VANCOUVER — Depth has been a calling card for the Vancouver Whitecaps all season. It will be put to the test once again on Wednesday night.
The Whitecaps will be without influential midfielder Matias Laba and hulking defender Kendall Waston due to suspension when they host the lowly Colorado Rapids at B.C. Place Stadium.
Both were sent off in a 2-0 road loss to the Houston Dynamo on Aug. 29 and will have to sit and watch as their teammates take on a side that, despite sitting 12 points back in the standings, has already beaten Vancouver twice in 2015.
“It’s two very important players in our team and the way we play,” Whitecaps defender Pa-Modou Kah said of Laba and Waston. “The thing with our team is that whenever a guy is out, another one steps in.”
Vancouver successfully manoeuvred a hectic eight-game August schedule by rotating players in and out of the lineup. Now after a 10-day break, suspensions and international duty will again test the Whitecaps’ roster.
In addition to the missing Laba and Waston, three players who could have factored in on Wednesday — striker Darren Mattocks (Jamaica), midfielder Russell Teibert (Canada) and defender Sam Adekugbe (Canada) — are away on international duty.
“Guys have been itching to get into the team,” said defender Steven Beitashour. “Right now is a great opportunity to prove themselves.”
Kah, who is back after suffering a facial fracture last month, should slide into the heart of defence alongside rookie Tim Parker, while Vancouver has a few options for Laba’s spot in midfield.
The Whitecaps (14-10-3) can move into first place in Major League Soccer’s overall standings with a win, but it won’t be easy against the Rapids (8-9-9), who beat Vancouver in Commerce City, Colo., on May 23 and July 4 and have won three straight overall in the league.
“They’ll have that confidence against us, but from our point of view we owe them one,” said Whitecaps assistant coach Gordon Forrest. “We’re back at home and we’re looking forward to the game.”
Vancouver is especially wary of a Colorado team that is starting to find its groove and has designs on making the post-season in the Western Conference.
“They’re going to do whatever it takes to get three points,” said Whitecaps defender Jordan Harvey. “We’re confident that if we do what we can and go to our strengths and guys fill in (for Laba and Waston) and do what’s expected of them we’ll be good.”
Colorado is also missing a number of players because of suspensions and international duty, but Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni said he’s confident his side can get a positive result.
“(The Whitecaps) definitely have a very speedy attack,” he told the club’s website. “I think from a tactical perspective, the players that we have, the way we like to play, we match up really well.”
After years of scraping and clawing for a chance at the playoffs, the Whitecaps are in the unfamiliar position of being hunted. But that doesn’t mean their focus has changed, especially against a team that has had their number this season.
“I still feel like we have a chip on our shoulder,” said Harvey. “At the end of the day we haven’t done much in the regular season and in the playoffs in league play. We still have a lot to prove.”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press