Looking to win their first Voyageurs Cup title, Vancouver Whitecaps FC (0W-4L-0D in 2010) travel to Quebec to meet North American Soccer League (NASL) club Montreal Impact (0W-2L-2D in 2010) in the first leg of their 2011 Nutrilite Canadian Championship semifinal series on Wednesday evening.
Montreal's Stade Saputo will be the venue for the first match of this two-leg series, with Teitur Thordarson's side looking to bounce back from Saturday's 2-1 defeat at home to FC Dallas in Major League Soccer. They meet an Impact side that have had a slow start to their final season as a North American second division club, as Marc Dos Santos' side have yet to win in the NASL this season. Vancouver are keen to claim the title as Canada's top club, as they have yet to win the Nutrilite Canadian Championship since its inception in 2008. Montreal won the inaugural tournament that year, while Toronto FC won back-to-back Voyageurs Cup titles in 2009 and 2010.
Wednesday's Nutrilite Canadian Championship semifinal, first leg, match between Whitecaps FC and Montreal Impact from Stade Saputo in Montreal, Quebec, kicks off at 5 p.m. PT and is live on Rogers Sportsnet Pacific and East regions, as well as streamed live on sportsnet.ca. 'Caps fans can also listen to Wednesday's match live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 3 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match at around 7 p.m. PT.
Tickets for the Nutrilite Canadian Championship semifinal, second leg, match between Whitecaps FC and Montreal Impact on Bell Pitch at Empire Field on Wednesday, May 4, at 8 p.m. PT are now on sale. Tickets start at $20, plus applicable service charges, and are available at all Ticketmaster Ticket Centres, online at ticketmaster.ca, and Charge-by-Phone at 1.855.6.GO-CAPS (1.855.646.2277).
NUTRILITE CANADIAN CHAMPIONSHIP
Unlike the first three editions of the competition - in which Whitecaps FC, Toronto FC, and the Impact contested the Voyageurs Cup in a round-robin format - this year's competition is being contested by four Canadian clubs. Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal have been joined by FC Edmonton, who are playing their inaugural season in the second-tier NASL. As a result, the tournament has been modified to a home-and-away semifinal stage followed by a home-and-away championship final series. The semifinal pairings were based on last year's final standings in the competition, with defending champions Toronto FC being the top seed, while runners-up Whitecaps FC are the second seed. The Impact are the third seed, while newcomers FC Edmonton will make their bow in the competition as the fourth seed.
In the semifinals, Whitecaps FC face the Impact in the first leg in Montreal on Wednesday before hosting the Quebec-based club at Empire Field on May 4. The other semifinal series sees FC Edmonton hosting Toronto FC at Commonwealth Stadium in the first leg on Wednesday before the MLS club hosts the decisive second leg at Toronto's BMO Field on May 4. The two-leg championship final series will be played on Wednesday, May 18, and Wednesday, May 25. The highest-seeded team in the final will earn the right to determine whether they open the final series at home or on the road.
*During the semifinal and final series, if both clubs are level on aggregate over the two games, the 'Away Goals' rule will be used to determine the series winner (ie: the club that scores the most goals on the road over the two games). If the 'Away Goals' rule does not produce a result (ie: both teams have scored the same number of goals at home and away), then two 15-minute periods of extra time will be played at the end of the second leg. If, during extra time, both teams score the same number of goals, the visiting team will win the series on the strength of the number of 'Away Goals' they have scored in the extra-time period. If no goals are scored during extra time, the series will then be determined with a penalty shootout.*
The winners of the 2011 Nutrilite Canadian Championship not only claim the Voyageurs Cup title and the bragging rights as Canada's top club, they will also represent Canada in the 2011-12 edition of the CONCACAF Champions League, where they will play the top clubs in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. The winner of the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League title will then represent the confederation at the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup.
