By Jim Morris, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER – A depleted Vancouver Whitecaps team boarded an airplane Tuesday for a long flight to play a game that means nothing to the Major League Soccer club.
Ravaged by injury, manager Carl Robinson planned to take only 12 or 13 players to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to face CD Olimpia Thursday in a CONCACAF Champions League match. The Seattle Sounders have already won Group F, which means the results of Thursday’s match at Estadio Tiburcio Carias Andino are meaningless.
“I’m not looking forward to the travel,” said midfielder Russell Teibert. “It’s difficult to understand you are going down to Honduras, all this travel, for a game that essentially doesn’t change things.”
Compounding the situation, the Whitecaps face the Houston Dynamo at BC Place Stadium on Sunday in a match with huge playoff implications. A win would secure the Whitecaps a home playoff game. A loss or draw, combined with other league results, could drop Vancouver to fifth or sixth place and put them on the road to begin the playoffs.
“I’m not looking at Houston at the moment,” said Robinson, who jokingly suggested he might have to dress for Thursday’s match.
The Whitecaps have been decimated by injuries. The list includes midfielders Pedro Morales (hamstring); Mauro Rosales (groin); Nicolas Mezquida (hamstring); centre back Pa-Modou Kah (groin); midfielder Cristian Techera (hamstring); striker Octavio Rivero (Achilles) and striker Caleb Clarke (hamstring).
“Everyone who is fit and available to go, will go,” said Robinson.
In a bid to find some healthy bodies for the trip, the Whitecaps asked if they could dress players from their WFC2 team which plays in the United Soccer League. CONCACAF and MLS denied the request.
Even though he is dressing a squad of mostly younger players, Robinson said his team wants to wave the MLS flag in the Champions League match.
“It’s a great competition,” he said. “We are in the competition for the first time. The timing of it obviously isn’t ideal but it’s something we have to deal with.
“Outside of that, we are dealing with a serious glut of injuries, which doesn’t help us. We are making the best of it. We will make the best of it we possibility can on Thursday and in preparation for the Sunday game as well.”
The Whitecaps used a mostly second-unit squad to defeat CD Olimpia 1-0 at BC Place in September. Robinson expects the Honduran side will be looking to make amends.
“The crowd will be crazy,” he said. “The experience these young boys will get will stand them in a lot better stead for next year.”
Players like 22-year-old defender Christian Dean said the game is a chance to prove their value to the Whitecaps’ management.
“It’s another chance to show (Robinson) we are capable of playing,” said Dean. “They are playing in front of their home fans so it’s not like they aren’t going to come out and try hard.
“We have to be ready for it. We have to take the game by the horns and go full throttle.”
Forward Robert Earnshaw, one of the few veterans making the trip, disagreed there was nothing at stake.
“There is pride, which is bigger than three points and bigger than a Champions League game and all of this,” he said.
“There is pride, there is career, there is our own ambition to be ready for a game. It’s a game of football. We have to be ready as a team. There are no days off. It always means something.”