Stakes never higher for 'Caps ahead of Cascadia clash

Darren Mattocks and Jeff Parke (SEA - VAN)

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BURNABY, B.C. – Could the stakes be higher for the Vancouver Whitecaps' Saturday showdown with the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field?

Not by much. A playoff race, a Cascadia derby and a whopping estimated crowd of over 54,000 give the match all the ingredients for yet another classic between the sides (4 pm ET, TSN2/RDS in Canada, MLS Live in US).

“It’s got all of the elements of a great derby match,” midfielder John Thorrington said after a training session on Thursday at Burnaby Lake field. “It’s important in terms of the league standings, there’ll be a great crowd and the local rivalry is huge for us as players.”

In terms of playoff position, both sides sit tied on points with 37 alongside the LA Galaxy. The Sounders, however, have two matches in hand over the Whitecaps and three over the Galaxy.

Due to the new tiebreaker rules recently announced by Major League Soccer, Vancouver sit in fifth place – the final playoff position – as their goals scored total is the lowest among the three teams. Given that position, does it make the match a must-win game for the ‘Caps given there’s only nine games to go?

“It’s not a must-win,” head coach Martin Rennie said. “It’s a big game for both teams and for our fans – it’s one of those games you feel like you’re desperate to win. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t, but we’re certainly at the moment not thinking of anything else but winning at the moment.”

In terms of getting that win, the ‘Caps will be bolstered by the returns of starters Dane Richards and Darren Mattocks from international duty, and Gershon Koffie from suspension.

Martín Bonjour, however, will miss out due to yellow-card accumulation, adding to Vancouver’s center back juggling act.

That will mean Andy O’Brien, who made his first start for the club in Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat to FC Dallas, will likely see a new partner in central defense if Jay DeMerit is unavailable as he continues his recovery from a concussion suffered in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake.

If DeMerit hasn’t recovered, expect starting left fullback Alain Rochat to shift into the middle alongside O’Brien, with Jordan Harvey coming in start on the left side of defense.

After playing in front of crowds as big as 80,000 in his Republic of Ireland days, O'Brien has some advice for his teammates.

"Just go out and enjoy it," he said. "It's what you aspire to when you're younger. To get that opportunity is something to grab with both hands."

Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.