Steady diet of intrigue for Nutrilite tourney - Vancouver Sun

Whitecaps gear for title pursuit with bad blood, TV coverage expected to boost excitement

By Ian Walker

A Vancouver Whitecaps schedule was released on Thursday. No, not that one. The jointly run NASL-USL-1 Division 2 has yet to unveil its regular season, which is expected to begin play in early April.

We think.

Rather it was the dates for the Nutrilite Canadian Championship that were announced at a Toronto news conference. The three-team round-robin tournament will run on six consecutive Wednesdays from April 28 to June 2, with all games shown live on Rogers Sportsnet.

The winner qualifies for the 2010-2011 CONCACAF Champions League.

The Whitecaps will open with a pair of home games, first against the Montreal Impact on May 5 and then Toronto FC two weeks later before hitting the road for their final two games.

Vancouver will play in the tourney's final two matches, which should put to rest any fears of a repeat of last year's debacle when Montreal seemingly mocked the true spirit of the tournament.

The Impact -- already eliminated from the competition and with an eye on a league game against the Whitecaps two nights later -- rested most of their starters and virtually handed TFC the title in the closing match by losing 6-1 at home. Vancouver went into the game holding a four-goal cushion atop the standings.

And it wasn't just Whitecaps fans who were miffed. A large number of Montreal season ticket holders boycotted the first half of the team's next home game in protest. Even now, eight months later, it's still a contentious issue for those within the Whitecaps inner sanctum.

"It did hurt me, but I cannot let that affect me no matter what game I am going into," said Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson. "I will put my best team on the field and I will do that all the time."

Impact head coach Marc Dos Santos was once again forced to defend his actions, as the drama surrounding last year's championship was the topic du jour for media in attendance.

"When we lost in Vancouver 1-0 I knew it was over and I started to put our priorities in place," said Dos Santos, who may have had the last laugh. "We gave more importance to our league games and we lost 6-1. It was a big story and I understand that. But afterward we won the league championship. I think we dealt with it in an intelligent way."

It's a point all the more hammered home when you consider who Montreal defeated in the two-game championship series. The Whitecaps, of course.

But one that makes Dr. Dominique Maestracci's comments ring a little bit hollow.

"Only the best will move forward to represent our nation," said the CSA president.

This will mark the third Nutrilite event, with Montreal taking the title in year one, advancing to the quarter-finals of CONCACAF before being eliminated by Mexico's Santos Laguna.

A more condensed schedule, televised games along with the intrigue and bad blood spilling over from last year only bode well in terms of generating excitement for the tournament.

"The consistency of six consecutive Wednesday's plus the drama from last season allows this year's to be the best yet," said Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi, adding Vancouver will have played a few league games in advance of their opening game of the Nutrilite.

Or so he thinks.

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2010 NUTRILITE CANADIAN CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE

- April 28 -BMO Field

Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact

- May 5 -Swangard Stadium

Whitecaps vs. Montreal Impact

- May 12 -Stade Saputo

Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC

- May 19 -Swangard Stadium

Whitecaps vs. Toronto FC

- May 26 -Stade Saputo

Montreal Impact vs. Whitecaps

- June 2 -BMO Field

Toronto vs. Whitecaps

iwalker@vancouversun.com
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