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Whitecaps weekly update

Forward Eric Hassli is expected to return to the Whitecaps lineup as they travel to San Jose to face the Earthquakes.

After four games the Whitecaps have all the markings of a team capable of being more competitive this season, they may even press for a playoff position. It’s probably a little too early to get excited, but eight points from four games has the Caps sitting a point out of first place in Western Conference. It’s the kind of start that should have the second year team believing in itself.

Other good news for the Caps is the play of Joe Cannon and the four shutouts the team has put up to start the season. They are the only team in MLS yet to concede a goal. The back-to-back 0-0 draws against D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union weren’t very exciting, but getting at least a point when you aren’t at your best shows improvement. Last year’s team would have found a way to lose both those games.

At the opposite end of the field, the Caps’ inability to generate offence is starting to become a concern. For large stretches this season the midfield has been non-existent. Against D.C. United Eric Hassli showed a lot of frustration as the game progressed. The temperamental striker lacked service throughout, and the directionless midfield looked lost as to how to get him the ball in dangerous positions.

In Saturday’s match with Philadelphia it was more of the same. With forward Eric Hassli out due to injury, strikers Sebastien Le Toux and Atiba Harris lacked for service and struggled to create offence when they got it. Le Toux, who played for the Union last year, had the game on his boot in the 83rdminute, but failed to even hit the net after being played into an ideal scoring position by midfielder Davide Chiumiento. The Caps have gone two consecutive games without a shot on goal and it’s been 202 minutes since Jay DeMerit goal against Chivas USA.

Coach Martin Rennie went with a single striker for the second half, choosing to play with three attacking midfielders. The switch didn’t solve the Caps’ problems in the middle of the park. Rennie will need to figure out the right combination and structure in the coming weeks because the lineup he is currently throwing out there doesn’t look likely to generating the offence necessary to compete against teams like the L.A. Galaxy and New York Red Bulls.

What’s next?

The Caps will look to continue their four game unbeaten streak to start the season when they travel to San Jose on Saturday to face the Earthquakes.

However, with no goals and no shots-on-target in their last two games, the unbeaten streak will end sooner, rather than later if the Caps can’t start burying their chances.

Making matters worse for the Caps, it was announced Tuesday that M/F Atiba Harris has been suspended one game for ‘violent conduct’, after he elbowed Philadelphia forward Carlos Valdes during last Saturday’s game against the Union.

The return of injured forwards Eric Hassli and Camillo should provide an offensive boost in Harris’ absence. Hassli will almost certainly draw back into starting the line-up, while it’s unknown if Camillo will start.

“Eric is obviously a big player for us, but it’s all about the team working towards creating more chances, and scoring more goals,” head coach Martin Rennie said.

“We were much more dangerous in the last game, we had enough chances to win but we didn’t get enough balls on target. It’s something we have to improve upon”.

With zero goals allowed in four games, the Caps stingy defence has been the saving grace of the team thus far, but it will be put to the test against SJ forward Chris Wondolowski, who led the MLS in scoring last season and is currently tied for second in league scoring, with four goals in four games. Wondolwski alone has as many goals at the entire Whitecaps team this season.

"Defensively, we've been very strong,” keeper Joe Cannon said. “But we need to build on that because we understand every game is not going to be zero-zero."

"The challenge is to start to create some offence and see our big-time players step it up a little bit.”

The Earthquakes are one point up on the Whitecaps in the Western Conference, but the Caps have a game in hand.

After San Jose, the Caps travel back home for a mini two game stand against Sporting KC and FC Dallas.

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