Montreal-Vancouver games that ages me ten years in 90 minutes. The soccer gods gave us Vancouver-Montreal because they couldn’t give us cholera.