By STEVE BUFFERY
Vancouver has mountains, the ocean, the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, an NHL franchise still in the playoffs, a soccer team owned by a big-time celebrity and a lot of people who eat tofu.
No wonder Toronto FC really, really wants to defeat that city's soccer team -- the Vancouver Whitecaps -- tomorrow at BMO Field in the opening game of the Nutrilite Canadian championship.
"This is a massive tournament for us," Toronto midfielder Carl Robinson said. "We have to put a few wrongs, right. We should have won last year."
The Nutrilite championships pits Canada's three professional soccer teams in a double round-robin tournament with the winner moving on as Canada's representative at the CONCACAF Champions League.
TFC was favoured to win last year, given that it plays in a so-called superior league (MLS). The Montreal Impact and Whitecaps both play in the United Soccer Leagues First Division. The Impact, though, won the event last season and made it all the way to the CONCACAF quarter-finals, playing the first leg of that stage in front of 55,571 fans at Olympic Stadium.
Robinson said remembering the pain felt by the Canadians on TFC last season, particularly captain Jim Brennan, provides all the extra incentive the squad needs for this season's tournament.
"It hurt Jimmy Brennan like hell watching Montreal go further and further," Robinson said.
The question, though. is what kind of squad Toronto head coach Chris Cummins will field for tomorrow's match.
His club plays four games in 11 days starting tomorrow. Almost certainly, Cummins will start Brennan and likely the club's other Canadians, midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, if his hamstring is okay, and goalkeeper Greg Sutton, who has taken a back seat lately to Stefan Frei.
The bottom line, said Cummins, is winning the game.
"I went and had a meal (Sunday) and I think I wrote down eight different teams to play," he said. "(But) everybody trained (yesterday), there's no (injury) issues at the moment, so we'll just wait and see how everyone is (today) and we'll pick the best team to put out.
"We're taking (the tournament) seriously," Cummins added. "It's a competition we want to win. We want to do well for the fans. And there are some Canadian boys in there that are very proud to be in it as well. (But) all the lads, and the coaching staff, are the same. We want to win every single game. It doesn't matter if it's a friendly, a Cup game or a league game. We're professional.
"I'm not one that's not going to play certain players, just to rest them for the weekend. I'll put out a team that I think will go out there and get a victory."
The Whitecaps are in second place in the USL First Division with a 2-1-2 record. They are led by a couple of national team players, Marco Reda and Martin Nash, the brother of NBA superstar Steve Nash, who owns a piece of the franchise, which enters the MSL starting in 2011.
Though the USL is considered a step down as a league, TFC is taking the Whitecaps seriously. Last year, Vancouver beat TFC 1-0 at BMO Field on Canada Day.
"When you play these games, and you're playing against Montreal and Vancouver, it doesn't matter what sport it is. It's always a tough game," Brennan said. "And I think a lot of time, tactics go out the window because passion gets involved.
"There's a little bit more hurly-burly and kick and rush (in these games)," Robinson said. "We'll have to put our authority on the game."