Two matches into the 2012 campaign, and the second-year Vancouver Whitecaps are not only unbeaten, but also unscored upon. Here's some of what to look for when D.C. United travels to BC Place for a match you can see on Comcast SportsNet at 10:00 p.m. Saturday night.
Before the season kicked off, many asked how Martin Rennie would get all of his attacking talent on the field at once. The young coach has responded with a 4-2-3-1 formation that revolves around the enormous physical presence of Eric Hassli.
Limiting Hassli's impact starts with D.C.'s central backs, but it doesn't end there. The trio of Sebastien Le Toux, Davide Chiumiento and Camilo Sanvezzo all make expert runs in picking up Hassli's flick-ons, making ball-watching a lethal mistake United's off-the-ball defenders must avoid.
Because Vancouver's midfield is still developing its identity, much of their service forward comes from a pair of skilled outside backs. If given time, Young-Pyo Lee and Alain Rochat will pick out Hassli with ease. Funneling play away from these two will help D.C. shutdown access to the Whitecaps' dangerous top four.
As much credit as Rennie has been given for being an offensive-minded coach, his teams are usually extremely good at making sure they have numbers behind the ball. Last week against Chivas USA, Vancouver often stuffed seven or eight defenders deep in their own half and choked off the Goats' attack.
While Vancouver is rather stout centrally, the Whitecaps were a bit casual in preventing crosses against both Montreal and Chivas USA. Whether Danny Cruz, Nick DeLeon or Chris Pontius is on the ball, there should be plenty of opportunities for good service from the wings.
In net, Joe Cannon went out injured against Chivas. Though Brad Knighton performed capably in a substitute role, United would do well to test the back-up often in light of all the errors that have plagued young goalies around the league. Cannon, who suffered a thigh strain, has not been ruled out for Saturday night.