Match Preview: 'Caps kick off 2013 season

Whitecaps FC open third MLS season against rivals Toronto FC

The wait is over for soccer fans in Vancouver as Whitecaps FC (11W-13L-10D in 2012) begin their third season in Major League Soccer this coming Saturday, March 2 at BC Place against Canadian rivals Toronto FC (5W-21L-8D in 2012).

Saturday's match between Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC kicks off at 3:30 p.m. PT and is live on TSN and Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to Saturday afternoon’s match live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 1:00 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match.

After becoming the first Canadian team to make the MLS Cup playoffs in 2012, hopes are high for Martin Rennie’s squad in 2013. They welcome TFC to BC Place for the first time in an MLS regular season match as they look to emulate the ‘Caps inaugural MLS match in 2011 when Whitecaps FC ran out 4-2 winners over TFC at Empire Field.

WHITECAPS FC

The off-season has seen head coach Martin Rennie fine-tune his squad with a number of fresh faces ahead of the new campaign.

On the back end, Whitecaps FC appear to have become a much deeper squad with the acquisitions of centre back Brad Rusin – who played with Rennie at Carolina RailHawks – as well as promising young Honduran defender Johnny Leverón . The ‘Caps are also set between the pipes with local product Simon Thomas of Victoria, BC returning to Whitecaps FC after coming through the club’s Residency program. Thomas joins an already strong goalkeeper pool with Joe Cannon and Brad Knighton both having started several matches in 2012.

Great entertainment appears in store for ‘Caps fans this season with a number of exciting new additions on the wings. Whitecaps FC picked up Brazilian Paulo Jr. in the 2012 Re-Entry Draft and drafted speedy rookies Kekuta Manneh and Erik Hurtado in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. Complementing the group is skillful Japanese midfielder Daigo Kobayashi, who has already impressed in preseason with a sensational scorpion kick goal.

The centre of midfield was also strengthened with versatile English Premier League veteran Nigel Reo-Coker coming on board. The experienced Englishman is expected to bring leadership to the team after captaining former teams Wimbledon FC, West Ham United, Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers.

Up front, former New York Red Bulls striker Corey Hertzog and former Columbus Crew man Tom Heinemann – another disciple of Rennie’s – have been added to the attack.

Preseason results

Whitecaps FC were been in fine form during preseason, winning their first five matches en-route to recording a 6W-1L-1D record overall. Preseason started with a bang as the team’s 2012 leading goalscorer, Darren Mattocks, scored a hat-trick within the first 15 minutes as Whitecaps FC cruised to a 4-1 victory against fellow MLS outfit New England Revolution.

Further victories against Houston Dynamo (2-1) and Arizona Sahuaros (1-0) provided the perfect platform as the team headed East for the 2013 Carolina Challenge Cup. After beating tournament hosts Charleston Battery 3-2 and downing College of Charleston 2-0 in a friendly match outside of tournament play, the Blue and White finally tasted preseason defeat as Houston Dynamo avenged their earlier loss by recording a 2-1 win against the ‘Caps.

Last Saturday, the ‘Caps ended the Carolina Challenge Cup with a 1-1 draw against Chicago Fire who won the tournament with the result. Then on Sunday, Camilo scored a hat-trick to lead Whitecaps FC to a 3-2 victory against Rennie’s former Carolina RailHawks side to conclude preseason preparations.

TORONTO FC

Toronto FC begin the 2013 campaign with a new head coach after former New Zealand international and MLS Cup winner Ryan Nelsen replaced Paul Mariner in the offseason. The Kiwi just recently retired from playing, having been on Queens Park Rangers roster during the current English Premier League season.

With Nelsen having only stepped into the hot seat on February 1, new faces have been at a premium for Toronto FC. However, the Eastern Canadian outfit made a bit of a splash with the acquisition of Wales international striker Robert Earnshaw on Friday.

As a hard-nosed defender himself, another addition the new manager will surely be pleased to have is centre back Danny Califf, who was added to the Reds in a trade with Chivas USA.

The club’s 2012 top scorer, Ryan Johnson, was traded to Portland Timbers along with goalkeeper Milos Kocic in exchange for another goalkeeper, Joe Bendik, and a first round pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft.

Toronto FC used their MLS SuperDraft selections to select Canadian prospects Kyle Bekker and Emery Welshman. The Reds also strengthened the spine of their team by picking up centre back Gale Agbossoumonde from Portuguese side Estoril Praia  and experienced midfielder Julio Cesar from Sporting Kansas City. The team also traded defenders Aaron Maund and Ty Harden to Real Salt Lake and San Jose Earthquakes respectively before also trading former Whitecaps FC striker Eric Hassli to FC Dallas.

Preseason results

Toronto FC competed in their fourth Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic in Florida hoping to follow in the footsteps of Vancouver Whitecaps FC by winning the preseason tournament. Nelson’s squad lost their first match 1-0 against Columbus Crew but beat USL PRO side Orlando City in a convincing 3-0 win. The Reds then bowed out of the competition with a 3-0 defeat against fellow MLS side Philadelphia Union in their final game of preseason.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The 2013 MLS season opener will be the 15th all-time meeting between Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC, with Vancouver holding a 5-W-4L-5D advantage. Last season’s only MLS match between the sides saw the Reds triumph 3-2 in a thriller at BMO Field. Toronto FC went into the 90th minute with a 2-1 lead but one of the standout goals of the season saw Darren Mattocks level the game with a super-human leap above goalkeeper Milos Kocic to head into an empty net. Despite the late equalizer, Toronto FC stole the victory, and the bragging rights, when a corner was headed in by former Whitecaps FC midfielder Terry Dunfield in the 95th minute.

The two clubs also played in the 2012 Amway Canadian Championship finals, with a 1-1 draw in the first leg at BC Place and a 1-0 win for Toronto in the second leg at BMO Field giving TFC a 2-1 aggregate victory.

The first six meetings between the sides came in the first three editions of the Canadian Championship when Vancouver was a North American second division club. Since 2008, Whitecaps FC have amassed a 3W-4L-4D record versus Toronto FC. This includes an undefeated home record of 2W-0L-3D versus The Reds. The teams also met during 2012 preseason as Whitecaps FC defeated Toronto FC 1-0 in the championship final of the 2012 Disney Pro Soccer Classic in Orlando, Florida.

Toronto FC's recent visits to the Lower Mainland make them the seventh different Toronto-based club to have played in Vancouver in Canadian professional soccer history. Whitecaps FC have a favourable all-time home record against teams from Canada's largest city, having amassed a 24W-6L-7D record between 1975 and 2011. In the North American Soccer League days, Vancouver registered a 9W-4L record at home to Toronto Metros-Croatia and Toronto Blizzard between 1975 and 1984. The Canadian Soccer League era of 1987 to 1992 saw the club registered a 6W-1L-2D record against the CSL's Blizzard at Swangard Stadium, while in the American Professional Soccer League, the club claimed two home wins over the Blizzard in 1993 and one home victory over Toronto Rockets in 1994. Between 1998 and 2006, Whitecaps FC hosted Toronto Lynx seven times, with Vancouver claiming a 4W-1L-2D record versus the former USL-1 club.

UP NEXT

After Saturday’s season opener, fans won’t have to wait long for the next home match as the ‘Caps return to BC Place the following Saturday, March 9 at home Eastern Conference club Columbus Crew. Kickoff will be at 4:30 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). CLICK HERE for more information on Whitecaps FC tickets.