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Chicago Fire vs. Vancouver Whitecaps - MLS #8: Three Questions

Who are these guys?  Which ones are healthy?
Who are these guys? Which ones are healthy?

We ask three questions of Benjamin Massey from Eighty Six Forever in order to get some insider perspective on the Vancouver Whitecaps as they head to Toyota Park to take on the Chicago Fire on Saturday night.  Benjamin's  first answer is below and the answers to the other two questions are after the break.

Hot Time In Old Town asks Eighty Six Forever

1. Chicago fans familiar with John Thorrington won't exactly be surprised to learn that Vancouver has been bitten by the injury bug. What crucial players will be out this Saturday and who might be returning to the pitch to the determinant of the Fire's hopes for three points?

In addition to Thorrington, the Vancouver Whitecaps are confirmed to be without the services of starting forward Atiba Harris and captain Jay DeMerit. Harris underwent knee surgery a couple of weeks ago after spending too many games stretching himself beyond his limits; he's out long-term. DeMerit strained his groin on international duty with the United States but rashly attempted to return in Houston against the Dynamo. The captain played forty-five completely ineffective minutes, re-aggravated the injury, and is now out for weeks. A minor name, Michael Nanchoff, is expected to miss this game as well with a groin injury.

While there are no big names returning to the Whitecaps lineup this week, there are a few previously-injured players who are getting into better shape. The most important is Shea Salinas. After missing most of the season through injury, Salinas made his long-awaited arrival in the Whitecaps lineup last week late against Montreal and has appeared as a substitute in two more games since. He's acquitted himself well and shown no nagging signs of injury, meaning he may be in line for his first start of the 2011 Major League Soccer season.

2. How many players from last season have stayed with the team in the transition to MLS? Are any of last year's USSF Division 2 players making a big impact so far?

The Whitecaps have heavily leaned on their second division talent, with twelve players having made the jump from USSF D2 to MLS (Terry Dunfield, Wes Knight, Greg Janicki, Philippe Davies, Nizar Khalfan, Jay Nolly, Blake Wagner, Davide Chiumiento, Alexandre Morfaw, Gershon Koffie, Russell Teibert, Mouloud Akloul). Many of them have been important players, too. Dunfield, Janicki, Chiumiento, Koffie, Teibert, Akloul, and goalkeeper Nolly have been automatic starters when healthy. Wagner, Khalfan, and Knight have also gotten significant time either as injury replacements or as substitutes. Only Davies and Morfaw have been completely unused.

Not all of these players are playing particularly brilliantly. Greg Janicki has been inconsistent, Wes Knight has struggled at times, Blake Wagner has struggled all the time, and there's been a lot of agitation to replace Jay Nolly in goal with Joe Cannon. Nizar Khalfan's play has been so erratic that we joke there's Good Khalfan and Bad Khalfan, and you never know which one you'll get until he steps on the field. But many of the players are carrying a lot of the mail. Terry Dunfield is a front-runner for team MVP, and if he isn't the most valuable player than Davide Chiumiento probably is. 18-year-old Russell Teibert has been a revelation on the wing, and the equally young Gershon Koffie has earned a starting spot as a holding midfielder with great skill.

3. What player is slipping under the MLS media radar but you have high hopes for this season?  On other the hand, is any player receiving too much credit for their contributions so far?

Given that this team has just one win, it's hard for a player to receive too much credit for that! A few players receive slightly more than their due; for example, the diminuitive Brazilian striker Camilo has dazzling ball skills and has scored some essential goals for the Whitecaps but hasn't generated much in the last few weeks. But for the most part no Whitecaps are being seriously overrated, simply because the team isn't rated very highly to begin with.

The Whitecap who the MLS world should most take note of is definitely young Russell Teibert. Just eighteen years old, Teibert is a former two-time Canadian U-17 player of the year and a star prospect with the Whitecaps system, but nobody expected him to come onto the scene and have the impact he's already had this season. Though he's occasionally fought minor fitness issues and a calf injury, Teibert has been a revelation on the Whitecaps' left wing with his speed, ball skill, and crossing. He's already receiving consideration as a call-up to the senior Canadian team for the Gold Cup. My opinion on him could be summed up by the fact that I nicknamed him "Canadian Soccer Jesus", and yet outside of Whitecaps circles he is relatively little known. But little number 31 is definitely one for Chicago Fire fans to watch.