Evans and Hurtado in VANvSEA
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Champions League: Vancouver Whitecaps, Seattle Sounders set to write new chapter in rivalry

In a little more than two months, the Vancouver Whitecaps will embark on a new adventure when they compete in their first-ever CONCACAF Champions League campaign.

It may be a new experience for the Canadian side, but they’ll be making the journey with a familiar foe.

Vancouver and the Seattle Sounders have a long history, so perhaps it's fitting that the two sides can now add a further chapter, and a new stage, to a bitter rivalry that began back in the NASL days in 1974, continued in USL, has carried forward to Major League Soccer and will now be played out in Group F of this year's Champions League.

Whatever the competition, the battle between the two Cascadian clubs is always deeply fought. Whitecaps president Bobby Lenarduzzi has been a part of the rivalry with the Sounders from those very first NASL days. Having travelled down to Miami for Monday's draw, just what was going through his mind when the ball was opened and Seattle's name was unveiled?

"I was actually quite pleased," Lenarduzzi told reporters on a conference call after the draw. "I haven't spoken to [Whitecaps head coach] Carl [Robinson] yet so I'm not sure how he feels, but I do feel that with the fixture congestion that we're likely to have, the fact that it is a short hop is something that is beneficial. 

"That's obviously countered by the fact that they are a very good side. I'm assuming that the two of us will be fighting for playoff spots or the Supporters' Shield, so there will be something on the line in terms of MLS play that, once we get close to the fixtures, then you're going to have to start determining what your lineups are."

Squad management will be crucial for the Whitecaps during their CCL campaign, and they now face at least eight and possibly nine matches over three competitions in August.

While it would be easy for Vancouver and Seattle to focus their attentions on each other as they view advancing to the quarterfinals, neither side can afford to take for granted the third team in the group, Honduran powerhouse CD Olimpia, who will be out to spoil the MLS party.

"It probably couldn't be any more competitive," Lenarduzzi mused. "We've definitely got the most difficult group of the eight. We've got the Honduran champions and we've got the Supporters' Shield champions. There is some benefit to it being Seattle in that it's a bus ride. At the same time, it will be extremely competitive."

The 28-time Honduran Liga Nacional champions will provide a fierce test for Vancouver, with their Estadio Nacional presenting a highly hostile atmosphere for visitors.

While it may be an environment unfamiliar to most of the current crop of Whitecaps players, it's one that Lenarduzzi has experienced several times with both club and country over the years.

"I've had plenty of experience in Honduras as a player and a coach," Lenarduzzi added. "The one thing that you do get there is that you get a fantastic atmosphere, so we've got that to look forward to. They're a good side."