The chance to focus on a new competition is sure to be a welcome tonic for the 'Caps after a challenging start to life in MLS. Saturday's defeat at Empire Field extended their winless run to six league matches, though they have been competitive in all of their encounters since making the move up from the North American second division level. A result in Montreal would not only be pivotal to winning this important semifinal series, it will also go a long way to giving the Blue and White some much needed confidence for the busy schedule that lies ahead. The good news for 'Caps fans is striker Eric Hassli is available for the first leg, despite picking up a one-match ban in MLS for the accumulation of five yellow cards. In the Nutrilite Canadian Championship, any player that accumulates two yellow cards in as many games will be suspended for the following match.
Some members of the 'Caps also have good memories of Stade Saputo from last season in the USSF D-2 Pro League. Vancouver registered their first two wins at the Impact's home in 2010, with centre back Greg Janicki playing a decisive role in both league contests. On June 30, the defender scored the equalizer in a 2-1 win over Montreal before heading home a trademark Wes Knight throw-in during the dying stages of a 1-0 victory over the Impact on July 28.
Wednesday's match is also a bit of a homecoming for defender Alain Rochat. The Swiss international was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, and lived in nearby Sainte-Sabine, Quebec, before moving to Switzerland as a youngster.
Facing a similar transition towards MLS as Vancouver experienced in 2010, Montreal have started their 2011 NASL campaign in typically slow fashion. Away defeats to FC Tampa Bay and Carolina RailHawks were followed by a disappointing 0-0 draw in last Saturday's home opener versus Tampa Bay. It leaves Dos Santos and his squad still searching for their first win of the season, but the prospect of facing a long-standing rival and an existing MLS club in Whitecaps FC will be more than enough motivation for the Quebec-based outfit.
With players looking to make an impression and earn an MLS contract with Montreal, the Impact have several players that are familiar to the 'Caps and their supporters. Former Vancouver players Zurab Tsiskaridze and David Testo will likely start against their former club. New Impact additions in goalkeeper Bill Gaudette (Puerto Rico Islanders), and midfielders Luke Kreamalmeyer (Athletic Club of St. Louis) and Amir Lowery (Carolina RailHawks) have all played Whitecaps FC at the North American second division level. New striker Idriss Ech Chergui's last club was Algerian outfit Jeunesse Sportive de Kabylie (JSK) - a side that 'Caps centre back Mouloud Akloul once played for.
The Impact will have defenders Hicham Aaboubou and Richard Pelletier available for Wednesday's match, despite the pair still being suspended from NASL play following incidents in last year's USSF D-2 playoff semifinal, second leg, versus Carolina. Striker Reda Agourram (thigh) and midfielder Hassoun Camara (thigh) remain sidelined through injury. On Tuesday, Canadian striker Marco Terminesi was released by the Impact after the club opted not to renew his contract for this season.
Wednesday's match is the 54th all-time meeting between Whitecaps FC and the Impact, but the first match that Vancouver has played against Montreal as an MLS club. The Impact lead the all-time series of results with 29 wins, 15 defeats, and nine draws - dating back to the 1993 season. This includes a record of 14 wins, seven defeats, and six draws versus the 'Caps in Montreal.
NEXT STOP: THE BUCKEYE STATE…
Following Wednesday's Nutrilite Canadian Championship match, Whitecaps FC return to MLS action when they make their maiden visit to the Ohio state capital and a first competitive meeting with Eastern Conference club Columbus Crew on Saturday evening. Kickoff is at 4:30 p.m. PT and is live on Rogers Sportsnet ONE and Bell mobile devices. 'Caps fans can also listen to the April 30 contest live on TEAM 1410 radio and teamradio.ca, starting with the pre-game show at 2:30 p.m. PT. TEAM 1410 will also have a two-hour post-game show, which will begin following the match at around 6:30 p.m. PT.
Whitecaps FC Major League Soccer 2011 season tickets are available at a pro-rated price, starting at $235. To secure a seat and for additional information about Whitecaps FC MLS season tickets, suites, and loge boxes, call 604.669.9283 or visit whitecapsfc.com.