Whitecaps insist they’re not looking past Saturday to looming Cup final

The Vancouver Whitecaps host the Chicago Fire on Saturday at B.C. Place, but Tuesday night’s Voyageurs Cup final is arguably the most important game in club history.

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The Vancouver Whitecaps want you to know they have a game on Saturday. A big, important game. A very big, very important game.

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“Honest! Really!” they say earnestly. “God’s truth right there!”

It is true they have a game this weekend, hosting the Chicago Fire on Saturday at 7 p.m., one cannot ignore the behemoth of a game that follows it on Tuesday.

That’s when the Whitecaps host Toronto FC in the Canadian Championship final, the battle for the Voyageurs Cup.

The Caps have won it once in their 11-year existence as a Major League Soccer club, in 2015, with Pa Modou-Kah’s hoverboard celebration after the 3-1 win over Montreal marking an iconic moment in the team’s history. For that win was the only silverware of significance (Sorry, Cascadia Cup) they have.


NEXT GAME

Saturday

Chicago Fire vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

7 p.m., B.C. Place, TV: TSN, Radio: AM730

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The winner gets a coveted berth in the Concacaf Champions League to test their mettle against storied Caribbean and Central American teams, with the Seattle Sounders the only MLS team to have bested them for the trophy.

And considering the Whitecaps’ recent history, marred by pitfalls on the field and flatulent seasons of ineptitude off it, it’s not hyperbole to deem Tuesday’s game might the biggest in team history.

And the obligatory reminder: the last Caps coach to lose a Canadian Championship game found himself jobless shortly after, and it’s the reason Vanni Sartini finds himself with the head coach’s parking space at the team facility.

The affable Italian wasn’t about to call the team he fields on Saturday a ‘B’ squad, but they’ve been preparing this week with an eye on Tuesday. He’s been working closely with the performance team to closely manage the workload his players are under, to maximize who plays when.

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“It’s a different lineup for different characteristics, for different type of opponents,” Sartini said. “I am confident that both Sunday and Tuesday we’re going to field the lineup that can win those games.

“Tuesday is very important — the most important. But it’s very important Saturday too, because at the end, I think that the playoff race will be decided with one, two or three points and a win Saturday maybe at the end of the season can mean that we are in the playoffs.

“So it’s final number one Sunday, and final number two on Tuesday.”

And final No. 2 has already sold in excess of 18,000 tickets — for a Tuesday game, remember. That likely includes all of Commercial Drive, ready to turn out to see the Azurri of MLS; the Reds have splashed out big cash to sign Italian stars Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Domenico Criscito.

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Toronto’s last visit to B.C. Place ended when former TFC man Tosaint Ricketts scored the winner in the 90th minute in their May meeting, the same game Thomas Hasal was lost to broken fingers when trying to stop Jayden Nelson from scoring on a loose ball.

“The players have changed, but the philosophy of the of the two teams didn’t change,” said Sartini. “So I think that we can expect more or less the same theme. They are possession-based team; they like to do control of the game, and we like to be very compact and not give them space and be kind of more direct.

“They will they have some new players, we have some new players, so the execution probably will be different.”

Sartini wasn’t speaking out of turn when he did say Saturday’s game had some import. The Western Conference is so competitive, even Sporting Kansas City — in last place with 20 points — isn’t out of the playoff picture. The playoff line is just seven points above them, and past that, fourth place is a mere four-point jump.

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The Whitecaps (7-9-5) are tied on 26 points with Seattle — but with a game in hand on the Sounders — and the three teams directly above them all playing this weekend, too. With 13 games remaining, picking up a result against Chicago (6-10-5, 12th East) is a not an insignificant matter.

“It’s a good team,” Sartini said of the Fire, who blanked both Seattle (1-0) and Toronto (2-0) in their last two games, after a stretch that saw Chicago pick up just nine points in 15 games (2-10-3).

“They need a little bit of a roller-coaster at the start, then they get bad results, then lately they are getting better again. It’s a very young team, so it’s normal to see this change of performance sometimes.

“That being said, we need to do again where we show them that there’s no business for them here. We need to be the in charge of the game for minute one. … If we are able to immediately put our front forward, I think that it’s hard sometimes for them to get back when they concede a goal. The first 30 minutes, they’re going to be very decisive.”

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Twitter.com/TheRealJJAdams

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