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New York poses hurdle on Vancouver squad's road to MLS redemption

VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Whitecaps will face another high hurdle Wednesday night as they try to keep pace with Major League Soccer's elite clubs.

The New York Red Bulls will be missing a couple of stars as they visit B.C. Place, but still pose a challenge to a Vancouver squad that is out to prove it can battle with the best after ranking as the worst team in its 2011 MLS expansion season.

"They're one of the major franchises in MLS, so it's a big test for us and one that we're looking forward to," said Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie.

New York, third in the Eastern Conference with an 8-4-2 record, will play without French striker Thierry Henry, a global icon, and Mexican midfielder Rafa Marquez. Henry, who has starred for Barcelona in Spain's top league, English Premier League side Arsenal and Italian circuit powerhouse Juventus, ranks as France's all-team leading scorer and sits third in MLS this season with nine goals.

The league's highest-paid player at US$5.6 million this season, he is recuperating from a strained calf muscle suffered last weekend in a loss to Chicago.

He also missed the Red Bulls' visit to Vancouver last season because of a sore knee.

Marquez will miss the game due to a thigh injury.

But Rennie downplayed the significance of their absence. Contending absences are to be expected, the Caps coach, and said New York is still a difficult foe with the likes of striker American striker Ken Cooper and Jamaican midfielder Dane Richards in the lineup.

Cooper shares the league scoring lead with San Jose's Chris Wondolowski at 11 goals.

"Obviously, (Henry) is a top player in the league," said Rennie. "But even without Henry, they've been on a good run of winning games."

The Red Bulls are 3-1-1 in their past five league matches. The Whitecaps (7-3-4) have also enjoyed a successful stretch lately, going unbeaten in their past four MLS contests.

Vancouver, third in the Western Conference, has already surpassed the measly six wins it mustered in all of 2011. A win over New York will build on earlier impressive results, which include a win and a tie, respectively, against powerhouse San Jose and Seattle teams.

Every game, said Rennie, serves as a signpost for the Whitecaps on their journey to the top of the standings after the poor 2011 campaign.

The Whitecaps must also make a change up front as rookie Jamaican striker Darren Mattocks sits out a one-game suspension for taking two yellow cards and an automatic red in Saturday's 1-0 victory over Colorado. Rennie said Brazilian striker Camilo is a strong candidate to replace Mattocks.

Camilo, the team's top scorer last season with 12 goals, which ranked him among league leaders, watched the past two games from the bench.

Despite the benchings, Rennie indicated he is happy with Camilo, who has three goals in 2012 league play.

"He's done well," said Rennie. "The two games before, maybe, weren't his absolute best performances, but I think he's one of our most dangerous players, and he'll make a big contribution for us this season, I'm sure."

Eric Hassli is another potential replacement for Mattocks, but lately Rennie has displayed a preference to use the Frenchman, who is Vancouver's highest-paid player, as a second-half substitute. Rennie said American midfielder Michael Nanchoff, who has played sparingly this season, could also be deployed in an attacking role.

Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit said his club must capitalize on Henry's absence.

"I don't know if it takes (some of the game's lustre) away, but it definitely gives us an advantage," said DeMerit. "Anytime an opponent is missing one of their best guys, we have to take advantage of that — and to have him not come here is a good thing for us."

Vancouver goalkeeper Joe Cannon said the Caps must be ready for a strong challenge.

"They're obviously a well coached team," he said. "I just think they're going to bring a lot of energy and a lot of pedigree. It'll be a battle."

Notes: This is the only game between the Red Bulls and Whitecaps this season. In 2011, they played to a pair of draws against each other. ... New York coach Hans Backe will miss the game for undisclosed personal reasons. Assistants Jan Halvor Halvorsen and Mike Petke will run the club in his absence. … Injured strikers Atiba Harris (knee) and Omar Salgado (fractured foot) remain out of Vancouver's lineup. … Oft-injured Red Bulls central defender Wilman Conde will not play. The 30-year-old Colombian is being rested after playing a full 90 minutes in Chicago. … Whitecaps midfielder Jun Marques Davison faces a one-game suspension if he takes another yellow card, which will be his fifth of the season. New York's Richards and Dax McCarty are in the same situation. … Red Bulls midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy did not travel to Vancouver because of what the team described as the Morrocan's U.S. "green card issues."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2012
The Canadian Press

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