Hard to play waiting game - The Province


Whitecaps: Championship glory awaits barring June 18 disaster

BY MARC WEBER

It's easy to picture the Vancouver Whitecaps sitting around the locker room this week, Tom Petty blaring from the speakers: "The waiting is the hardest part."

The Caribbean corner -- Wesley Charles, Marlon James and Dever Orgill -- likely opting for a little Bob Marley: "I don't want to wait in vain for your love."

It's only a little love the Whitecaps need from the Montreal Impact on June 18.

By virtue of their memorable 2-0 victory over Toronto FC at Swangard Stadium on Tuesday, the Whitecaps have forced TFC to conjure up a miraculous four-goal win at Saputo Stadium two weeks from now in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship finale.

Anything short of a colossal, embarrassing failure by Montreal that night and the Whitecaps are Voyageurs Cup champions, and, more meaningfully, Canada's representative in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Still, there are two weeks to kill.

"It's a crappy waiting game, I tell you," says Whitecaps captain Martin Nash, who watched nervously from the stands Tuesday, suspended after two yellow cards.

"That's a long time. It's a real strange one. It'll be in the back of our minds until it's all said and done. It's going to be a little bit tough but we've got to be mentally strong."

There are USL-1 games to distract them -- Sunday at home to Montreal and June 12 at home to Miami. Of course, those fixtures should prove much more than a distraction.

Vancouver is only 3-3-2 in league play, sixth in the standings. They are 11 points out of first place with two games in hand on leaders Carolina.

Saturday's lacklustre 2-0 loss in Portland, though, showed it's not so easy to put this Champions League dream on the mental back burner.

"It was difficult," Nash says of the Portland game. "I think the guys' heads were on Toronto. There were a few guys who didn't show up because they were thinking about Tuesday, but we have to get back on track [in USL-1]. We need to take some points and move our way up."

As an interesting twist, the Whitecaps visit the Impact on June 20 for a USL-1 game that, in theory, is far more meaningful for Montreal than their June 18 clash with TFC.

The Whitecaps are scheduled to travel the day of the Nutrilite finale and aren't sure yet whether they'll be in attendance.

Nash says he was surprised that head-to-head goal differential between the tied clubs wasn't a tie-breaker -- Vancouver outscored Toronto 2-1 in their two meetings -- noting that Montreal had everything to play for against Vancouver and, now, nothing but pride on the line against Toronto.

He is certain, though, of Montreal's class.

"Montreal's got a lot of pride in their club and they wouldn't put out a weak lineup," he says. "I can't see Montreal losing by that much at home."

mweber@theprovince.com

PRELIMINARY HOME-AND-AWAY ROUND PRECEDES CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE, SHOULD WHITECAPS ADVANCE

The Nutrilite Canadian Championship winner does not advance directly to the 16-team group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League, but rather must win a preliminary home-and-away round that kicks off July 28, a month earlier than last year. Matchups for the preliminary round will be announced next week.

The Whitecaps have USL-1 games on July 25, 31 and Aug. 1 in three different cities. Good thing then they've showed an ability to win without Martin Nash, who was suspended for Tuesday's game against Toronto FC. Head coach Teitur Thordarson will need to rest some key players if the schedule gets hectic.

"It was good for Gordon [Chin] to come in and show he can do a job in central midfield," says Nash. "We've been lacking in that position this year and, if it all goes as we want, we'll have a lot of games at the end of the season and we're going to need our whole squad to get through.

"Puerto Rico did really well to manage that last year. Montreal, you could see wore out when we played them [in the USL-1 semifinals]."

Puerto Rico made it to the USL-1 final and Champions League semifinals last year. Montreal bowed out to Vancouver in the USL-1 semis and lost in the Champions League quarterfinals.

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