Vancouver Whitecaps roster to feel impact of upcoming World Cup qualifiers
While games aren’t in conflict with regular season schedule, long flights and time differences could make for exhaustion
METRO VANCOUVER — International duty has come calling for a quartet of Vancouver Whitecaps players, including a trio that figures prominently in the club’s starting lineup.
The Whitecaps announced Thursday that Jamaicans Darren Mattocks and Dane Richards, Scottish captain Kenny Miller, and Etienne Barbara of Malta will get called up to their respective nations for 2014 World Cup qualifying matches next month.
This latest round of international responsibilities comes right in the midst of a Major League Soccer playoff race that has, mostly because of three straight Whitecaps losses, become nervously close for the Vancouver side, with seven games remaining in the regular season.
Jamaica will play the U.S. on Sept. 7 and 11, Scotland hosts Serbia on Sept. 8 and Macedonia on Sept. 11, and Malta plays Armenia on Sept. 7 and Italy on Sept. 11.
The qualifying schedules for all four players do not come directly into conflict with the Whitecaps schedule — Vancouver plays four times in September, including a road match with FC Dallas on Sept. 15 — however, there are concerns pertaining to travel and fatigue.
The quartet could play four matches through the first 15 days of the month, combined with travel to the Caribbean, Europe and North America.
“The travelling becomes an issue there because it’s such a long flight back with such a big time difference,” said Kenny Miller, the Whitecaps' 32-year-old designated player and striker.
“It’s going to take a little bit of work to get used to things, but for me … I’ve done [international duty] for about 19 years now, so you’re pretty much used to it when it comes mid-season and the doubleheaders come along.”
Mattocks, Miller and Richards do bring an array of talent, including both speed and finish, and are always strong candidates to be among the Whitecaps starting 11, but could the hectic playing and travel schedule limit their capabilities against FC Dallas, or keep them out of the lineup altogether?
That match is looming large simply because the Dallas squad has moved to within five points of the Whitecaps. That margin could shrink to just two points when the clubs meet next month.
“I’ll be looking to be OK for that,” said Miller. “That’s something I’m sure the manager will have a talk to see how I feel, but I know come that time, if they ask if I want to play, I’ll be telling them I want to play.”
Head coach Martin Rennie said the Whitecaps do employ a sleep doctor and a specific protocol that includes making sure players get immediate and adequate rest for long distances of travel. The Whitecaps coaching staff will then evaluate the individual player returning to see if they’re fit enough to make in into squad.
When it comes to this round of international games, the Whitecaps may be one of the luckier teams in the league. The Whitecaps have a 14-day break between Saturday’s road game against the L.A. Galaxy and their match with Dallas.
The regular season will still continue right through the first two weeks of September for 10 MLS clubs, despite international call-ups across the league.
“I don’t think it’s a problem,” said Rennie.
“I think whenever the games are called off or postponed because of international games, as long as the calendars match up, it’s fine. We encourage players to be playing for their national team. We know that’s a great reward for them … so we just wish those guys all the best.”
FOOTNOTES: The Whitecaps will be without defender Y.P. Lee Saturday against the L.A. Galaxy. Lee, 35, was not at Thursday’s training session at the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex West, and was absent Tuesday as well.
Lee has started every one of the Whitecaps 27 regular season games in 2012, and has stayed on the pitch for the entirety of every single match.
“He’s going to be rested this weekend. We’re going to give him a week or so off,” said Rennie.
“We just feel like he’s played every minute of every game and I think him, along with a couple guys, looked a little bit tired … He’s been one of our best players all season so we want him at his best as we go into the next run of game.”
Who takes Lee’s spot Saturday is still up for debate, although defenders Jordan Harvey and Greg Klazura, as well as midfielder John Thorrington were all mentioned by Rennie as possible replacements.
“We’ve got some good options,” said Rennie.
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'The travelling becomes an issue there because it’s such a long flight back with such a big time difference,' says Vancouver Whitecaps striker Kenny Miller (in the foreground), who will join Scotland for its World Cup qualifier next month.
Photograph by: Ian Lindsay, PNG