BURNABY, B.C. - The Vancouver Whitecaps are about to put a two-week rest to the test.
The Whitecaps (5-3-4) will resume their Major League Soccer season Sunday as they host the Houston Dynamo (4-3-4) at B.C. Place Stadium.
The Caps have not played since earning a 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers in the Oregon city May 26.
"We had a really busy stretch going into this break, and I think this break's been good to rest our bodies, rest our minds a little bit and come out raring to go," said Vancouver midfielder John Thorrington.
"The guys are just really excited to get back on the field in front of our fans."
The break came after the Whitecaps spent about a month playing twice per week, encompassing both league and Amway Canadian championship play. The Caps have a chance to offer more fuel to the debate about the effects of fatigue on professional athletes after experiencing two different schedule extremes.
More importantly, they can continue their quest for a playoff berth as they attempt to erase the bitter memory of a last-place finish in the 2011 MLS expansion season. The Caps have displayed glimpses of great promise in the form of a victory over the powerhouse San Jose Earthquakes and a tie against a strong Seattle Sounders club, but struggled against a weak Toronto side that took the Canadian title from them in a two-game, total-goals series.
"We've put ourselves in a good spot in terms of the Western Conference standings," said Thorrington. "For me, the most exciting thing is that we did that — and I think we still have a lot to give for the remainder of the season.
"We've shown in flashes what we could be about, and I think we need to do it on a more consistent basis."
The Whitecaps have been extremely tight defensively most of the season, but coach Martin Rennie is still searching for an improved passing display and a better finishing touch from his strikers.
The club offensive's hopes suffered a blow last weekend as 18-year-old left winger Omar Salgado sustained a fractured foot while playing for the U.S. under-20 team in a friendly in Uruguay.
"Damnnnn Why now?" a frustrated Salgado tweeted on Twitter.
The injury resulted after the Caps had spent several weeks grooming Salgado, who had played as a striker in the centre of the forward line most of his career, to capitalize on his strong left foot from the left flank. He had displayed considerable improvement from his rookie season while assisting on some key goals.
Rennie is hopeful that Salgado will return "reasonably soon," but must still find a capable replacement in the interim.
"We've got a lot of options in that position," said Rennie. "We've got a number of players who can play there. So in that we're well covered there. But, obviously, we want to get (Salgado) back quickly and keep developing him."
Midfielder Davide Chiumiento is one possible substitute for Salgado, having played several games on both wings in the past.
"I feel really good and I just want to play," said Chiumiento, who has been in and out of the lineup this season. "Where doesn't matter."
Other options include star Brazilian striker Camilo, and seldom used Canadian midfielder Russell Teibert and American counterpart Michael Nanchoff.
Either way, the Caps have a chance to capitalize on a Houston defence depleted by absences due to national team duties. Dynamo right back Andre Hinault is away playing for Canada while centre back Geoff Cameron is with his U.S. national team.
But Rennie is still expecting a difficult contest from a Houston side coached by Scottish compatriot Dominic Kinnear. Like the Whitecaps, the Dynamo are well rested. They have not played since losing a friendly to Valencia of Spain on May 31.
"They're a strong team," said Rennie. "They've proved that over many years under Dominic Kinnear in MLS, so we know it'll be a hard game and one that we're looking forward to."
Notes: Vancouver striker Long Tan was suspended indefinitely Friday for complaining on Twitter about his lack of playing time. He has played only 27 minutes this season while being pushed down the depth chart by Salgado and newcomers Sebastien Le Toux, Darren Mattocks and Etienne Barbara. ... Houston has signed Honduran midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia as its designated player, but he can't play until an international transfer window opens June 27. ... American midfielder Anton Peterlin, who previously played with English sides Walsall, Plymouth and Everton, is on a one-week trial with the Whitecaps. ... The Whitecaps must move a player to create an opening for star Scottish midfielder Barry Robson by the time he joins the roster at the transfer-window opening. Rennie said he already knows what the club will do, but is not divulging details.