Upstart Whitecaps still with a lot to prove

Tyler Green, soccer columnist for 24 hours Vancouver

Throughout an MLS season, there are going to be obstacles, learning experiences and challenges. I, for one, get challenged every time I hit the media dessert tray at Whitecaps matches - one or two cookies?

The 'Caps, meanwhile, have one Wednesday evening against FC Dallas, and will have two more challenges when they face Seattle and Portland in back-to-back Saturday road games.

Vancouver will face the challenge of depth. Five Whitecaps are currently absent due to international duty, including two key starters in Darren Mattocks and Dane Richards. Also missing is Canadian Russell Teibert, Maltese playmaker Etienne Barbara and Trinidad-Tobago central defender Carlyle Mitchell.

Vancouver will also be without midfielder Gershon Koffie, out with suspension, and most likely their captain, Jay DeMerit, who has been battling concussion-like symptoms.

Depth will certainly be tested, but Englishman Andy O'Brien proved he can step right in and play in place of DeMerit at centre back, while John Thorrington is the obvious substitution for Koffie.

But with players gone - on international duty, injured, suspended or still waiting for a visa - you will see the likes of Canadian youngsters Bryce Alderson and Caleb Clarke making the bench for the Whitecaps tonight. It's good experience for the youngsters and an opportunity to show what they can do on the MLS stage.

The second test, meanwhile, is in Seattle on Saturday and facing the Sounders in front of a crowd of more than 50,000 people. Seattle is currently tied on points with Vancouver, but with games in hand, the Whitecaps have a shot to make their Cascadian rival chase them for a change.

By winning the match, the 'Caps can clear space, solidify their playoffs aspirations, and after beating San Jose, Real Salt Lake and potentially Seattle, show that they can hang with the MLS big boys.

A proverbial thorn in their side is the final test of August - battling a Portland Timbers side in the Rose City.

The Whitecaps haven't yet been able to beat their expansion cousins in their short MLS history. Beating one of the league's weaker sides is a must to claim a good playoff position, especially in a tight Western Conference where a loss could put you in the playoff play-in game.

Simply put, August started well with a victory over RSL. Now, it's time for the Whitecaps to put on an authoritative stamp on it by proving they can have success through adversity of depth, winning in front of the biggest crowd they'll see on the road this season, and in defeating a team they've never been able to beat.

Listen to Tyler Green on TEAM 1040 every Sunday at 9 p.m. He also co-hosts the Whitecaps pre- and post-game shows. Follow him on Twitter @tylergreen1040.