Whitecaps FC gear up for lone regular season meeting with Columbus Crew

'Caps on the road to face Columbus Crew on Saturday

Davide Chiumiento Columbus Crew preview

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Looking to end the month of April on a high note, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (3W-2L-2D) travel to the Ohio state capital to take on Eastern Conference club Columbus Crew (2W-3L-1D) in their lone Major League Soccer regular season meeting on Saturday evening.

Martin Rennie’s side will be in positive spirits to face their fifth Eastern Conference opponent of 2012 after earning an important home win over FC Dallas last weekend. Saturday’s match also begins a very busy stretch of matches for the Blue and White, with Whitecaps FC embarking on their campaign in this year’s Amway Canadian Championship next week. Vancouver visit a Columbus side that are winless in their last three MLS matches.

Saturday’s match between Whitecaps FC and Columbus Crew from Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, kicks off at 4:30 p.m. PT and is live on Sportsnet Pacific, as well as Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to Saturday’s contest live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 2:30 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show.

WHITECAPS FC

Returning to winning ways can do wonders for a team’s confidence. By claiming valuable points over a Western Conference rival in FC Dallas, Whitecaps FC feel they are back on track following a bright start to their season. The result on Bell Pitch at BC Place ended a four-match winless streak and helped Rennie’s squad put two tough defeats to San Jose Earthquakes and Sporting Kansas City behind them. With the Western Conference standings looking increasingly competitive, Vancouver will want to find consistency in their league performances, as they look to remain among the pacesetters in the West.

The ‘Caps roster has been getting healthier in recent weeks, which is a good sign for the busy schedule that lies ahead over the next month. Among the players to be fit again for action is midfielder Michael Nanchoff. The North Royalton, Ohio, native has been included in Rennie’s squad that is travelling back to his home state this weekend, with over 500 family and friends of the former University of Akron star set to make their way to Crew Stadium to cheer on Nanchoff and Whitecaps FC on Saturday night.

Whitecaps FC are without goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre (knee) and striker Darren Mattocks (shoulder and arm burn) for Saturday’s match, while forward Etienne Barbara (groin) and new Homegrown signing Caleb Clarke (quad) are listed as doubtful to face the Crew. Left fullback Alain Rochat (knee) and striker Camilo Sanvezzo (quad) are listed as questionable.

CREW

While they have not made the best of starts in 2012, Columbus Crew have enjoyed playing opposition from Canada. Since 2007 - when Toronto FC first joined MLS - Columbus have only lost once to Canadian-based clubs. Crew head coach Robert Warzycha will want that trend to continue, as his side look to end a run of two defeats and a draw in the league.

Warzycha’s squad has been plagued by injuries of late, with the former Poland international having used 19 different players through Columbus’ first six games. Two players that have appeared in every match are a pair of the Crew’s new additions - Chilean international Milovan Mirosevic and Costa Rican striker Olman Vargas. With William Hesmer still recovering from hip surgery, Andy Gruenebaum has done a fine job in goal for Columbus, having earned two clean sheets versus Toronto FC and Montreal Impact this season. Warzycha has also been able to depend on three key players this term - captain Chad Marshall, midfielder Eddie Gaven, and Venezuelan striker Emilio Renteria.

Columbus are without defenders Rich Balchan (sports hernia) and Julius James (illness), as well as strikers Ben Speas (sports hernia) and Tommy Heinemann (knee) for the visit of Vancouver. Defender Carlos Mendes and midfielder Dilly Duka (both hamstring) are listed as doubtful, while midfielder Danny O'Rourke (ankle) is questionable to face the ‘Caps.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Saturday's match is the third competitive meeting between Whitecaps FC and Columbus Crew. Both clubs first met in MLS last season, with the Crew winning both matches in 2011. Two second-half goals by Renteria - the first coming from the penalty spot - sealed a 2-1 victory for Columbus in Ohio on April 30, despite Whitecaps FC youngster Omar Salgado scoring his first MLS goal with a fine header at Crew Stadium. The return meeting at Empire Field on July 6 also went the way of Columbus, as a 90th-minute strike by substitute Jeff Cunningham earned the Crew all three points in dramatic style in East Vancouver, BC.

Last season’s defeats to Columbus took Whitecaps FC’s overall record against clubs from the state of Ohio to 6W-2L-2D. This includes an all-time record of 2W-1L-2D in Ohio. However, during the United Soccer Leagues First Division (USL-1) era, Whitecaps FC were undefeated against Ohio-based opponents. Between 1999 and 2003, the ‘Caps 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.

There are some connections between both clubs. Rennie had a successful two-year coaching spell in Ohio with Cleveland City Stars in the old third-tier United Soccer Leagues Second Division (USL-2). In 2008, Rennie led Cleveland to the USL-2 championship title in 2008. Mattocks and Nanchoff played their NCAA Division I soccer with University of Akron in Ohio, while Mattocks and Crew defender Shaun Francis are Jamaican internationals. ‘Caps centre back Carlyle Mitchell and the Columbus pair of James and Kevan George all hail from Trinidad & Tobago.

NEXT STOP: THE ALBERTA CAPITAL

Following Saturday's away match in MLS, Whitecaps FC begin their quest to win the Voyageurs Cup for the first time when they visit North American Soccer League side FC Edmonton in the first leg of their Amway Canadian Championship semifinal series on Wednesday night. Kickoff from Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium is set for 7 p.m. PT and is live on Sportsnet Pacific and West regions. 'Caps fans can also listen to the May 2 match 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 are pleased to announce that three new match packs for the 2012 season are now on sale. Starting at the affordable price of $119, match packs include five Major League Soccer regular season matches and offer significant savings over individual match prices. To purchase your match pack, call 604.669.9283 ext. 3, or email sales@whitecapsfc.com. For additional information on match packs, visit whitecapsfc.com/match-packs.