Just over two weeks away from beginning their life as the 17th team in Major League Soccer, Vancouver Whitecaps FC begin the final phase of their preseason by heading down Interstate 5 to Tukwila, Washington, for this weekend's Cascadia Summit.
After playing eight training matches in two preseason trips to Arizona last month, Teitur Thordarson's side look to shape things further with two much-anticipated contests versus their Pacific Northwest rivals at the training home of Seattle Sounders FC - Starfire Sports Complex. The Blue and White face MLS expansion cousins Portland Timbers on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. PT before taking on Sounders FC on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. PT. Timbers opened the Summit with a 2-0 win over Sounders FC last night. All Cascadia Summit matches will be streamed live on each team's website, including whitecapsfc.com. On Sunday morning at 11:45 a.m. PT, Whitecaps FC Residency will get the final day of Summit festivities started with a friendly match versus Sounders FC Academy U-18's at Starfire.
"We've got two very good games to play, and it will be a good test for our players," Thordarson told reporters on Thursday. "We will be going down to Seattle with our whole squad, but I'm now focused on getting the best team we have on the pitch. Though we are playing two games in two days, we will try and play the line-up that we think can start our season opener in two weeks' time."
With a supporters summit and coaches forum also being held on Saturday afternoon, the Cascadia Summit is not only an opportunity for all three MLS clubs to get in some important preseason action before 'First Kick', it is the first chance for fans of the Timbers, Sounders FC, and Whitecaps FC to build up the excitement of the Cascadia Cup rivalry. 2011 will be the first season that all three clubs battle each other for regional bragging rights as MLS outfits, and the first time since 2008 that all three teams will contest the Cascadia Cup during regular season action.
“It’ll kind of be like old times," Whitecaps FC goalkeeper Jay Nolly said of the Summit. "Our fans have been excellent with travelling down to Portland and Seattle, and even across the country, so it’ll be nice to see them. I know they’re excited to get the season going, so hopefully we can put on a good show for them because we have a great relationship with our fans. Teams will really be working on their final preseason progression this weekend, so it will be a good test for everybody. Of course, you don’t want to lose to either of your rivals."
This weekend's games sees the 'Caps return to Starfire for the first time since preseason last year. On March 26, 2010, then USSF D-2 Pro League clubs Vancouver and Portland met at the Washington State complex for a training match, with the Timbers prevailing 2-0. Whitecaps FC have happier memories of Starfire from their United Soccer Leagues First Division (USL-1) championship-winning season of 2008. In their regular season finale on September 20, Thordarson's side claimed a 3-2 victory over the USL-1 version of the Sounders to win the club's last Cascadia Cup title.
Thordarson has close to a full squad for this weekend's Summit matches. French centre back Mouloud Akloul and MLS SuperDraft pick Michael Nanchoff are still sidelined through injury, while midfielder/striker Davide Chiumiento will also miss out with an ankle problem. Youngsters Philippe Davies and Russell Teibert will be available this weekend after the duo participated in a recent training camp with Canada's U-23 Olympic team in Southern California. Also included in the squad in trialist Kevin Harmse. The Vancouver, BC, native had a spell with Whitecaps FC in USL-1 and has previously appeared in MLS with Los Angeles Galaxy and Toronto FC.
Like the 'Caps, Portland are looking to build towards a successful first season in MLS. The Oregon outfit have been busy making some notable acquisitions, including former FC Dallas striker Kenny Cooper and midfielder Jack Jewsbury from Sporting Kansas City. One player that will not feature at Starfire is Portland's top SuperDraft pick Darlington Nagbe. The former University of Akron star will miss the next two to four weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia on Friday. With a preseason record of 1W-0L-4D, Timbers head coach John Spencer has hinted he may play two separate line-ups in both games. Going back to the 1975 North American Soccer League (NASL) season, Whitecaps FC hold an all-time competitive record of 33 wins, 24 defeats, and 10 draws versus the Timbers.
For Summit hosts Seattle, there is much expectation of Sigi Schmid's side, as they look set to begin their third season in MLS. Trips to Arizona and Florida have been part of Seattle's preseason agenda, with the Emerald City outfit setting a preseason record of 4W-2L-2D going into Friday's game with Portland. This included an earlier meeting with Whitecaps FC in Arizona, with Sounders FC winning a 105-minute game 1-0 on February 4. Schmid's side will include new midfield signings Servando Carrasco and Lamar Neagle, while Swedish import Erik Friberg is a player to look out in the Sounders FC squad. In 111 competitive contests between 1974 and 2008, Seattle lead Vancouver with an all-time record of 54 wins, 42 defeats, and 15 draws.