VANCOUVER, B.C. — After a couple days rest following a week away, Vancouver Whitecaps FC got back on the training pitch on Wednesday to prepare for another game on the road. But it wasn’t just any typical preparation. This time, the Whitecaps are preparing for a special match, one with its roots in the early 1970s and the NASL.
On Saturday, the 'Caps will travel a few hours down the I-5 to play their first MLS match against their longtime cross-border rivals, the Seattle Sounders. It is the oldest soccer feud in North America, and it is chock full of memories.
“It’s a rivalry that does go back to 1974,” Whitecaps FC president Bob Lenarduzzi said in a conference call with Seattle reporters on Wednesday. “I was fortunate enough to have been a player then. We’ve had some great teams, great talent [and we’ve] shared some great personalities.”
One of those personalities is Alan Hinton, who played for both the Whitecaps and the Sounders, and now works as a television and radio analyst for the Sounders. Having played in both cities, he’s watched closely the growth of the sport in the region, and he says that the excitement surrounding the clash is as high as ever.
“When the schedule comes out, the first thing you look at is when the Whitecaps play the Sounders,” Hinton told the Sounders official website.
Whitecaps FC head coach Tom Soehn can attest to that. With adrenaline sure to be running high, the ‘Caps boss feels that this could be just the game to get his team going. Vancouver are currently mired in a 13-game winless streak.
“There’s not a whole lot of motivating to do,” said Soehn. “The players all are aware of the competitive nature in a derby. What a great situation to be in and nothing could be better to get a result against them.”
Added Lenarduzzi, “If it were another league game, any other league game other than a northwest derby, it would still be great to get a win. But it would be so much greater to get a win in Seattle. There’s no doubt about that.”
Having yet to play at Qwest Field, where the Sounders routinely sell out with more than 35,000 fans each game, Soehn doesn’t know exactly how his group will react. But it will be a great test and he’s expecting his players to respond positively to the atmospher.
“We know it will be a hostile environment,” added Soehn, “but situations like that bring out the best in players.”