VANCOUVER, B.C. – Old enemies, new battleground.
After 20 years of lower-division matches and cup encounters, the Vancouver Whitecaps will host their Canadian rivals Montreal Impact on Saturday for the clubs’ first MLS encounter (6 pm ET, TSN/RDS in Canada, MLS Live in US).
“There has been a rivalry just because it’s two Canadian teams that fought very hard at the top of the second division for many years and I’m sure that rivalry will continue,” head coach Martin Rennie told MLSsoccer.com after training at BC Place on Friday. “At the same time, with the east-west split, there’s not so many games between the teams which might take it away slightly, but tomorrow, certainly that rivalry will be there.”
Captain Jay DeMerit, who looks set to start alongside Martín Bonjour at the heart of the team’s defense, feels the rivalry aspect should add a little extra spice to what is already a highly anticipated fixture.
“I think it’s a great place to start,” DeMerit said. “To create the rivalries that we’re doing so far in the MLS is something that’s important, not only for us as a team, and for the fans, but as a league.”
Vancouver went undefeated in preseason, apart from a penalty shootout loss to the Carolina RailHawks on March 4, and the club picked up four clean sheet victories – including a 3-0 win over the Impact – to capture the Disney Pro Soccer Classic preseason title.
“You use preseason as something to prepare you, but don’t rely on it to think you’re going to go out on day one and have success,” DeMerit said. “I think we have to stay humble and stay within the right that nothing’s happened yet. For us, it’s a matter of staying focused and preparing right.”
After capturing that preseason title in Orlando, DeMerit commented that the work ethic still wasn’t where he felt it should be, but with meaningful competition now the hope is the attitude will change.
“We can’t be a good team if we don’t have 11 guys working and getting behind the ball and helping each other out,” DeMerit said. “In the final, we didn’t do that, but we did keep a clean sheet and we did stay positive as far as our result. It could be a blessing in disguise knowing full well what can happen if guys aren’t getting behind the ball and working – making our day difficult.
“Hopefully we’ve had a good rest this week, guys have prepared right, and now we have to make sure we’re going out all guns blazing tomorrow.”
Trialist Bilal Duckett has been released. Drafted 37th overall by Vancouver in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, he made only four appearances in his rookie season.
Atiba Harris, despite being listed as doubtful, is out for sure with pain in his left knee and won’t play a part against Montreal.
Eric Hassli, listed as probable after a left knee complaint, says he is fine to play on Saturday, and will take the field without the brace he’s been wearing during training sessions.
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.