VANCOUVER - Exposure. Momentum. Pride. Respect. And don't forget a shot at international glory. It's all on the line Tuesday night when the Vancouver Whitecaps play host to the Montreal Impact in their second game of the Nutrilite Canadian Championships at Swangard Stadium.
The Whitecaps head into the pivotal match winless and without a goal. Anything other than a victory would all but eliminate Vancouver's chances of winning the three-team tournament, a double round-robin among the Whitecaps, Impact and Major League Soccer's Toronto FC.
The winner will represent Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League that brings together the top club teams in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
"It's the early stages of the CONCACAF tournament, but at the same time it's our Canadian championships," said Whitecaps captain Adrian Cann, who rejoined the team on Saturday after missing most of June due to national team commitments.
"We want to be the best team in Canada and to do that we need a positive result. More than that it's a great opportunity to show what the Whitecaps organization is about and show the quality of players we have."
On paper, Toronto (1-0-0) is favoured to win the inaugural tournament simply because its Toronto, and just so happens to play in the No. 1 professional league in North America.
The Whitecaps (0-1-0) and Impact (1-1-0), on the other hand, play in the United Soccer Leagues First Division - one step below the MLS on the soccer food chain.
While tonight's game, televised nationally on CBC, will have no bearing on the USL standings, a win would do well for the confidence of a Vancouver side that has gone winless in its last four games.
Poor starts have proved costly of late, with Vancouver trailing at the half in each of its past four games.
Most recently, the Whitecaps managed a 1-1 draw with visiting Miami FC Blues after giving up an early goal.
"Our starts haven't been the best, but the goals we've given away aren't great either," said midfielder Martin Nash, one of only Whitecaps to play in all of the team's 12 USL-1 games this season. "We need to limit our mistakes and if we can put away the chances we create then we'll win the game."
Missed opportunities highlighted Vancouver's opening game of the Canadian championship last Tuesday. The Whitecaps trailed 2-0 after 45 minutes, but could have easily escaped with a draw.
"If we take a look at the last three games we have played, then I think that the Montreal performance was the best one," said Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson, following Tuesday's spirited practice at the Whitecaps training facility at SFU. "We were fantastically good in our attacking - we created a lot of chances against a very good team."
The Canadian Champions League kicked off on May 27 when Toronto FC earned a 1-0 victory in Montreal over the Impact.
Vancouver travels to Toronto on July 1 and concludes its portion of the championship on July 9 against the MLS club at Swangard. The tournament wraps up with Toronto visiting Montreal on July 22.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said so far the championship has accomplished everything that organizers hoped it would when they came up with the idea - creating an intense rivalry that interests fans nationally.
"There's a heck of a lot at stake every game, but that's the beauty of this type of event," he said.
GOAL DUST: Whitecaps backup goalkeeper Serge Djekanovic will return to Vancouver's roster of 18 for today's game after being left off of Sunday's lineup for disciplinary reasons. Unhappy with his playing time, Djekanovic walked off the field early during a recent practice, which did not sit well with Thordarson. He has since apologized to his coaches and teammates.
... Tonight's match will it be the first-ever Canadian Championship match to take place in Vancouver. It will also be the first time since the 1992 Canadian Soccer League (CSL) season that the club - who were then known as the 86ers - last contested for a national title at home.
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