When Vancouver Whitecaps FC open play Wednesday night at Stade Saputo against NASL side Montreal Impact in their fourth Nutrilite Canadian Championship tournament (5 p.m. PT, Sportsnet Pacific and East, sportsnet.ca, TEAM 1410 Radio, teamradio.ca), they will be entering new territory.
No longer are they the hungry, underestimated second-division underdogs. Now an MLS side, they’re the big dogs.
“We know all the odds are for them,” Montreal Impact head coach Marc Dos Santos told The Province. “They should beat us, if it’s normal. But we hope it’s not normal.“
Things haven’t always been normal in this battle for Canadian supremacy, a fact that both Vancouver and Montreal know well.
In the inaugural edition of the tournament, Vancouver went undefeated against Toronto FC, the lone MLS side in the competition at the time. The ‘Caps posted a historic 1-0 win at BMO field, ending TFC’s ten-match home unbeaten streak. Teitur Thordarson’s side then held their MLS opponents to a 2-2 draw at Swangard stadium, setting up Montreal to win the tournament with a 1-1 draw in the finale in Toronto.
The following season, Vancouver won one match and lost one match against TFC, and last year earned two scoreless draws. In fact, Whitecaps FC held the advantage in all-time meetings against Toronto FC as a second division team, posting a record of 2W-1L-3D in three years.
Now the ‘Caps sit on the other side of the table, going into their match-up with the lower-tier Impact as favourites. Dos Santos is quick to play the underdog card, noting all the talented players that Vancouver have gained since last season.
“We’re not in the MLS,” he said. “We don’t have the budget Vancouver has.”
Not yet, anyway. Next season Montreal join their Canadian rivals from Vancouver and Toronto in MLS, but for now, they remain a step behind their counterparts.
However, whether favourites or underdogs, the ‘Caps are hungry to capture their first Voyageurs Cup and they know full well that, when it comes down to it, it’s all about who has the bigger bite.
“We have to be ready,” said defender Alain Rochat. “I think we can be No. 1, so we just have to show that.”