By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com
Saturday's USL-1 Championship Series showdown will not be the first time in which the Vancouver Whitecaps men's team prepare to battle without the services of a key player.
Captain Martin Nash's sending off in the first leg against Canadian rivals Montreal Impact at Swangard Stadium leaves Teitur Thordarson's side without their influential playmaker for the decisive second leg at Stade Saputo, with the 'Caps trailing 3-2 on aggregate heading into the away portion of the series.
It is a situation that is ironically familiar to the Blue and White, as Vancouver's previous two championship title runs in USL-1 had similar obstacles of players missing key games following red card infractions against the Impact.
Back in 2006, the Whitecaps faced the seemingly difficult task of being the first club in USL-1 to win the championship on the road without the services of striker Eduardo Sebrango. The Cuban international - who now plays for Montreal - missed the final at Rochester Rhinos after being sent off in extra time of the Whitecaps 2-0 aggregate win over the Impact in the semifinals on September 24. Already on a yellow card, Sebrango scored the series winner, but then received a second booking after taking his jersey off in celebration of his goal in Montreal. While the goalscorer's omission from the final seemed a crucial matter at the time, the Whitecaps rose to the occasion in Upstate New York by famously defeating the Rhinos 3-0 on September 30.
Fast forward to the 2008 season and Vancouver's second USL-1 title run. It was in the semifinals that the 'Caps faced adversity that year, with Montreal being their opponents once again. On October 3 at Stade Saputo, goalkeeper Jay Nolly was sent off in the aftermath of an early second-half altercation that involved both set of players on the Whitecaps goalline. Though Antonio Ribeiro scored for the Impact, the Whitecaps played well with ten men and left Quebec down 1-0 on aggregate. Even though back-up keeper Tyler Baldock was making his first professional start in the second leg at Swangard two days later, goals by Jeff Clarke and Sebrango saw the Whitecaps win 2-1 on aggregate and reach the final, where they defeated Puerto Rico Islanders for a second championship title in three seasons.
As Saturday approaches, Whitecaps fans will hope playoff history can repeat itself at a sold-out Stade Saputo, as Vancouver look to add another chapter to 35 years of great memories in professional soccer.
The second leg in Montreal, Quebec, kicks off at 11:30 a.m. PDT and can be seen live on Fox Sports World Canada (Shaw Cable channel 156) and Fox Soccer Channel in the United States.
Whitecaps fans also have the opportunity to cheer on Thordarson's side at one of two official viewing parties this Saturday morning. Supporters can gather at either the Terminal City Lions Pub - located at 888, West Cordova Street, in downtown Vancouver or Boston Pizza – located at 4219, Lougheed Highway, in Burnaby, BC.