Vancouver has been here before and has won before. The Whitecaps have been one of the elite teams in the A League/USL-1 now for many season. But while Martin Nash is still a key ingredient, the team has changed dramatically since the 2006 title. Eduardo Sebrango has been a revelation up front while Nicolas Addlery has played the role of a super sub. Addlery is one of three Whitcap players who were with DC United in 2007 but fell victims to MLS’ squad limits and salary cap. Jay Nolly has been solid between the pipes and Justin Moose like Addlery has played the role of a super sub. Lyle Martin plays very well off of Nash in the Vancouver midfield.
Puerto Rico is worn down by fixture congestion but has made an impression with its play both in USL and in the Champions League. Peter Villegas has been solid as he has been for ten years between USL and MLS but the rest of the team began playing the way Colin Clarke envisioned around midseason. I had the opportunity to see the Islanders in person in early July and was unimpressed. I’m a very big fan of Clarke as our readers and listeners know but the night I saw Puerto Rico, Miami FC a poor team by USL standards really controlled the match. However after that The Islanders won five straight matches and then after a loss to the Sounders went undefeated in 17 matches including Champions League. That streak ended last Friday in Rochester.
Colin Clarke has maintained that his team is focused on the USL Championship. That’s why he rested so many starters in Mexico Wednesday exposing his team and his league as being as thin from a depth standpoint as MLS clubs tend to be. The Islanders reserves were embarrassed by Santos reserves on Wednesday just two weeks after the Islanders first team humiliated Santos first team in Bayoman. Will resting all of his starters midweek make a difference Sunday? Perhaps, but the Islanders now face a must win in the Champions League at home against Municipal of Guatemala on the 22nd of the month.
A player that does not get the credit he deserves for the Islanders is Jonathan Steele. Steele is British and understands how to play in Clarke’s direct style. While Villegas, Fabrice Noel and Noah Delgado may be flashier and quite frankly more interesting to watch, Steele is probably the key player: the glue that holds the Islanders together. Bill Gaudette who sat out Wednesday’s game against Santos is fantastic as he was in MLS. He better be fantastic because the Islanders gave up Josh Saunders whom I rate as one of the best keepers around in either USL or MLS to sign Gaudette.
What are everyone’s thoughts on the final?Will you refocus on MLS after this final or simply get your fix watching European and National Team football?
ABOVE PHOTO: THE WHITECAPS BEAT DAVID BECKHAM AND THE GALAXY IN A MAY FRIENDLY