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Whitecaps of 2011 resembling the Union of 2010

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Maybe, as Jordan Harvey settles into his new place of employment, he’ll see a lot of similarities between the Philadelphia Union of 2010 and the Vancouver Whitecaps of 2011.

Harvey, dealt from the Union to the Whitecaps on Thursday, made his first start in Vancouver white Saturday as the ‘Caps dropped a 2-1 decision on the road to the Colorado Rapids.

The loss was typical of the Whitecaps’ season so far. Even without Terry Dunfield, who was an unused sub, and central defender Jay DeMerit, whose groin is keeping him out of action, and Davide Chiumiento and Eric Hassli — the two offensive dynamos who are back in B.C. nursing their nagging injuries — the Whitecaps competed, at altitude, with the Rapids. They certainly didn’t look like they were members of the worst team in MLS.

But, in the one-goal loss, like so many of the Whitecaps other losses that season, a silly mistake undoes 90 minutes of work.

Colorado’s opening goal was the result of a blown marking assignment. Jamie Smith sent a cross into the Vancouver penalty area. Whitecaps defender Michael Boxall totally lost Conor Casey in the box. Casey chested — and maybe, just maybe, used his arm — the ball down and then fired the ball into the goal with his next touch.

Conor Casey. As in, the best target man in MLS. As in, one of the top scorers in MLS over the past three seasons. As in, the MVP of last year’s MLS Cup.

The Whitecaps played the Rapids level in the second half, but that glaring first-half errors was too much to overcome.

Scott Palguta got the Rapids the insurance goal. He got a a gift when Whitecaps keeper Joe Cannon could only palm a header from Casey away. The ball came right to Palguta, who slammed it in.

Camilo, who was denied earlier in the match by Rapids keeper Matt Pickens, got the goal that the Whitecaps deserved late in the match. A pass from Nazir Khalfan pierced the Rapids’ backline. Camilo ran onto it, rounded Pickens and had nothing but an open net to hit.

But, it was too little, too late. In fact, it made the first-half defensive lapse all the more glaring.

Last season, Philadelphia came in as an expansion team with plenty of high hopes. After all, this is MLS, a league where an expansion team, the Chicago Fire, once won it all. With a small salary cap and a wide global talent base to choose from, MLS offers by far the best opportunity for an expansion side to be competitive.

Yet, Philly finished second-last in the East. But the club was nowhere near as bad as its record suggested. It lost seven games by one-goal margins. And, so many of those games were decided not by brilliance from the opposition, but mistakes from Philadelphia. Spotty goalkeeping. A defensive error. A red card.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? In Vancouver’s first MLS season, the team hasn’t been blown out a hell of a lot. It doesn’t have any of the 5-0 or 6-2 losses on its resume that Toronto FC has had to endure this season. Yet, the Whitecaps have the worst record in the league.

Think of the silly cards, goalkeeping errors and defensive brain cramps that have cost the Whitecaps points this season.

Just last Wednesday, the Whitecaps lost a game which it dominated. Why? Because Jeff Cunningham, now tied as the top all-time scorer in MLS history, was left all alone in the penalty area to head home a cross.

The Whitecaps should have had the Nutrilite Canadian Championship salted away after the first leg, but Vancouver spurned chance after chance, allowing TFC the chance to win it in the second leg. Vancouver also switched off for about a minute, enough time for Maicon Santos to score the key road goal for Toronto FC in that first leg.

The Whitecaps have lost nine MLS matches by one goal. So many of those have been the result of single mistakes which turned draws into losses.

This season is clearly lost for the Whitecaps. But it’s not the result of massive shortcomings. On a week-to-week basis, you could argue that the Chicago Fire, New England Revolution and, ahem, Toronto FC are all far less competitive than the Whitecaps. (Even though TFC fans, justifiably, will call that on the basis of the NCC title.)

The Union worked out the kinks and is now atop the Eastern Conference standings. The West is much tougher than the East. For the Whitecaps to rise in the West in 2012 like the Union did in the East in 2011 is a very tough ask. But the Whitecaps can look back at a lot of silly mistakes, not a lack of competitiveness, as the culprits for their current plight.

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