With seven days remaining before 'MLS First Kick', Vancouver Whitecaps FC look to fine tune their preparations for their inaugural match in Major League Soccer when they host MLS Cup holders Colorado Rapids in their final preseason training match at Empire Field on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. PT. *Please note that this is an invitation-only match and will be closed to the public.*
Teitur Thordarson's side have had a steady build-up to their first season as the 17th team in MLS, with the Blue and White playing 10 training matches since preseason started nearly seven weeks ago. In that time, the 'Caps have tested themselves against many of their MLS Western Conference rivals in Chivas USA, Los Angeles Galaxy, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, and Seattle Sounders FC. There was also a clash with MLS Eastern Conference side Columbus Crew on February 8. Vancouver's most recent training matches were a highly productive pair of games at last weekend's Cascadia Summit in Tukwila, Washington. Whitecaps FC drew 1-1 with MLS expansion cousins Portland on Saturday before defeating Seattle 3-2 on Sunday.
Thordarson will give new Designated Player signing Eric Hassli his first run-out against Colorado after the Frenchman arrived from Swiss outfit FC Zürich this week. However, the Blue and White will be without midfielders Michael Nanchoff and Shea Salinas through injury, as well as playmaker Davide Chiumiento and centre back Mouloud Akloul.
Thordarson is looking for further progress from his side in this final preseason contest. "I will be looking for the same kind of things that I have been looking for in our recent training matches. That is to see the team keeping the shape that we want them to play, both offensively and defensively, and working hard on the pitch," he told whitecapsfc.com. "It will also be special for us to play our new signing Eric Hassli, as he will get his first minutes with the team tomorrow. I'm very much looking forward to that."
Saturday's game will be Colorado's first visit to Vancouver, with the Rapids wrapping up a two-match preseason friendly trip to the Pacific Northwest this weekend. As MLS Cup champions, Gary Smith's Rapids played Lamer Hunt US Open Cup holders Seattle in the Community Shield match on Wednesday night. Though Jeff Larentowicz scored from the penalty spot in the second half at Qwest Field, Sounders FC came away with a 3-1 home win. The midweek match in Seattle was Colorado's fifth contest versus MLS opposition this preseason.
The 2011 Rapids includes many of the players that led Colorado to their first MLS Cup title in Toronto, Ontario, last November. Smith will be looking to the dynamic striking tandem of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings to lead Colorado this season, with the pair combining for 27 goals and nine assists last term. The English coach will also look to the experience of Larentowicz, Pablo Mastroeni, Brian Mullan, and Marvell Wynne to play key roles in their title defence this season. The Rapids will also have two former Seattle players in centre back Tyrone Marshall and winger Sanna Nyassi at their disposal, with Nyassi joining Colorado from Vancouver in exchange for an international roster slot after the Gambian was picked by the 'Caps in the 2010 MLS Expansion Draft. Smith's squad also includes former Rochester Rhinos defender Scott Palguta and Atlanta Silverbacks striker Macoumba Kandji - both of whom played against Whitecaps FC during the United Soccer Leagues First Division era. The Rapids start their MLS regular season campaign on Saturday, March 19, when they host Portland.
Following Saturday's training match, Whitecaps FC and Colorado will meet twice during the 2011 regular season. Vancouver will play the Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado, on Saturday, July 9, before the 'Caps host the Rapids in their regular season finale at BC Place on Saturday, October 22.