As the Whitecaps prepare to play Real Salt Lake, there's plenty of storylines to watch, writes Goal's Martin MacMahon, including the continued exclusion of Nigel Reo-Coker.Vancouver Whitecaps leave behind a 2-2 draw with the LA Galaxy and prepare to face Real Salt Lake this weekend, there are plenty of storylines to watch.
Here are three of particular interest:
Reo-Coker on the margins
It's been over a month since Nigel Reo-Coker played a competitive match for the Whitecaps.
The Englishman missed two matches due to a concussion suffered during an off-field incident involving a bike rack, and has been in the squad but left on the bench for two matches since.
For Reo-Coker, who has continued to say all the right things, it's a fall from grace of sorts. Last year he was essentially undroppable, deemed by many observers as the heartbeat of the team – certainly with the absence of Jay DeMerit there was a feeling that he was essentially the club's captain, despite only wearing the armband when Kenny Miller was unavailable.
The timing for all this to happen to the player hasn't been ideal, as Gershon Koffie has rebounded from a forgettable 2013 season with steady showings in Reo-Coker's absence.
On Tuesday, Reo-Coker found himself playing in an intrasquad match, with mostly younger players. It's a bid to get match fitness, but Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson had to run the idea of participating past the player first – so as to make sure he wouldn't be offended.
As the Whitecaps look to play a Real Salt Lake side that will hog the ball this weekend, it seems unlikely Robinson will bring an unfit player back into the team, but watch for the player to make a second-half contribution from the bench, especially if the 'Caps are tied or in the lead.
Mattocks the set-up man
Darren Mattocks leads Vancouver with three assists from his first seven matches of 2014. In his prior 41 MLS matches, he had a total of two helpers.
It's early days yet, but it's a further indicator of his improving attitude and greater willingness to work for the good of the team.
Still, he'll need to improve his strike rate, especially in circumstances where he plays as the lone striker. He has generally been prolific in his youth career and at college, and has shown his quality at MLS level in flashes.
Now it's about finding a level of consistency – because he has all the natural athletic tools to become an All-Star level talent in this league.
Assuming the Jamaican international continues this steady start, coach Robinson deserves plenty of credit for keeping the player and working with him rather than taking what appeared to be the easy way out by cutting Mattocks loose.
Hurtado the impact sub
There were many armchair managers calling for the Whitecaps to dump Erik Hurtado this offseason after a rookie season in which he frustrated more than inspired.
But this season he has looked more composed and more effective. He's certainly nowhere near the finished article, but he now resembles a soccer player – and perhaps one who can make a difference – rather than a running back who showed up at the wrong field in the wrong equipment.
He is a technical player – far more talented than he's shown in competitive games – but he needs to get the confidence to show that when it counts rather than simply on the training field.
Of late, he's been taking that training ground form into matches as an impact sub – if he continues along that track, both the club and its fans will be glad those who were initially frustrated by the player have no meaningful influence on decision making.