I-5 drive last for a while - The Province

Marc Weber

There's not much time for nostalgia when you're gearing up for the playoffs and first place could still be on the line, but the Vancouver Whitecaps veterans admit this game has a slightly different feel.

The Whitecaps visit the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. It will be the 83rd meeting between the I-5 rivals -- 111th if you count the NASL days -- and barring a playoff meeting, the last for at least a little while. Seattle makes the jump to Major League Soccer in 2009. Vancouver could join them as soon as 2011.

"It's not really time for reflection," said midfielder Martin Nash. "Our biggest focus right now is to get the win, and hopefully Atlanta and Montreal can do us a favour [by beating Puerto Rico].

"But obviously, it's quite strange knowing that this is our last game there -- hopefully we'll join them soon.

"The games between us are pretty fierce because we've played so often. It's always a great, competitive game."

The league is on its fourth name change since Seattle joined in 1994, and long-serving Caps like Nash and Alfredo Valente have faced the Sounders in four different venues.

Seattle moves again next season, from Starfire Sports Stadium back to Qwest Field.

"I remember a lot of games down in Renton, the old stadium there," said Valente, noting, like all the other vets, the 6-2 road drubbing they dealt Seattle in the 2002 playoffs.

"We've had some great games, and I got to play when the Bernie James era was going on, which was a fun time," he said of the longtime, hard-nosed Seattle defender.

"We don't know what's going to happen in the future. If I do get an opportunity to play against Seattle again, it'll be great. For now, this is the final game of a long, great rivalry. We'll approach it like any other Seattle game, but I think it's going to mean a lot for the guys who've been around for a while."

Apparently it means a lot to some faithful Whitecaps fans, too. About 75 have plans to bus down to the game.

mweber@theprovince.com

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SATURDAY'S GAME

Vancouver Whitecaps at Seattle Sounders

Starfire Sports Stadium

Saturday, 7 p.m.

Radio/TV: none

The skinny: The Whitecaps find out tonight if they will still have a shot at first place come kickoff in Seattle. Vancouver needs the Puerto Rico Islanders (15-6-7) to lose their final two games -- including a home tilt tonight against Atlanta (8-11-9) -- in order to top the table and earn an opening-round playoff bye. Vancouver then has to beat Seattle and have Puerto Rico lose in Montreal (12-11-5) on Sunday, a stretch to say the least.

The Caps are assured of second place, which likely sets up a playoff meeting with the Minnesota Thunder.

Whitecaps (14-7-8, 2nd place): D Geordie Lyall (groin) is on the shelf and D Omar Jarun (suspension) will miss the Seattle tilt and the first game of the playoffs ... Ds Takashi Hirano and Wesley Charles are back from injury ... M Lyle Martin was named to the USL-1 Team of the Week for the third time after setting up F Charles Gbeke's winner against Montreal last week. Gbeke is fit to play despite taking a nasty elbow to the jaw in the Montreal win.

Sounders (10-9-10, 6th place): Seattle needs to beat Vancouver in order to finish top four, which comes with the choice of starting their two-leg playoff series at home or on the road. The Sounders, reigning USL-1 champions, can still finish anywhere from third to sixth ... Seattle is 1-0-1 against Vancouver this season, winning 2-0 at Swangard Stadium and playing to a 0-0 home draw. That night, though, they were without key midfielders Josh Gardner and Leighton O'Brien.

© The Vancouver Province 2008