Whitecaps FC return home to face Columbus Crew on Wednesday night

'Caps prepare to host Columbus at Empire

Terry Dunfield Dejan Rusmir

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Looking to bounce back from a disappointing road trip, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (2W-8L-8D) host Eastern Conference high-flyers Columbus Crew (6W-5L-6D) in Major League Soccer action on Bell Pitch at Empire Field on Wednesday evening.

The Blue and White return home after a very difficult road spell that saw the 'Caps suffer three straight defeats, including two very disappointing away losses to Canadian rivals Toronto FC. This included a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat in the second leg of this year's Nutrilite Canadian Championship (NCC) final, as TFC claimed their third-straight Voyageurs Cup title and Canada's lone spot in the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League with a 3-2 aggregate success. Tom Soehn's side will now put their entire focus on the remainder of their MLS regular season campaign, starting with the visit of a Columbus Crew side that are looking to bounce back from a weekend defeat at in-form FC Dallas.

Wednesday's match between Whitecaps FC and Columbus Crew at Empire Field is set for 7 p.m. PT. Individual match tickets start at $20, plus applicable service charges, and are available at all Ticketmaster Ticket Centres, online at ticketmaster.ca, and Charge-by-Phone at 1.855.6.GO-CAPS (1.855.646.2277). Visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets for more information on individual match tickets for the club's inaugural MLS season.

Whitecaps FC's home match versus Columbus Crew can also be seen live on TSN and Bell mobile devices at 7 p.m. PT. 'Caps fans can also listen to Wednesday's contest live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 5 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show.

WHITECAPS FC

There have been many challenges for the Blue and White to endure as an MLS expansion club, but this past week was likely the most testing spell of the season to date. Winning the Voyageurs Cup was a stated goal for Whitecaps FC in 2011, and the sting of falling short on Saturday is sure to be felt by all 'Caps faithful for some time. Though Saturday's defeat was tough to take, Soehn's side have the opportunity to bounce back on Wednesday and make a push for an MLS Cup playoff spot in the second half of the season. Despite being bottom of the Western Conference, the 'Caps are only six points adrift of a wild-card playoff spot, with 16 matches left to play between Wednesday and late October. This includes a difficult trip to Colorado on Saturday to face the defending MLS Cup champion Rapids.

In fact, the month of July will provide Soehn's squad with several challenging games. After meeting Columbus and Colorado this week, Whitecaps FC will then meet three quality Western Conference opponents in Real Salt Lake (July 16), San Jose Earthquakes (July 20), and LA Galaxy (July 30). On Monday, July 18, the 'Caps will also get the chance to test themselves against English Premier League opposition when they host Manchester City FC in an international friendly.

Soehn's squad will be without captain Jay DeMerit (adductor strain) and striker Atiba Harris (knee) for Wednesday's match. Midfielder John Thorrington is listed as doubtful, as he looks to recover from a long-standing calf injury, while midfielder Davide Chiumiento (hamstring) and striker Eric Hassli (foot contusion) are questionable for the midweek clash.

CREW

With a proud history as an original MLS club, Columbus Crew remain focused on being one of the top teams in the league. Now in their 16th season, the Crew have shown their pedigree by winning three MLS Supporters' Shield titles as regular season champions and an MLS Cup title in 2008. This season, Robert Warzycha's side have had an indifferent campaign. Their recent form was impressive, as Columbus won three of four league matches last month. However, the Crew make their maiden trip to Canada's west coast on the back of two straight defeats.

Last Tuesday, Columbus were dumped out of this year's Lamar Hunt US Open Cup after a third-round defeat to Richmond Kickers of the third-tier United Soccer Leagues Professional Division (USL PRO). That was followed by a 2-0 defeat at FC Dallas that saw the Crew lose three players for the Vancouver match through suspension and injury. Defender Andy Iro was sent off for two bookable offences, while midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo picked up his fifth booking of the season during Saturday's defeat. Rookie defensive midfielder Rich Balchan will also miss the midweek clash after suffering an adductor strain in Texas. He joins defender Josh Williams (hip) and midfielders Dilly Duka (ankle) and Leandre Griffit (abdominal strain) in missing Wednesday's game. Defender Shaun Francis (hamstring) and striker Emilio Renteria (quad) are listed as doubtful.

Nonetheless, Columbus have players to watch out for. Designated Player Andres Mendoza leads the Crew with seven goals this season, while fellow South American Bernardo Anor has proven himself to be a viable option in midfield. Warzycha's squad includes experienced players like goalkeeper William Hesmer, midfielder Eddie Gaven, and attacker Robbie Rogers.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Wednesday's match is the second competitive meeting between Whitecaps FC and Columbus Crew. Both clubs met earlier in the season in the Ohio state capital, with Whitecaps FC falling 2-1 to Columbus on April 30. Two second-half goals by Crew striker Emilio Renteria - the first coming from the penalty spot - sealed all three points for Warzycha's side, even though Vancouver youngster Omar Salgado scored his first goal in MLS with a fine header at Crew Stadium. Both the 'Caps and the Crew also met in preseason on February 8, with Vancouver winning the friendly 2-1 on second-half goals by substitutes Salgado and Harris at the Reach 11 Sports Complex in Phoenix, Arizona.

The April 30 defeat in Columbus was the first time that Whitecaps FC lost to a club from the state of Ohio, with their overall record now sitting at 6W-1L-2D. The Blue and White, however, maintain a 100 per cent home record (4W-0L-0D) against Ohio-based clubs from their United Soccer Leagues First Division (USL-1) days. Between 1999 and 2003, Whitecaps FC registered five wins, no defeats, and no draws versus the now-defunct Cincinnati Riverhawks, having outscored them 11 goals to one in the process. In the 2009 USL-1 campaign, Vancouver registered a home victory and two away draws in three league meetings with the now-defunct Cleveland City Stars.

THEN OFF TO COLORADO…

Following Wednesday's home match, Whitecaps FC are back on the road to complete a busy week of MLS action, as they visit Western Conference rivals Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado, on Saturday night. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. PT and is live on Rogers Sportsnet One and Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to the July 9 contest live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 4 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show.

Whitecaps FC fans also have the option of purchasing two exciting new match packs. Starting at just $159, the match pack options - GOING HOLLYWOOD and LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR? - both include the Manchester City FC friendly match, valued at $60, and four coveted MLS matches. For additional information on match packs, visit whitecapsfc.com/matchpacks.