Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC will look to renew their rivalry in this year's Nutrilite Canadian Championship two-legged final, with matches on Wednesday, May 18, at Empire Field in Vancouver and Wednesday, May 25, at BMO Field in Toronto.
The 'Caps have already struck the first blow this year by defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in the club's Major League Soccer debut on March 19, which upped Vancouver’s record against TFC to three wins, one defeat, and three draws since 2008. Most of those games were played in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship when Whitecaps FC were a North American second division club.
TFC is the seventh Toronto-based club to have played in Vancouver in Canadian professional soccer history. The Blue and White has also battled Toronto Lynx, Toronto Rockets, and Toronto Metros-Croatia, and Toronto Blizzard. Vancouver played these Toronto-based clubs in the North American Soccer League, American Professional Soccer League, and United Soccer Leagues from 1975 to 2010. Now, Whitecaps FC and Toronto FC can build on their rivalry in Major League Soccer and the Nutrilite Canadian Championship for years to come.
I would like to take you back to few matches to when I remember playing against Toronto teams that stick out in my mind for different reasons.
One of the club's toughest defeats came against Toronto Blizzard in 1983. BC Place had just opened and was playing host to the 1983 NASL Soccer Bowl. With a stellar record of 24 wins and six losses in the regular season, we were confident in our chances to reach the final at newly built home. The first round pitted Whitecaps FC against the Blizzard in a three-game series.
Our first home game was a 1-0 victory for the 'Caps. On our return leg to Toronto, however, we were greeted by a stuffed parrot hanging on the crossbar. This seemed to rattle then goalkeeper Tino Lettieri (who had a live pet parrot) and we lost the match 4-3. Dominating the third game at home, we got caught by a sucker punch goal and lost 1-0 to end our hopes of a dream final.
I have fonder memories of the 1991 Canadian Soccer League (CSL) championship final at Swangard Stadium against the CSL version of Toronto Blizzard. The Blizzard finished the regular season in second place behind Vancouver 86ers and beat North York Rockets two games to one in a three-match series. The 86ers beat Hamilton Steelers by tying the first game and winning the second game 2-1 to set up the final.
Former 86ers players Dale Mitchell and super sub Doug Muirhead spearheaded the Blizzard squad, with five players in the top twelve of the CSL's scoring charts. We were going for our fourth CSL title, and we knew it was going to be our hardest test so far against a very strong Blizzard team.
The final - an open game with the top two teams attacking each other at will - was a fans' dream come true (especially if you were an 86ers fan). We did prevail in the end with a final score of 5-3 in a very entertaining game. It was a thrill to beat a great Toronto Blizzard team on such a big occasion.
It was the last championship I won before retiring from the game. Now, it's Toronto FC and Whitecaps FC in another big match for the Voyageurs Cup and Canadian bragging rights. It will be sweet to beat TFC in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship final and have that feeling again!