The Vancouver Whitecaps didn't end up on the winning side against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, but their starting XI should remain intact.
Kenny Miller will once again be available for selection after linking up with the Scottish national team for World Cup qualifying, but Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie hinted this week that he plans to use his countryman mainly as a substitute in games immediately following international duty – this after Miller’s struggles to make an impact in similar situations in 2012.
So given Miller will likely be restricted to a substitute’s role, expect Erik Hurtado to once again get the nod on the right side of the Vancouver attack. The 22-year-old made several dangerous forays into the final third against the Dynamo and played a part in Vancouver’s goal.
Some pundits suggested the youngster was ball-watching on one or both of Houston’s goals, but Rennie countered that view this week after a training session.
“He was very close on every goal,” Rennie said when asked about whether Hurtado was to blame for either goal. “Initially when you look at it, because he’s close to the ball, you think that. But for the first one, it’s not his man. He ends up filling in and I wouldn’t blame him for that.
“For the second one, he’s close to the ball. Maybe could have gone and attacked it with his head, but it would be nitpicking on those. For those goals, both of them, there were multiple areas we could have done better, especially the first one. So I wouldn’t point the finger at him.”
Hurtado’s inclusion this weekend isn’t a guarantee, but Rennie seems to like the player’s work on the defensive side of the game, hustling back to get involved – even if being near the ball when goals were scored this weekend didn’t do him much good.
Of course, Camilo could very well come in. He was very unlucky not to score from a free kick, watching his strike bounce of both posts without going across the line. Rennie said this week managing the talented Brazilian hasn’t been an issue, and that he hasn’t been kicking up a fuss about his role as a substitute.
On the other side of the field, before last weekend’s match, the Vancouver defence looked very good. It looked less assured on Saturday and less organized. Perhaps it was just a blip but perhaps the uncertainty dealing with set pieces and the questionable man-marking at times is the first real indicator that this club is missing captain Jay DeMerit.
It’s one thing to marshall a defence against Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew, two teams which failed to make the playoffs in 2012 – another thing to shut down a perennial MLS Cup contender in the Dynamo.
Andy O’Brien held up his hand following a training session this week and suggested he could have done better – it was an unprompted confession he made while trying to deflect attention from Darren Mattocks’ miss which came just minutes before the Dynamo sprung with an equalizer and a game winner.
In midfield, Nigel Reo-Coker wasn’t quite as commanding as in his first two outings, and seemed to give the ball away on a number of occasions, but Rennie was quick to defend his player this week when asked if the Englishman had made a lesser contribution.
The Scottish tactician pointed out the difficulties of playing on the road and the inevitability that every visiting team will endure periods of sustained pressure.