Terry Dunfield of the Vancouver Whitecaps dribbles past Danny Mwanga of the Philadelphia Union.
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Vancouver aim to strike first on staunch Union defense

BURNABY, B.C. — Last week, Vancouver Whitecaps FC celebrated a goal for the ages from Eric Hassli. This week, they hope to summon a similar offensive magic as they face off against the defensively sound Philadelphia Union (Saturday, 10 pm ET, MatchDay Live).

“Philly’s a hard-working team,” said Whitecaps FC captain Jay DeMerit at training this week. “They get behind the ball and they’re well organized.”

Scoring on Peter Nowak’s side has proved very tough this season, with Philly allowing only 11 goals in 13 matches. While that defensive mentality has frustrated many MLS clubs playing the Union this season, the ‘Caps feel they can knock Philly off their game plan if they strike first.

“You’ve got to be opportunistic and get them out of that shell,” said Vancouver head coach Tom Soehn. “Scoring the first goal will obviously force them to have to attack a bit more.”

Vancouver's inability to find the back of the net in their first encounter against the Union enabled Philadelphia to settle into their defensive stance while holding the ‘Caps in neutral. Philly increased the offensive pressure after Eric Hassli was sent off and ultimately came away with a 1-0 win at PPL Park in March.

“It was kind of difficult losing a man,” said 'Caps goalkeeper Joe Cannon of the first meeting. “I felt that we didn’t give them too much for their home opener, but we definitely played on the back foot. Coming in at home this Saturday, we need to be on the front foot.”

In order to get on the scoreboard first, Vancouver will need another big game from their big striker. Hassli does not necessarily need to score himself, but the Whitecaps will need their French forward to find the right degree of physicality to fend off defenders while maintaining possession to help the club build its attack.

“We’re going to have to keep them spread out and create chances by holding the ball up and getting out and organizing ourselves,” added DeMerit. “Then, like we’ve always done, create chances but make sure we finish them this time.”

Whether or not that involves Hassli adding to his goal tally, the ‘Caps know that they need to put the ball in the net one way or another.

“You know, we got a spectacular goal scored from Hassli,” said defender Wes Knight. “But we need other guys to contribute as well. I think with the opportunities we’re getting, we’re getting more and more each game. As long as we take care of those and stay compact defensively, we’re going to win many games.”

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