Both the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact are playing down the potential influence that Montreal's hectic schedule will have on this weekend's USL First Division semifinal.
The Impact were in Honduras on Wednesday night for a CONCACAF Champions League victory. They flew home Thursday for tonight's first leg against Vancouver at Saputo Stadium, and the return leg is Sunday at Swangard Stadium.
To the surprise of many, their frequent flyer miles haven't caught up to them on the scoresheet. Montreal climbed from 10th in USL-1 to third in the final two months of the regular season, and they lead Group C in Champions League play.
"Travel won't play that big a role in this series," said Whitecaps defender Jeff Clarke. "They're a quality team, whether they're playing three games in five days or a game every week.
"It took them a while to find their rhythm, but the last 15 to 20 games they've been top three in this league and it's no surprise to me."
Depth has been key for the Impact with head coach John Limniatis rotating through a group that numbers in the mid-20s. And winning, said Impact forward Joey Gjertsen, wipes away the pain of punished legs.
"Even last round [against Seattle in the USL-1 quarterfinal] people were saying that we were at a disadvantage," said Gjertsen, a former Whitecap. "But I think we're using it in our favour right now. We've been kind of immune to the effects of the travel and we're using the momentum in our favour.
"I actually like the fact we have so many games. We haven't hit a wall yet and I don't see that happening."
The Whitecaps, no doubt, would trade places with the Impact in a heartbeat. It was Vancouver's two losses to Montreal -- and their strong performances against Toronto FC -- in Nutrilite Canadian Championship action that opened the door for the Impact to enjoy a taste of international success.
A series win this weekend for the Whitecaps would serve as a little redemption.
"That is painful," Caps coach Teitur Thordarson acknowledged of watching the Impact's Champions League success. "I'm happy for them as it shows the quality of our league, but we would gladly be in their place.
"We cannot rely on them being tired," he said of the semifinal. "We will focus on playing our best game possible."
As the second seed, Vancouver had the choice of starting at home or away. They elected to open in Montreal, the opposite of how they strategized in their quarterfinal against Minnesota, a 5-4 aggregate win that almost slipped away.
Part of the reasoning was that Montreal, coming from Honduras, had to travel a long distance either way, so why not take the second leg at home?
Whitecaps forward Charles Gbeke -- traded from Montreal for Tony Donatelli in a late June deal -- couldn't wait to make his return to Saputo Stadium tonight.
"Eddie [Sebrango] turned to me in Minnesota [when word came that Montreal had knocked off Seattle] and said, 'Charlie, I think your dream is about to come true,'" said Gbeke.
"I think if we stay disciplined tactically we're going to beat them."
© The Vancouver Province 2008